lørdag den 29. august 2009

Serie A 2009/10 preview. Final installment (finally!)

Finally the final installment! Meaning I can now, in hopefully not too long, proceed to talk about some of the games I watched this weekend.

Here are the previous parts:

Part 1: Milan, Atalanta, Bari, Bologna, Cagliari and Catania
Part 2: Chievo, Fiorentina and Genoa
Part 3: Inter
Part 4: Juventus
Part 5: Lazio, Livorno, Napoli and Palermo

The Roma part of this preview was written some days ago and of course now there have already been some drastic change.

Spalletti is gone and in comes Ranieri!

It's always interesting when a coach takes over a team very much created by another, and what exact fingerprints Ranieri will leave only time will tell.

I have a feeling I'll be watching Roma again in not too long so hopefully there will be some intersting things to talk about there.

But first things first, here is thefinal part of the Serie A 2009/10 team by team preview:


One of the best teams of the 90s featuring many great players, Parma has struggled a lot in recent years.

It began with the "Parmalat scandal" in late 2003 which caused their ownership to collapse and saw them under controlled administration for a while.

Following that the club basically went from top team to midtable and finally to fighting relegation which they then succumbed to in the 2007/08 season finding themselves in Serie B for the first time since that first ever promotion, the start of their great run, back in 1990.

This turned out to be a much shorter stay however and after finishing second in Serie B to Bari, Parma are now back in Serie A.

Their coach is very proven Francesco Guidolin who is finally free (for now at least) from his on and off, getting sacked, getting rehired relationship with Palermo, and who in the past has done wonderful things for smaller clubs. Which Parma incidentally is now.

Last season he brought immediate improvement after Parma disappointingly had not started Serie B all that well, with just 6 points from a possible 18.
Under Guidolin's guidance they eventually ended up with the best goal difference in the league. Scoring the most and conceding the least and losing just four games. Also the lowest total in the league.

So what about the squad? Could this be the start of another run ala what followed their last promotion to Serie A in the beginning of the 90s, winning an impressive 8 trophies in 14 years?

No of course not. There is no Sensini, Asprilla or Zola here. Or likely coming up one great future signing after another, like the ones the club used to specialize in back then.
Instead we have a curious mixture of experience and very young that's pretty hard to predict, but at least I think there is some upside to be found here. Maybe a lot even.

Livorno hero Lucarelli who played for Parma last season is now back where he belongs.
And he for an example has been replaced by some upside.
Extremely unlucky Bulgarian forward Valeri Bojinov has arrived on loan from Manchester City.
He is still only 23, has Serie A experience and should have a good season hopefully rebounding from his terrible injuries.

Possible even more upside lies with young 19 year old striker Alberto Paloschi. Co-owned by Milan but staying where he can get playing time. It will be interesting if it will be baby steps for Paloschi or the big breakthrough that some people will (already) expect.

He could have his own little scoring duel with Atalanta striker Acquafresca (now too old) who took most of his playing time for the U-21 team.

As outsiders for the starting spots there are even more young talent. Unfortunately for Parma, if they turn out really good. They're on loan from other clubs.

Former U-21 national team player Davide Lazafame on loan from Palermo, and on loan from Inter 21 year old french forward Jonathan Biabiany.

The midfield also looks quite intriguing:

Captain Stefano Morrone I quite frankly haven't seen play for some time now but I'm assuming he still isn't exactly setting things on fire with his play.

More interesting is Daniele Galloppa who is yet another player stolen from Siena. There have been quite a few of those already.
Galloppa even recieved an Italy cap recently which he commented wasn't a highlight in his career but rather a starting point from where he could do better. Ambition! Nice!
As the holding midfielder we find a guy who I've never seen play and considering he used to play just 30 minutes from where I live, that's pretty sad, IF reports about how good he is are really true.

So is Kenyan midfielder McDonald Mariga the man who'll make me forever regret that I haven't been paying any attention whatsoever to the Swedish Allsvenskan since the days of Zlatan Ibrahimovic toying with it for Malmö?

Reportedly Mariga is a tough tackling marathon man with the stamina you usually only see from his long distance running countrymen. He is, it's been said, now arguably the best african player in Serie A! Hmmmm.

