Serie A 09/10 Preview: Can anyone stop Inter?

Italian football has been blighted by a series of exposing scandals in recent years; Calciopoli in 2006, the Plusvalenze scandal and the murder of a Lazio fan by police in 2007 all degrading the once esteemed reputation of Serie A.

The 2008/09 season, however, did much to restore people’s faith in Italian football, a campaign free of corruption and legal accusation allowing fans to focus solely on the football on display. Followers of Serie A will be hoping that the league can consolidate the rebuilding of its respectability in 2009/10 in what is set to be one of the most interesting seasons in recent years.

Serie A for dummies
The highest level of Italian football, Serie A is home to some of the world’s most prestigious clubs including Internazionale, Juventus and AC Milan, giants of European football. The cliché goes that Italian football is sluggish and dominated by defensively-minded ideology but the reality is very different, Serie A is a veritable showcase of some of the finest, most tactically astute football the world has to offer. Indeed, a goals-per-game ratio of 2.44 is just 0.02 behind that of the Premier League, the division widely considered to be the most exciting in the world. What was that about boredom?

If Serie A were a footballer…
Paul Gascoigne. Troubled, misunderstood and beset by financial irregularities off the field; consistently beautiful to watch on it.

Last season in a Tweet
Mourinho arrives & Inter make it 4 consecutive titles. Juve & Milan 10 points off pace. Roma struggle. Torino, Reginna & Lecce all down.

Title contenders
Inter will again be favourites to claim the Scudetto, the Nerazzurri seeking their fifth title in as many years. Despite losing his maestro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jose Mourinho has strengthened the squad by bringing in Samuel Eto’o, Aliaksandr Hleb, Lucio, Diego Milito and Thiago Motta at knock-down prices, all shrewd signings, and looks set to mount yet another strong challenge for the Serie A title with one of Europe’s strongest squads at his disposal.

Juventus, last season’s runners-up, should also be in the hunt for the title. Despite experimenting with an untested manager in the shape of alumnus Ciro Ferrera, the Biaconeri have recruited Werder Bremen’s Diego and Fiorentina’s Felipe Melo to give the side an added quality. The Turin outfit look set to embark upon the 2009/10 campaign in the best shape they have been in for years and will push Inter all the way.

AC Milan also have their sights set on the title and, like Juventus, have employed an ex-player as manager for the forthcoming season. Leonardo, who is well capable of deposing Mourinho’s as the king of dugout chic, has been installed in his first managerial post and will be hoping to improve on his team’s disappointing 3rd place finish last time around. The consistency of key players like Andrea Pirlo, Alexandre Pato and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will be central to determining the Rossoneri’s fortunes this season.

European hopefuls
Where the Premiership has it’s top four, Serie A has a distinct top three (Inter, Juve, Milan) who are usually pursued by a large group of clubs all hopeful of securing the fourth Champions League spot or a place in the Europa League. Last season it was Fiorentina who finished fourth, and they will again be in the mix for European qualification, but this season the race for European football is as much of a lottery as it has ever been.

After struggling to a disappointing 6th place last season, Roma will be keen to re-assert themselves as a Champions League force by climbing back into the top four, something of which they have so often been a part in recent years. Genoa, last season’s most improved side will also be looking to build on their 5th place finish and make the step up to the highest level of European football, as will Palermo and, particularly, Lazio, who struggled in the league last year despite winning the Coppa Italia.

Outside bet
Udinese are one of Serie A’s most improved teams of recent seasons and are always seemingly on the cusp of great things. A 7th place finish last season didn’t quite do justice to the level of football the Zebrette (little zebras) played and they’ll be looking to improve on that in the coming campaign. If Pasquale Marino’s side can improve their consistency of performance then there’s every chance they could challenge for a place in the top four and, perhaps, become a dark horse in the title race.

Relegation candidates
Bari, Parma and Livorno were all promoted from Serie B last season and all look set to struggle, Livorno perhaps being the most likely of the three to be sent straight back from whence they came. Bologna struggled last season and were only saved thanks to the superhuman efforts of Marco Di Vaio. Chievo and Catania also floundered in 2008/09 and will need to significantly improve if they’re to steer clear of another relegation scrap this season.

Joker in the pack
It has to be Sampdoria. One of the most inconsistent teams in Serie A, the Genoese side seem to be equally capable of getting relegated as they are of challenging at the top end of the table. Led by the brilliant, if mercurial, Antonio Cassano, Samp finished last season in 13th place, a disappointing return for a team who reached the top six in 2007/08. This term, as is often the case with the Blucerchiati, it is impossible to tell how they will fare.

Solid gold gaffer
Gian Piero Gasperini transformed the fortunes of Genoa last season and will be looking to build upon his side’s 5th placed finish and push on into the top four in 2009/10. After years languishing in the lower leagues and suffering from prolonged spells of mismanagement, Gasperini was appointed in 2006 and has masterminded Genoa’s return to the big time, establishing his team as one of the most consistent and attractive in Serie A.

Despite losing the substantial talents of Diego Milito and Thiago Motta (both of whom have joined Inter), Gasperini has intelligently replenished his squad with the likes of Hernan Crespo and Rodrigo Palacio as he attempts to keep Genoa challenging at the top end of the league.

The man with the golden boot
With last season’s top marksman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, having moved on to Barcelona, the race for the golden boot is as open as it ever has been this season. Ibrahimovic’s replacement at Inter, Samuel Eto’o, will be amongst the favourites to end the season with the most goals to his name, as will his potential strike partner, Diego Milito, but there are plenty of other names in the picture.

AC Milan’s Brazilian prodigy Alexandre Pato will be looking to improve on his haul of 18 goals from last season, and his new team mate, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, will be out to justify his substantial transfer fee. Other contenders include the evergreen attacking talents of Marco Di Vaio, who scored 24 goals for struggling Bologna last season, and Juve’s Alessandro Del Piero whose eye for goal has not diminished with age. You never know, if Antonio Cassano can improve his consistency and discipline, then he might even be in the running too. Stranger things have happened.

Three to watch

Hernan Crespo (Genoa) – After being frozen out at the San Siro under Mourinho, Crespo has moved to Genoa in an attempt to revive his career. Genoa coach Gian Piero Gasperini has a reputation for transforming the careers of ageing stars, and it would seem that the Argentinean has found a club where he will once again have a chance to show the world what a talented forward he really is as he attempts to fire Genoa into the top four. This might just be Crespo’s season.

Diego (Juventus) – The highest-profile arrival in Serie A this summer, Diego will be hoping to impress the Delle Alpi faithful with performances similar to those that made him one of the Bundesliga’s finest players during his spell with Werder Bremen. If the Brazilian can find his best form and strike up an effective midfield partnership with compatriot Felipe Melo, Juventus might well be able to look forward to enjoying a successful season.

Simon Kjaer (Palermo) – Despite having only turned professional in 2007, Danish centre-back Simon Kjaer has already made quite a name for himself on the continent. After one season playing in his native Denmark for FC Midtjylland, 20 year-old Kjaer signed for Palermo this time last year and made an instant impact, drawing praise for his performances from all sections of the Italian football media. If he can continue his good form this season then a move to a bigger club may well be on the horizon.

How do you think your team will fare in the 09/10 Serie A season? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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