Everything already seemed to be decided: Juventus would win the scudetto, Juventus B would finish second and everyone else would compete for third. To judge from everything that has been said during the transfer window and pre-season, it would seem impossible for Serie A to finish any other way, because the Italian champions’ signings seem – on paper – only to have increased the gap with everyone else. And that’s not just referring to Higuain: it’s a question of their squad, their mentality, how used they are to winning. But are we really that sure that this season will be a monologue all about Juventus?
No one has any doubt that Max Allegri’s squad are technically the best equipped: the old side, already strong and dependable, has been expanded and improved with players of undoubted quality, so much so that the Livornese coach now has two Juventus teams capable of finishing in first place. But winning a sixth consecutive scudetto won’t be quite as straightforward as all that. Because every game starts at 0-0, because all the title hopefuls will only have to face Juventus twice, because it’s never easy to win in Italy, even for the strongest teams, and finally because all the other teams who have ambitions of finishing first are far from being bad teams, and haven’t been sitting on their hands all summer either.
Napoli, for instance, have lost Higuain and his 36 goals but can count on the quality of Maurizio Sarri; last season the coach transformed average players into great ones. The players themselves matter, of course, but the style of play matters as well – whether you have a finisher like Pipita or not. This doesn’t mean that the new Napoli is better than the new Juventus, but that in football nothing is decided when the ball is still in the shop. And the first ones who should acknowledge that this is true should be the players and directors of Juventus, who would be making a big mistake if they think that victory is already assured.
It’s not just Higuain-less Napoli who should be taken into consideration. Roma, for instance, have lost Pjanic and Digne, but have signed Bruno Peres, Vermaelen, Mario Rui, Gerson, Fazio, Alisson, Juan Jesus … and Strootman. And the impression is that they aren’t finished there. But, even now, Roma’s current team don’t seem to be weaker than they were last year. The Lucio Factor shouldn’t be forgotten either. Spalletti, who returned to Roma last January, transformed a group of players who were drifting and lacking direction into a team capable of reaching the Champions League. It’s he who is the Giallorossi’s real secret weapon, a team who have many fine players and an excellent coach.
As with Roma, it’s impossible not to take note of the big changes going on at Inter. They have changed their coach, signed some excellent players and seem to have decided to re-establish themselves with a long-term plan. Frank de Boer, at the moment, is something of an unknown quantity but his record speaks for itself. It will be a particular boost for them if they can keep Icardi in Milan. The feeling is though that the main problem to resolve is at boardroom level: in recent months too many things haven’t been planned, studied and financially managed thoroughly enough inside the club.
It’s difficult to imagine that another team, other than Juventus, Napoli, Roma and Inter, could be on the podium at the end of the season. Vincenzo Montella is good, very good, but right now Milan aren’t a team. Fiorentina have been too quiet up until now, Lazio are going through a rebuilding period, especially in attack. It would be fairer to think of Sassuolo as a possible surprise (though by now are they truly a surprise any more?) for this season, given the work that the club and coach Eusebio Di Francesco have done to move the club forward.
Watch out for dramatic twists this year, Serie A has never lacked them: the feeling is that after five years of ‘BundeserieA’, where it’s been about a Juventus as dominant as Bayern Munich, the season that is about to start won’t be another one that is monotonous and monochrome (or, at least, black and white).
This article is a translation – the original was written by M. Ferretti for Il Messaggero.