Worth watching: Christian Panucci: How much does he have left and will it be enough to make a positive contribution to this team.
From what I understand Roma simply did not want to renew his contract. He will likely play in central defense and will likely want to prove Roma wrong.

Since forever, dangerous on set pieces, scoring a header against them from a corner would be just about perfect. I full expect this to happen now.


Without a doubt the biggest underachiever from last season.

From 2nd places to 6th place. From goal differences of +35 and +40 to just +3 last season.
And that with a largely unchanged team from the previous good years.

The easy and most obvious answer was that the team failed to still be effective when talisman Totti wasn't present or not a 100 percent.

This is after all a team where coach Spalletti uncompromisingly has made everything about Totti.
Constructing flexible and sometimes quite unique attacking systems aimed to get the best out of Totti who would then get the most out of the players around him.

What makes the answer to the cause of their failure a little more tricky is that Totti actually only played one less league game than the year before.

Having said that, overall from what I can remember, he did have more fitness worries, something sadly for Roma, that could easily continue this season.

Then there is the issue of mental collapse. A collective mental collapse even. Something that's probably used way too much as an easy explaination for a team's failure to live up to whatever expectation but in this case it kind of makes sense.
Led by still not in control of his temper, midfield general Daniele De Rossi, the whole club (including the Sensi ownership) did suffer some epic meltdowns, resulting in them blaming everyone but themselves for their poor results.

The squad once again have not seen many changes and spending has pretty much been suspended amidst various rumors of takeovers.

Gone for a good amount of money is talented but sadly often injured Alberto Aquilani and of course veteran Christian Panucci who didn't have his contract renewed.
He has been replaced by Nicolas Burdisso on loan from Inter.
Of Inter's willingness to plant Burdisso at what I guess is still a potential rival, I'm sure some interesting theories can be made.

Mostly in have come a bunch of people returning from loan and it can never be entirely ruled out that maybe one of those will have some kind of breakthrough season, even if it's difficult to see who exactly that should be.
23 year old defensive midfielder Ricardo Faty I haven't seen for some time now but out on loan he did just play a full season in Ligue 1, for eventually demoted Nantes.

Another could be 22 year old Alessop Cerci who would either steal a lot of games from someone like Taddei (not that likely) or just a game here and there from veteran Esposito (more likely).
Finally there is 20 year old striker Stefano Okaka. And Roma doesn't have a lot of those. But realistically he probably still has some way to go.

No, more likely to make a positive impact is what I think is their only actual real signing, Stefano Guberti who has been an ever improving wing that I think could help fill roles in systems that so far, and especially last season, haven't been all that effective when Totti wasn't playing.
Elsewhere in attacking midfield Jeremy Menez needs to have a breakthrough season.
17 of the talented frenchman's 29 appearances last season were as a sub and though potentially more of a forward type of player, a wonderful thing for Roma that could really provide them with a lift, would be if Menez would become the Aquilani who never quite materialized.

One who did have a breakthrough season was Matteo Brighi. Always talented and always a good allround player, last season he was consistently good. Hopefully for Roma that will continue.

A player who could have a better season is the always underrated Simone Perrotta who like many others struggled with fitness and rarely was at his best.

When he has been that he is an excellent two-way player with a great workrate who defends his position well defensively, plus who just about as good as anyone can makes great runs in and around the penalty area, complementing someone like Totti perfectly.
For Roma and maybe even for Italy it would be a great thing if he, on the wrong side of 30 now, has at least one more good season left in him.

Up front there is still not a lot of strikers making this team still very much geared for the systems where Totti is the closest to being that.
But hopefully now with the arrival of Guberti who can play the leftwing, whenever Totti isn't fit, Mirko Vucinic often playing that wing-role, and very well it should be said, can take the place as a striker.

4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with Totti and Vucinic up front could also be an option, Menez would then be a backup, if Spalletti feels the more attacking systems, for whatever reason (players older? Not the same workrate?) have become too vulnerable to opponent's counter attacks. Arguably that was the case last year but most players on this team are still better in more flexible systems.
For an example someone like David Pizarro. The at times very good deep lying Chilean playmaker is not someone I imagine is very ideal on a two man central midfield.

