The Serie A season is finally set to begin this weekend, and it’s been a tumultuous summer in Italy. You’ll never find a more dramatic place in sports than you will in the brand of calcio played in Italy, and given the whirlwind of transfer activity in the league this season, it’s looking like a lot of change is in the wind.
Juventus haven’t made the same kind of splashes they did over the last few years, and if anything may have gotten weaker, especially with keystone defender Leonardo Bonucci jumping ship to AC Milan. Milan, meanwhile, have made several massive signings this summer and look like they’re going to challenge for the title for the first time in years. Inter Milan have made sweeping changes, AS Roma have had a difficult summer, and Napoli are banking on the same exciting squad from last year bringing them better fortune this season.
After years of Juventus domination in Italy, it’s looking like the field in Serie A could be wide open this season. To that end, we gathered the managers of our Serie A sites in SB Nation: Napoli’s The Siren’s Song, Juventus’ Black & White & Read All Over, the AC Milan Offside, Roma’s Chiesa di Totti, Inter’s Serpents of Madonnina, and Fiorentina’s Viola Nation. They sat down and answered a few key questions about the season to come, giving their views on a chaotic summer and difficult-to-predict Serie A campaign.
The landscape of Serie A has changed very little over the last few years, but it looks like we’re seeing a big shift this summer.
Teams like AC Milan and Inter Milan have made significant changes this season, while teams like Juventus and Napoli have done little. Are we seeing the first signs of a changing of the guard at the top of Serie A?
Conor Dowley, The Siren’s Song: There’s a good chance of it. It’s going to take a while for Milan and Inter to jell, but once they do both teams look like they have the potential to be scary. I question the quality of Milan’s manager and Inter’s balance, but if they can answer those questions, the field could be pretty wide open this season, especially with Juventus, Napoli, and Roma not exactly enjoying impressive summers.
Danny Penza, Black & White & Read All Over: The Milan clubs are “to be determined” for me, because who knows how long it will take for them to jell as a team. We’ve seen Inter make plenty of big-money moves over the last five or so years and it’s ended up … not so great. Milan have seemingly taken things to another level this summer, basically signing what seems like a brand new starting XI and paying quite a pretty penny to do so.
Juventus have made moves, signing a pair of quality wingers in Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi. How long it takes Max Allegri to use them both in the starting lineup remains to be seen. But even with the loss of Leonardo Bonucci, it’s not like Juve have sat on their hands and done nothing to try and improve their roster. (And based on the transfer rumors that have been there pretty much all summer, keeping a hold of Alex Sandro and Paulo Dybala is a victory in of itself right there.)
James Rushton, AC Milan Offside: Maybe not so much of a changing of the guard as a return to order with a slight difference with a bit of spice. We might certainly see a lot more competitive action at the top with a number of teams trying to stake their claim not only for the European Places, but also for the title. It will interesting, that’s for sure.
Bren, Chiesa di Totti: I certainly hope so. Juve’s run, as impressive as it might be, is bad for the overall health of the league, both in terms of perception and reality. Having the same results year after year sort of damages the credibility of Serie A as a vibrant and competitive league.
Having said that, I think Juventus are still the favorites this year, but there’s no denying that both Milan sides are genuine threats for Italy’s European places. Juventus, Napoli, and Roma were well-stocked last season, so they didn’t have to do as much work in the open market as AC Milan. But now that the Rossoneri have reloaded and Inter have a decent coach, Italy now has five sides that should make noise in Europe, hopefully boosting the profile of the league in the process.
Matt Clark, Serpents of Madonnina: I’m not sure that big change will yield big results. There are a lot of factors that go into the change. Inter, for example, were a bit of a disaster after last year and brought in Luciano Spalletti to guide the ship. That was really the biggest change. AC Milan have garnered the headlines mainly because of the money they have spent. I don’t know that it equals to instantaneous league glory. Juventus and Napoli haven’t changed much because they really didn’t have to. So I don’t know if changes made mean a wholesale change atop Serie A.
Tito Kohout, Viola Nation: Man, if you’d asked this question, like, a week ago, I’d have said that Fiorentina had dropped well into the bottom half of the table. Recent events, though, have the team and the tifosi trending upward in a big way. That said, we’re not getting too carried away. It takes time for a new coach and seven new starters to translate to consistency, especially after a rocky preseason.
The Viola are certainly behind Juventus, the Milan clubs, Roma, Napoli, and Lazio, while Sampdoria and Torino are around the same level. With the distraction of European competition, though, Atalanta will probably regress. I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that a top-eight finish that includes some fun football and impressive showings from the various youngsters who’ll have major roles in this team would have to be a success.
Has your club done enough to secure their place in the league and improve themselves this summer?
