Friday, 29 August 2014

How Juventus, AC Milan & Serie A’s big clubs will line up in 2014-15

How Juventus, AC Milan & Serie A’s big clubs will line up in 2014-15
Massimiliano Allegri has taken over in Turin, while Pippo Inzaghi is the new man in charge at San Siro, resulting in great tactical intrigue in Italy ahead of the 2014-15 campaign
By Sam Praise
It has been a turbulent summer for calcio. The national team suffered an embarrassing first-round elimination at Brazil 2014, while the election of Carlo Tavecchio as the new president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) made headlines for all the wrong reasons and felt more like a step backward than forward.

The hope now is that Serie A can give the country's disillusioned football fans something to cheer about and the good news, at least, is that this season's title race looks set to be one of the more intriguing in recent seasons.

As defending champions, Juventus will obviously start as favourites but the shock resignation of Antonio Conte as coach has cast some doubt on their chances of a fourth successive Scudetto, particularly as Roma have once again strengthened impressively during the summer.

Despite Aurelio De Laurentiis tightening the purse strings at the San Paolo, Coppa Italia holders Napoli could sustain a Scudetto challenge this time around, particularly as they no longer have the Champions League to contend with, while Vincenzo Montella's wonderfully free-flowing Fiorentina side have been in encouragingly fine form in pre-season.

Inter, meanwhile, should be stronger in Walter Mazzarri's second season at the helm and city rivals AC Milan are hoping that former San Siro favourite, Pippo Inzaghi, can restore some long-lost pride to the Rossoneri shirt.

Here, Sportmasta takes a look at Italy's biggest clubs will line up as the 2014-15 Serie season prepares to kick off this weekend.


There was always a chance of a high-profile departure at Juventus this summer - but nobody thought that Conte would be the one to leave. The former Bianconeri midfielder's sudden resignation as coach in July left the club's supporters in a state of shock. Their disbelief then turned to outrage when Juve opted to replace the man that had led them to three successive Serie A titles with Massimiliano Allegri, who had been sacked by rivals Milan midway through last season.

However, their rage has been tempered by the club's success in holding onto Arturo Vidal, who looked set to depart for Manchester United. There's also the fact that the change of coach could most likely result in an arguably overdue change of formation, with Allegri poised to ditch Conte's tried-and-trusted 3-5-2, which, while successful in Serie A, has shown itself to be too easy to play against in Europe.

Juve now look set to switch to a flat back four, with Patrice Evra slotting in on the left-hand side following his free transfer from Manchester United. Roberto Pereyra, who has arrived from Udinese, will challenge Claudio Marchisio for the attacking midfield role in front of the regular trio of Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba, with Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez set to renew their prolific partnership up front.

However, the €20 million signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, coupled with Simone Pepe's return to full fitness, gives Juve the option of playing three up top this season, underlining that while there is much uncertainty surrounding the Old Lady this season, there's also no end of unpredictability, which may not be a bad thing.


While Roma have only spent roughly €10 million more than Juventus this summer, the capital club made a serious statement of intent by beating the Bianconeri to the signing of Juan Iturbe, who lit up Serie A with Hellas Verona last season. The Argentine may not be 'the new Lionel Messi', as he has often been billed, but the 21-year-old is a skilful attacking talent capable of flourishing up front alongside Francesco Totti and Gervinho.

Roma have also made a number of shrewd signings. Indeed, the arrival of Ashley Cole on a free transfer could prove one of the deals of the summer, with the former Chelsea man having shown every time he was called upon by Jose Mourinho last season that he remains a classy, competent defender.

However, while Cole and Maicon will ensure that Roma will not lack experience in the full-back berths, there are no serious doubts over the centre of the defence, with Mehdi Benatia - arguably Roma's best player season - having departed for Bayern Munich. Kostas Manolas has been charged with the responsibility of replacing the Moroccan and how quickly he gels with Leandro Castan will have a massive bearing on the Giallorossi's season.

If Kevin Strootman returns the player he was before injury, Roma will have no problems in midfield but the seemingly imminent departure of Mattia Destro just when it appeared he was ready to come good does beg the question as to whether Iturbe, Totti and Gervinho really have enough goals in them to propel Roma to the title.


It's fair to say that the natives are restless in Napoli. Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis splashed €88.15 million on new players last summer; the sum total of this year's outlay thus far is €11.5m. There is a concern now that their Champions League exit means the Partenopei will not spend big in the closing days of the transfer window to acquire the high-profile players that Rafael Benitez so painfully needs to sustain a title challenge this season.