In the back Roma has one of the best partnerships in Mexes and Juan. On a very attacking team they have a more difficult job than most, yet have consistently done a good job of holding things together.
While Mexes is a beast, one worry is the fitness of Juan which could mean quite a lot of playing time for the alternatives.
Last season one of those, Simone Loria, was a disaster. It's now Burdisso's job not to be!

On the fullback positions John Arne Riise had a good first season in Italy.

Brazilian Cicinho probably due to injuries, mainly a terrible ACL one suffered for Real Madrid, sadly confirmed he will never be the excellent player that he started out looking like when he first came to Europe.

Instead the right-back position saw the emergence of Italian U-21 captain Marco Motta who's performances earned him rave reviews from just about everyone.
While he is already a complete player without any real weaknesses and that iself is a good thing, I do think there are some areas where there is room for improvement if we're talking becoming elite at his position.
Some of that will mainly come with more Serie A experience. Like taking the right decisions under pressure.
Other things like his technical ability can definitely be worked on. Not saying he is bad but something like his one touch passing could improve.

Worth watching: Daniele De Rossi: I sometimes feel like when I'm complaining about De Rossi that I'm nitpicking, being too negative and unfair, so lets look at the positives.
He is a very complete midfielder who does just about everything imaginable well.
He is good in the defensive areas of the game and he is good in the attacking areas of the game.
He can work hard. Run for an entire game. Pass well. Has a great shot and make tackles.

And when he is on a team that is functioning, he consistently does all those things to the best of his very good ability, making the team even better.

The problem that's still there is when the team isn't going great that he is a player who'll make things even worse.
Not just what's the standard, which is have your game affected by the team.
That's obviously the case with everyone.
But Rossi, one of the best players on every team he is on, he can become one of the worst if things aren't working and bring teammates down with him.

Even if the idiotic dirty play and bad temper thankfully is more rare these days, he is still at 26 year old a player who doesn't react well when things are going bad.
With time running out for Francesco Totti, this will, even moreso than what's been happening already, increasingly become De Rossi's team.
And with that he needs to become a reliable leader. One who will do everything for his team to win throughout a season, not lose focus at the first signs of trouble.


Arguably another great underachiever from last season, Sampdoria followed their 6th place from the 2007/08 season up with a disappointing 13th place finish.

Those poor results cost Walter Mazzarri his job and in to replace him this season, leaving Atalanta, is former Chievo miracle man Luigi Del Neri.

What everyone talks about when it comes to this team is of course the duo upfront.
The undisputed number one badboy of calcio Antonio Cassano and his newfound partner in crime Giampaolo Pazzini.

There are even misguided comparisons to the legendary Sampdoria "twins" Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini.

Vialli and Mancini led Sampdoria to a Scudetto and European glory. They had great careers on great teams where they won domestic and European titles. At the height of their careers they were among the best players in the world.
This current duo aren't even close to making Sampdoria anywhere near that good and Antonio Cassano has never contributed anything to any winning team ever and never even been good enough to actually play for a great team.
Comparing him of all people to great champions such as Vialli and Mancini is ridiculous.

He is a talented attacking player who is creative with a lot of flair, but also someone who through sheer unprofessionalism throughout his career has been unwilling to even try and improve other areas of his game.
That's why he is playing for a midtable Serie A club and not a big one. European or Italian.

27 years old now having wasted many years of his talent, he does still have time to improve, or mature if you will, but even last season while being praised by the media, there were many games, especially early on, where he didn't even seem fit, slightly overweight like in the Madrid days and when without the ball was probably consistently the worst player on the pitch, hurting his team with his lack of work/movement/effort.

As absurd as it is, while hysterical voices for Cassano being selected for the national team grew louder and louder, his team where he had been made the most important player, was slumping and slumping, flirting with relegation!

It was when Pazzani arrived from Fiorentina that things started to improve and if anyone in this duo deserves lavish praise, it's actually him.
Fast, hardworking with good technical ability he is a very effective striker who when he was giving the chance to be what he couldn't be at Fiorentina, the main striker, shone brightly.
You could say he does a lot of the things that Cassano doesn't while of course Cassano does things Pazzani can't and never will. And in that sense they complement eachother very well and give Sampdoria a forward duo on a high level.
Even if they're not Vialli/Mancini.
Those two of course also had a much better team around them than what we're seeing now.

Worth singling out however are players such as former U-21 regular talented midfielder Daniele Dessena. He has a nice passing game and should continue to improve further in other areas this season in order to establish himself at Sampdoria.