Conor: At this point, I can only give Napoli an “incomplete” on their summer. Their incoming transfers were always going to be dictated by whether or not they could clear some deadweight from their wage bill and make the Champions League group stage, and as of opening weekend they’ve done neither. They’re in good shape to make the group stage, but that’s not a guarantee yet, so the checkbook hasn’t really opened yet because of it. Right now, they’ve basically got the same squad that saw them finish third a year ago — and while that team is very good and probably better than that standing, it’s legitimate to ask if they’re good enough to compete for the title in this season’s Serie A.
Danny: Has Juventus improved the quality of who Max Allegri has to choose from on the wings? Yes. Has Juventus improved the quality of who Max Allegri has to choose from in the center of the midfield? Well, no, not really. Daniele Rugani could very well offset the loss of Leonardo Bonucci if he is given an extended run out of games. But Juventus’ center midfield is basically the same group of very good but not great players they had last season — and that’s even throwing in the potential addition of Blaise Matuidi.
James: Certainly. For Milan, I’m not sure what more they could have done to improve. Key areas across the pitch have been consulted and players have been brought into not only strengthen weaker areas, but also bolster strong areas.
Bren: Ha! Granted Roma’s cupboards weren’t exactly bare to begin with, but they haven’t effectively replaced Antonio Rudiger or Mohamed Salah in either form or function. So I’m afraid as things stand now, they’re going to get lapped by Napoli at the very least, while Milan could present a credible threat to the top three if all their new signings click in relatively short order.
Matt: I think Inter’s first real change was bringing in Spalletti. I think he is the manager they need at this time. There haven’t been any real splash signings during the summer transfer, but adding Borja Valero, Matias Vecino, Dalbert, and Milan Skriniar are definite improvements that were needed.
Tito: What with the recent flurry of activity, it seems like most of the holes are plugged now. While a top-notch right-back or winger would be great, I doubt either will materialize, and I’m OK with that. This is a rebuilding year in Florence, and that means giving minutes to untested youngsters like Ianis Hagi, Rafik Zekhnini, and Nikola Milenkovic. There will definitely be some growing pains, and we’re expecting that, but sitting back and seeing what exactly the club has on its hands, and whether it’s good enough to build around for the next several seasons.
What do you most fear for the upcoming Serie A season?
Conor: One or both Milan teams surging while Napoli suffer doldrums. Don’t get me wrong, the Milan clubs being good is great for Serie A in a business sense, but if they get rolling and Napoli can’t keep up because of one of their almost-traditional spells of struggling mediocrity that sees them slip down the table, it could make for a tough, tough season to catch back up.
Danny: Honestly, my biggest fear is that Max Allegri will rely on Medhi Benatia rather than letting Daniele Rugani loose in the starting lineup. Benatia has struggled ever since he put on a Juventus jersey for the first time and hasn’t looked any better during the preseason. Rugani, on the other hand, has battled injuries but has done very well whenever he’s gotten consistent playing time. Rugani — and Mattia Caldara, too — is certainly the future of Juve’s defense. But knowing what’s happened this summer, that future may also be the present.
James: A collapse. Look, when you bring in this many players, not much can worry you except one thing — will these players jell? If they don’t, we may panic and that only leads to silly decisions that scupper seasons.
Bren: Hmm, the amount of running tracks surrounding their collective grounds? In a more immediate and pressing sense, Napoli’s offense should be able to bowl over virtually anyone. With a bit of luck and some good health, they could end Juventus’ run of dominance. There may not be a better trio of attacking talent in the game than Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Marek Hamisk — you know, now that Neymar, Messi and Suarez have been broken apart.
Matt: I fear the unknown. I think there is a Leicester City situation brewing in the league. There is going to be a team none of us really expect to be in the top tier be in the top tier. Maybe that’s not a fear but definitely something to watch for.
Tito: Definitely shouldn’t ditch the veteran team leaders for nothing, because losing, say, Borja Valero and Gonzalo Rodriguez would cripple this team and its fans. Oh. Wait. No, that happened already.
Anyway, the club needs to avoid pissing off anyone else. The Della Valle family — who own ACF Fiorentina — have earned themselves a reputation for pettiness after a number of acrimonious player moves (e.g., the lawsuit against Mohamed Salah), and that reputation, combined with a refusal to pay top wages, has turned Florence into a rather undesirable piazza for a lot of young players, who instead end up at teams like Sampdoria or Atalanta (e.g., Dennis Praet, who nearly moved to Fiorentina before a public falling-out with management via his dad pushed him to Sampdoria). The blatant disregard for any player over 25 is a good start to convince young players that a move is in their best interests, but the Della Valles need to prove that they’re not as vindictive as they’ve seemed over the past half decade. Letting Primavera goalkeeper Giacomo Satalino leave for Sassuolo in search of more playing time was a good start, but a few more gracious actions wouldn’t be ignored.
With spending increasing rapidly across Europe, do the continued financial struggles of clubs like Fiorentina concern you for the near-term future of Italian football?
Conor: Yes. Very much so. Especially since Napoli have never really been able to swing with the big boys financially — they’re a wonderfully talented and exciting and well-run team, but they don’t seem to be able to draw major financial sponsorships like Juventus or the Milans or Roma or any other big club in Europe. Napoli are generally run better than Fiorentina — or worse, than Parma was a few years ago — but it could be tough for them to stay where they are long term unless they can consistently get that Champions League money.