Still, while De Laurentiis has not spent much, he does, at least, look to have spent well. Kalidou Koulibaly, who has joined from Genk, will hopefully add some much-needed solidity to a back four that ultimately undermined last season's Scudetto bid, while Jonathan De Guzman proved his class while on loan to Swansea from Villarreal for the past two seasons, and Gokhan Inler and Jorginho will battle it out for the right to partner the Dutchman in midfield.

Furthermore, Juan Zuniga's return to full fitness is like a new signing for Napoli, given the Colombian's problems with injury last season. However, Neymar's nemesis will face stiff competition from Christian Maggio for the right-back role.

Gonzalo Higuain will once again spearhead Napoli's attack, with Marek Hamsik in behind. Jose Callejon, who proved so prolific last term, will start on the right-hand side but doubts remain over who will play on the opposite flank. Lorenzo Insigne has seemingly fallen out of favour with both the San Paolo faithful and Rafa Benitez, who is expected to prefer Dries Mertens on the left wing.


Fiorentina are in possession of what is potentially the most prolific striking partnership in Serie A. However, getting Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi on the pitch at the same time continues to prove maddeningly problematic. Just when it appeared that the two were fit to start the new season alongside one another, it emerged that Rossi's right knee is once again given him trouble, ruling him out for an as yet undetermined period of time.

The uncertainty surrounding Rossi's fitness has changed Fiorentina's stance on Juan Cuadrado. Viola president Andrea Della Valle grudgingly admitted earlier this month that the club were willing to let the in-demand Colombian leave for the right price. Indeed, a replacement had already been found in Marko Marin.

However, with Rossi sidelined, Fiorentina are now desperate to hold onto the versatile Cuadrado, who could be asked to play in behind Gomez, with Marin taking his place out wide. The exact make-up of Vincenzo Montella's side remains difficult to predict, though, with speculation rife that the ex-Roma boss is considering switching from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-1-2.

Whatever happens, Fiorentina's game will continue to be founded upon the precision passing of their fantastic midfield trio of David Pizarro, Alberto Aquilani and Borja Valero, meaning Montella's men will once again prove very easy on the eye.


It remains very much a case of evolution and not revolution at Inter. Nerazzurri fans had hoped that Erick Thohir's takeover last year would result in a sustained spending spree. However, the January signing of Hernanes aside, the Indonesian has acted very prudently in the transfer market.

Still, Walter Mazzarri's squad has undeniably been strengthened over the summer. Nemanja Vidic may no longer be one of the best centre-halves in the world but the former Manchester United captain will bring invaluable experience and much-needed order to the defence, with the Serb capable of bringing the best out of the two men who will start alongside him in a three-man back-line, Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus.

Further forward, Hernanes and Mateo Kovacic should benefit enormously from the arrival of the incredibly industrious Gary Medel, while former France international Yann M'Vila could prove an inspired addition to the engine room given he is still just 24. Out wide, Dodo is already looking like a fine signing, with the Brazilian, who was deemed surplus to requirements at Roma, already appearing slotting in well on the left flank. Regardless of which one of Yuto Nagatomo or Jonathan starts on the opposite wing, Inter will certainly lack neither dynamism nor width this term.

Goals might not be as much of an issue as they were last season, either, as Mauro Icardi seems to be finally maturing into the striker he has long promised to become. Furthermore, the Argentine has also reportedly struck up a strong rapport with the Buenos Aires-born Italy international, Pablo Osvaldo, who, if he finally gets his head straight, could easily force his way into the starting line-up ahead of the ever-reliable Rodrigo Palacio.


While there is a relative sense of stability at Inter, city rivals AC Milan remain in a constant state of flux. After ditching Allegri midway through last season, owner Silvio Berlusconi then decided to fire Clarence Seedorf at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and replace him with another ex-player with no top-flight coaching experience, Filippo Inzaghi.

It was hoped that the former Rossoneri striker might be the one to finally get through to Mario Balotelli and help the enigmatic forward belatedly realise his potential. However, the Italy international has been offloaded to Liverpool and Inzaghi is now set to ask Giampaolo Pazzini to lead the line as the search for a world-class replacement for Balotelli looks set to go to the wire. Still, at least with Jeremy Menez having arrived from Paris Saint-Germain, Milan will not lack pace on the right wing this term.

However, the most positive development at Milanello this summer is the return to full fitness of Stephan El Shaarawy. The prodigiously gifted attacker, who missed nearly all of last season through injury, has impressed in pre-season and looks ideally suited to Inzaghi's preferred 4-3-3 formation.

Milan have done extremely well to hold onto the fantastically effective Nigel de Jong and he will once again anchor the midfield alongside Andrea Poli and Sulley Muntari, who will face competition for his starting berth when Riccardo Montolivo returns from injury. Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez will most likely be given ample opportunity to prove his shot-stopping brilliance behind a defence that could still prove porous - despite the arrival of Alex from PSG.
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