Also worth keeping an eye on is Lithuanian international Marius Stankevicius who has had a long solid career in Italian football.
He can play anywhere on the right and contribute well both to attack and defending. A good complete player.

Worth watching: Angelo Palombo: For many years not really noticed by anyone.
In recent years, he has started to get recognized as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league.
He has very good physical ability resulting in a very impressive workrate as well as good strenght man to man when it comes to tackling where he can be tenacious.
When it comes to technical ability he isn't great of course but certainly capable when things are kept simple.
He will of course be aiming for a place in the World Cup squad and with constant questionmarks surrounding someone like Gattuso's fitness, Palombo must like his chances.


From underachievers to perennial overachievers Siena.

Every year they're tipped to go down. Every year they survive. Last season quite comfortably ending up in 14th place.

Then they were robbed.

I've almost lost count of the number of teams I've gone through so far who have strengthened their teams with some of Siena's best performers from last season.

The two best midfielders Houssine Kharja and Daniele Galloppa have gone to Genoa and Parma respectively.

One of the best fullbacks last season, Zuniga is now at Napoli and solid defender and key player Daniele Portanova to Bologna.

To some extent this was the case following last season too and some of the replacements then are some of the players right there above.
So you could say perhaps they "just" need to have similar success with the relative unknowns brought in this year!

The real star of the team might be manager Marco Giampaolo.
Previously best known for a chaotic reign at Cagliari and before that guiding little Ascoli to Serie A survival.
Last year he created a well balanced side with a good defense who provided a tough test for just about anyone.
This year his job looks to be even harder and if Siena once again have a good season, look for Giampaolo to get the chance at a bigger club.

Worth watching: Albin Ekdal: The 20 year old Swede is on loan from Juventus and they'll be hoping he gains some valuable experience.
Ekdal is someone who has great potential as an allround player since even if he is considered more of an attacking player his defensive qualities are already sound.

And it's mainly with that beginning defensive ability where I think the cause for his significant upside can be found.
Cause even just developing that, alone would make him a good player.
Likely someone in the complete central midfielder player mould, but versatility too.

The question is then how much things like his already good technical skills can improve.
If THAT could somehow get even better too, then we have, not just a good, but a very good player.


One of best run teams in Italy, Udinese are well known for their ability to find and/or develop young talent. Then integrate them into their flexible tactical systems.

Under very promising coach Pasquale Marino that has mostly been a 4-3-3 and it's also mostly been some quite attacking football.

However with some real questionmarks surrounding the Udinese three man frontline, and that for the first time in a while, the strenght of this team is now definitely the midfield.

In midfield we find one of the real revelations from last season Gaetano D'Agostino.
Last season he was fully transformed into a deep-lying playmaker and went from a just good player to a very good one, who had several big clubs interested in his services.

A move to Juventus especially was very close but a last minute high price tag by president Giampaolo Pozzo, kept D'Agostino at the club.

D'Agostino is very good at set pieces and his accurate deep ball is a something of a special gift to pacy forwards drawing comparisons to Andrea Pirlo.

Also on the midfield is Gokhan Inler who quite simply is bad at nothing. Which is great!
He works hard defensively, as well as being sound technically and rarely make any mistakes.
A complete player who can contribute well in both ends.
I think it's only a matter of time before he will take a central midfielder role on a bigger club.

To complete a Udinese midfield that could be right up there with the best in the league is 20 year old Kwadwo Asamoah from Ghana.

A great physical talent who is also good technically with some impressive looking ball-control. He has seemingly endless stamina and can move from box to box without much trouble at all!
Add to that his great strenght when tackling and explosive pace and you have one of the most interesting midfield talents in world football.

Like already touched upon though, unfortunately it gets less great if we look at the forward line this year.
Not that it isn't good, BUT for the first time in quite a few years for Udinese there is some uncertainty.

For starters top scorer Quagliarella was sold to Napoli.
And what looks like his direct replacement, veteran targetman Bernardo Corradi, I'm just not convinced by at all.
He is miles behind the departed Quagliarella when it comes to ability and pace,
meaning that at least in open play he won't complement D'Agostino all that well, and won't he likely be so dependant on service that he requires the other parts of the front line, to be just that, servicemen, instead of consistent goalscoring threats.