Danny: There’s always going to be concerns about finances in Italy because Serie A is not even close to being as marketed as the other leagues. The EPL is getting huge money from their broadcast rights. Serie A? Not nearly as much.
James: I think we all have to worry. Milan’s spending is one thing, but the relative spend of the ‘also-rans’ across Europe is rising. Could this bubble burst? Maybe. Let’s just hope the head honchos of Italian football are smart enough to plan for that increasingly likely occasion.
Bren: The financial struggles of all Italian clubs, bar Juventus, should concern any Serie A fan. Milan is only relevant again due to an injection of €200-plus million, so it’s not as if this is the end result of a grassroots rebuild. The decreased exposure of Italian football, especially compared to its English and Spanish counterparts, has taken a toll on the league’s bottom line in terms of advertising and broadcast revenue, which, quite naturally, impacts the product on the pitch. I don’t know that we can expect top-down fiscal solvency, but having a healthy Fiorentina to join the big five would go a long way to ensuring Serie A thrives.
Matt: The league is going to have to find ways to bring in new revenue for teams. This likely means a new television deal. The Premier League had a cash infusion because of the deal with NBC to bring games to the U.S. Now it is the richest league in the world. Serie A is going to start negotiating in the immediate future, and there are several players coming to sit at that table. That would be an equitable way to bring cash to every club in the league.
Tito: Fiorentina’s financial struggles aren’t entirely what they’re made out to be, with the Viola actually proving to be quite aggressive with all the money they’ve gotten from sales this season. Their net spend is small, but they’ve gathered a lot of interesting young talent who should (keyword, should!) make this team a lot better. That said, Fiorentina definitely can’t spend with the big boys, even just relevant to Serie A, and that’s going to be a problem with sleeping giants like the Milans seeming to finally wake up.
If you had to predict one big, shocking turn of events this season in Serie A, what would it be?
Conor: I think an Italian team is going to win a European trophy this season. But that’s not strictly in Serie A, so…I think there’s a very real chance that one or more of Udinese, Sassuolo, or Sampdoria finish in the top six this season thanks to a couple of fortunate hot streaks for them and unexpected long-term struggles from the likes of Atalanta, Lazio, Roma, Inter, or — hopefully not — Napoli.
Danny: Even with all of their summer spending, Milan will have to use a late-season push to guarantee a top-four finish this season. Who knows? Maybe it’s another year in the Europa League. (Which, for Leonardo Bonucci, will be somewhat poetic justice.)
James: Shocking? I think Milan might be in a position to challenge for a title. Only if everything goes right though! After seasons of poor form, that’d be a shock to the system for me if they win it.
Bren: Dang, that’s a tough question. I think, or at least I hope, the non-Juventus sides can do some damage in the Champions League. Napoli and Roma certainly have the depth to at least advance out of the group stages, but taking that a step further would certainly be beneficial for the long-term health and popularity of the league.
Matt: If there was a shocking turn of events, I would say two of the promoted teams will finish mid-table this season. Don’t ask me which two, but I can see two.
Tito: How about we go against the grain a bit? Neither Milan team finishes in the Champions League places — and one of them doesn’t even finish in a European place.
What are you most looking forward to this season?
Conor: Watching Napoli’s attack take another step forward. At their best, they had arguably the most exciting attack in Europe last season — and it never quite seemed like they ever quite reached their peak of capability. If they can find that extra gear, it could be terrifyingly fun to watch Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon do their thing this season.
Danny: Another year of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain playing alongside one another. How Federico Bernardeschi finds his way at Italy’s biggest club.
And to make it not all about Juventus, how fast it truly does take all of Milan’s new signings to integrate into that squad, how many will boom and how many will be meh or basically bust. They’ve spent a whooooooooole lot of money, and that usually means there isn’t necessarily a lot of patience that comes along with so many euros being thrown around.
James: Football! Italian Football is something else. We want drama, shocks, goals, and thrills. With more teams aiming for the top spot, it should be a thrilling season. Forza Milan!
Bren: I think it has to be the return to prominence of the Milan sides. While they won’t immediately return to their former glory, their resurgence should ensure a legitimate race for the Scudetto in the years to come. Having as many as five teams battling for the championship year in and year out is something only the Premiership can rival. In terms of individual talents, I look forward to the likes of Insigne, Hamsik, Paulo Dybala and Radja Nainggolan cementing their places among the game’s best and brightest.
Matt: I am looking forward to the start of the season. This will be my first full season in the Serpents of Madonnina community [ed. note: Matt took over the site after the end of last season, so wish him a warm welcome if you haven’t already!], and I am pretty excited about the potential for interaction and being able to write about the Nerazzurri for a solid fan base.
Tito: Seeing Fiorentina prove the doubters wrong and put on a much more impressive season than people are thinking they will.