One of those other parts of the forward line, is captain Antonio De Natale.

Now normaly he would be far from a questionmark but a serious injury at the wrong side of 30 is always worrying. Especially for a player so dependant on his great pace.
De Natale missed most of last season with that injury, and how he comes back this season will be key for Udinese.

On Udinese's attacking right side coach Marino has some interesting decisions to make.
There is Simone Pepe who both Marino and Marcello Lippi for then national team really likes to use in that right forward/wing spot. He works really hard and while rarely spectacular, he definitely has something to offer both ways.

His rival, who will also be our player "worth watching", on the other hand IS quite spectacular.
From Chile, 20 year old Alexis Sanchez. He has been hugely impressive during Chile's so far great World Cup qualifying campaign.
Taking fans by storm with his technical ability and exciting dribbling trickery, he also seems quite strong and with good stamina, especially for Chile, where he does very well in their high pressure game when not in possession.

Could he turn into more of a striker? Play on the left? I think to replace Quagliarella's attacking contributions, it's someone like Sanchez who needs a bigger role. Not someone like Corradi.

fredag den 28. august 2009

Weekend football

So I'm currently finishing the Serie A preview.

I have just done Parma, Roma and Sampdoria which means only three teams to go!


I have of course also watched some football and will do so tomorrow as well.

The plan is to post thoughts about, if not all, then definitely some of the games I've been watching. Whether that will start late sunday after everything is done or maybe monday, I'm not sure about yet. We shall see.

But games watched (and thereby candidates for discussion) so far are:


Some of Liverpool - Bolton

Some of Tottenham - Birmingham

Manchester United - Arsenal

Some of Real Madrid - Deportivo La Coruna

And finally Inter's demolition of AC Milan in the Milan derby.

tirsdag den 25. august 2009

Serie A 2009/10 preview part V

It continues (still in alphabetical order) and not just with one team this time.


Just when this team on paper was starting to shape up rather nicely again, highlighted by a Coppa Italia win last season, conflict arrives and there is currently a situation where three (good) players are left out of the squad because of dispute.
De Silvestri, plus recent key players Pandev and Ledesma are all currently left out of the squad and every day it seems there are rumors of them being signed by other teams.

Probably most important though is the one who IS staying. Star forward Mauro Zarate's status was made permanent when Lazio managed to raise the €25 million needed to secure him.
If Zarate has been consistent enough to justify a price such as that I'm not so sure of, but when he was good he was often magical, and probably key in this thing, better than anything Lazio has had for quite some time and better than anything else realistically they'd have any hope of signing in the near future.
So all in all, well done to Lazio for securing him.

With his number one partner in crime when it comes to attacking contributions, Pandev, for the time being out, the door should now be wide open for great technician Pasquale Foggia to really make his mark for the club.
If he can do that the door might also open up further for the national team where he could bring some flair to primarely the wings.

Elsewhere things are a lot less spectacular. Sturdy striker Tommasi Rocchi is for the time being the captain up front and on midfield you find solid (but not getting any better) veterans such as Dabo, Baronio and Cristian Brocchi.

There is also Stefano Mauri, Matuzalem and Meghni who on their day have more to offer forward but even with the best of the lot there, Ledesma in, you feel this is a midfield who's job it should be, to lay a balanced foundation so the skilled players up front's focus can be 100 percent on the attacking side of things.

In the back-four Rozenhal has left for Hamburg and most interesting will be who wins the left-back starting job of Kolarov and romanian Radu who has impressed a lot of people whenever he has played.

Worth watching: Stephan Lichtsteiner: A product of the, in recent years, great Swiss talent development, he is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best right-backs in the league contributing nicely to the attack.
In fact, his constant running up and down the flank has earned him the nickhame Forrest Gump!


Up from Serie B we have the team who very much unlike Lazio are known for their left-wing supporters.
And also back is their number one working class hero and Livorno legend, veteran striker Cristiano Lucarelli.
Wearing number 99 on his jersey as a homage to 1999 founded left-wing ultras group Brigate Autonome Livornesi, BAL, Lucarelli born and bred in a notorius Livorno housing project, first came to prominence when he at a U-21 national team game being played in Livorno, celebrated a goal by ripping off his shirt revealing underneath another one with the familiar picture print of Che Guevara.
The Livorno fans went crazy and has loved him ever since but elsewhere and in the press he was heavily criticised.
It's been speculated how much damage was done already then to his future with the national team where he to this day is stuck at just one cap. I really don't know.

But further endearing him to the Livorno fans was when he at the height of his career, despite his agent's wishes took a paycut, rejected more lucrative offers and basically forced a move away from Torino to join Livorno now on the rise after 50 years in the lower leagues.

With Lucarelli on board now finally in Serie A they actually did well. In the midst of among others, chaotic coaching reigns from Roberto Donadoni the club achieved league finishes of 8, 6 and 11.
Lucarelli also had a lot of personal success netting plenty of goals and even finishing as league top scorer in 2005.

With Livorno president Aldo Spinelli conflict and tension is never far away though. There have been various small matters such as a match fixing scandal and when it comes to coaches he hasn't exactly been the most easy guy to have as boss.
Always very superstitious in fear of a bad run, Spinelli with one round left to play of last season following a defeat, sacked coach Leonardo Acori eventhough the team was still sitting comfortably in third place and was secured a playoff spot.

New coach Gennaro Ruotola immediatly endeared himself to the supporters not just by winning promotion but by declaring a democratic revolution as well, which is the kind of language that's still sweet music to the Livorno tifosi.

A few years earlier with another conflict with another manager, Spinelli also had a fall out with Lucarelli who was then sold to Shaktar Donetsk and last year played for Parma.

Now he is back though and Spinelli may not be. Following the promotion last season he had these words:

"Football is cruel and for this reason I would like to leave the presidency to my son.

"This has been too tough a year for me, what with a massacre of a play-off run. I hope my son accepts,".


Worth watching: Alessandro Diamanti: But where?

Unfortunately for Livorno fans the passionate and talented star on their team for the last few years seems to be on his way out with the club also more than willing to cash in on him.
Gianfranco Zola at West Ham is one fan and as I'm writing this, the Hammers look like a likely destination.

Diamanti according to himself has wasted far too many years in the lower leagues and when you look at his play at least in the last couple of years you have to agree.
A skilled technical player he creates goals for both teammates and himself. From open play as well as on set-pieces.

Last season the main beneficiari from that was former Valencia failure Francesco Tavano who finally had a good year again, and it will be interesting to see how he and others will do up front, IF without Diamanti.
Against tougher competition less well is definitely the more likely, but at least with Lucarelli now back at the club some other options presents itself, since he can still be a good target-man.


Roberto Donadoni's current destination with their huge loyal fan support are very ambitious and will look for drastic improvement from last year, where they following a promising start slumped to a 12th place finish.

That meant the dismissal of Edy Reja who had led the team all the way back from Serie C1, which could be argued was somewhat of a cruel fate.

However I do think it's arguable that his rather dated 3-5-2 system wasn't stable enough at the highest level and that change was needed to have a realistic chance of this team reaching the top.

Now whether his replacement Roberto Donadoni is the right kind of change only time will tell, shockingly he is yet to really abandon the 3-5-2, and of course time may very well turn out to be very limited when both demanding fans and a crazy president (yes another one) Aurelio De Laurentis, all expect rapid improvement.
When it comes to the players at least, improvement looks more certain.

They've held on to all of their key players and have used a considerable amount of money to attract players such as Luca Cigarini who is one Italy's most talented midfielders, proven striker Fabio Quagliarella, goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis and one of the real breakthrough right-backs of last season, Columbian Juan Zuniga.

At least in the 3-5-2, defensively in the back things are the same, and realistically only further improvement from the promising Fabio Santacroce can make things better there.
He was already an important player last season where the team went from conceding 53 to 45, but the needed 10 goals or so improvement from that, to reach the very top, is just hard to imagine being produced by a three-man-backline.

The midfield has a lot of talent. Marek Hamsik's splendid two-way play is now joined by Cigarini who has a really good deep pass as well that should benefit the pace upfront, and with the rest of the bunch there is a nice mixture of steel and finesse not least from Uruguayan international Walter Gargano who Napoli really missed when he went down with a foot injury last season.

The real challenge is of course to get that mixture just right and with talented wingbacks galore plus all-round types of central midfielders, what is the best non-3-5-2 lineup even?

Up front Argentinian wizard Lavezzi and reliable Quagliarella can easily be part of a flexible three forward line that would help a four man midfield some, but that means a key role for so far not that impressive striker Denis, and that might not be worth it either.

I would think the most logical thing would be Donadoni's own 4-3-1-2 system. With Hamsik behind Lavezzi and Quagliarella, plus a three man midfield including Cigarini with the rest of the spots up for grabs.
To me that system looks good enough both ways with the squad players Napoli have. But if Donadoni really is still using the 3-5-2 it must be because he thinks the player material continues to be better suited for that, and that with the reinforcements now in place he can do better with it than Reja did.

The problem I see is that expectations are not just to be somewhat better, but A WHOLE LOT BETTER, and that I seriously doubt can come from a 3-5-2 formation.

Worth watching:Ezequel Lavezzi
: For real or one of those overrated youtube sensations?
Build a lot like Carlos Tevez he doesn't have the same strenght and stamina but tons of skills and pace.
Great pace with the ball too.
Surrounded by better talent this year he should be even better.
Watch this season for hopefully better passing, consistency and decisionmaking and Napoli have themselves an elite player.


The Zenga/Zamparini/craziest coach/craziest president constellation looks to be an interesting one and it should be enjoyed while it lasts.

Zenga's coaching exploits have already been touched upon in the Catania section of these previews. And you can add to it his recent declaration that Palermo will challenge for the championship.

President Zamparini, besides his outbursts to the media, is best known for his legendary impatience when it comes to coaches. To such an extent where you have to wonder if Zenga's title challenge prediction is some kind of advanced reverse psychology plot to do what no one else employed by Zamparini have done, and actually remain in the job for a bit.
Zamparini since his entrance into football in 1987 has sacked 26 coaches!

There is hope however cause a recent trend developing with him is rehiring coaches he has previously dismissed.
Most famously current Parma coach Franceso Guidolin who on 4 different occasions have been sacked only to later be rehired by Zamparini.
The last time Guidolin was sacked in 2008 the man he replaced, Stefano Colantuono was then rehired, only of course to have Zamparini sack him after just one game into the next season.
HIS replacement Ballardini, now at Lazio, went on to lead the team to a good 8th place finish last year but was still let go by Zamparini. And with that enter current coach Walter Zenga.

Overall I would say that even if the team isn't good enough to challenge for a Scudetto this is still a good team.

Up front Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani has kept improving and now forms a very nice little and large striker partnership with more experienced, but still with a lot to offer, Fabrizio Miccoli.

Behind them especially leader Fabio Liverani has been doing a good job in midfield for years.

Look for him to be defensively complemented by experienced Noceroni and on the more attacking side of things by brazilian Fabio Simplico who had a good enough last season to attract at least whispers of attention from bigger clubs.

There is also aussie-italian Mark Bresciano who is a nice versatile player to have.

But to have this team reach for the top, the hype of especially one player needs to hold water:In what could turn out to be a massive coup it was Palermo who secured the signature of young Argentine, Javier Pastore.

On Pastore, from this Guardian article by Joel Richards:
He is light years ahead of his nearest competitor in the 'Lyrical Ranking' – a weekly tribute to the showboaters among Argentina's top flight footballers.
Sports daily Olé's readers recently voted him the best player of the season, while Clarín's journalists rate him as the second top performer of the season. Some 680,292 mangers have him in their fantasy football teams. Manchester United are reported to have tabled a £8.8m bid, which he turned down. Milan and Lazio are also interested. He's the son every madre wants after he ran over to kiss his mum through the fencing to celebrate a goal. He's the boyfriend that every señorita wants thanks to his boyish good looks. Huracán's 19-year-old midfielder, Javier Pastore, is creating quite a stir in Argentina.

Just over a week ago, he single-handedly demolished River Plate with two goals and an assist in his side's 4-0 win over the millonarios. Many thought Pastore had played his best game of the season. Then last Saturday night he scored two more against Rosario Central, and was inches away from his first top flight hat-trick when his shot cannoned off the crossbar. With seven goals from midfield this season, he is his club's top scorer.

In the back Palermo has lost Carrozzieri due to his suspension for cocaine use.

Instead, in have come Romanian international Dorin Goian who is far from a downgrade at all in my view and when I've seen him play from Romania has been very good.
Add to that the defensive duo of last season consisting of experienced Cesare Bovo and very talented Simon Kjaer and Palermo could have one of the best central defenses in the league.

Worth watching: Zamparini and Zenga:
Too many players have been called the new Maradona way too early. Though technically I think Pastore actually mainly has been called the new Messi! But anyway while certainly an eye should be kept on Pastore, he could still have some way to go yet, and in the meantime more interesting will be if Zenga's reverse psychology will pay dividends and if he will actually be given the time needed to make his mark on Palermo by Zamparini, or if this constellation is just a massive blowup waiting to happen. If so then at least we'll watch it when it does.


And with that only Parma, Roma, Sampdoria, Siena and Udinese to go in one final entry that should be up long before the games next weekend!

mandag den 24. august 2009

Serie A 2009/10 preview part IV (Juventus)


For the first time since rejoining Serie A Juventus has a realistic chance of the scudetto.

But a lot of things have to go right and very things wrong.

The transfer campaign has been promising. Brazilian star playmaker Diego has joined and he instantly becomes one of the best players in the league.

One who was that last year was his compatriot Felipe Melo. Joining from Fiorentina he is a great physical talent with a smooth passing game who with his arrival potentially makes a full strenght Juventus midfield the strongest in the league.
In the back Fabio Cannavaro is back from Real Madrid. Even if he won't be great anymore (from accounts I've read he actually WAS in his debut last night) he should still be able to form one of the better partnerships around with Giorgio Chiellini.

Also brought in from Barcelona is versatile defender Martin Caceres, but it's unclear how much playing time he will recieve. Personally I would think he should get a chance to prove himself as a fullback while at the same time be a good fourth option for the central defense behind Legrottaglie.

The fullback positions is once again where a lot of Juventus fans place their worries.

On the right side Grygera can still make good contributions forward but defensively there is always a mistake just waiting to happen it seems.
Zebina also has some talent going forward but has lost some pace and is often injured. He is definitely not a number one option for a team searching for greatness. Let's just say that.

On the left we have everyone's favorite Cristian Molinaro. The good thing is that you always know what you're gonna get with Molinaro. The bad thing is that it's never really good.
He just isn't particulary talented and what he does best he does just okay, and especially against good teams he can really fall through.
Unless it's on backup salary his recent 5 year contract extension is a little strange.

His main rival for the job is young leftsided player Paolo De Ceglie.
I suppose out of desperation to see someone, anyone, else than Molinaro play, a lot of Juventus fans really wants De Ceglie to succeed.
I think certainly forward he has a lot more potential than Molinaro but as a defender and even technically, like his passing skills, he still has some ways to go before being a starter on a top team.
His stamina, at least when in a 4-4-2 last year where he had to cover large distances also seemed lacking.

In the first game yesterday Ferrara actualy went with versatile veteran Salihamidzic there. Not exactly a vote of confidence.

So there is no doubt the fullbacks are a weakness. The question is just how much influence they'll have in new coach Ciro Ferrara's more flexible systems compared to Ranieri's 4-4-2 where fullbacks played quite a significant role providing in width.
Certainly in Ferrara's recent 4-3-1-2 a key challenge is defending the flanks and that alone could mean seeing less of the fullbacks going forward.
That then raises the question of the attacking width.

Three of the four striker options all have their main strenghts in the penalty area, so taking out crossing would not seem logical.

On the left undoubtedly the most talented performer is the "atomic ant" Sebastian Giovinco.
Very small in stature he is one of the most exciting attacking talents in the world. Few are faster with the ball at their feet and his low center of gravity makes him quite a nightmare to deal with.
On top of that he has dynamite in his boots resulting in great crosses and explosive shots on goal.
But where to play him?
It's hard to see him on a three-man midfield having to do a lot of two-way play and of course Diego occupy the attacking midfielder spot behind the strikers.

One option would be two defensive midfielders + Diego and then a three forward line up front where Giovinco theoretically could take a place on either side.

Another option would simply be the role I'm sure we'll see Del Piero play a lot. Alongside one of the big strikers and mainly operating from the left, still with Diego behind.
I think Del Piero still has a lot to offer from there. In and around the penalty area from where he can really make use of his magic right foot, but I really hope whenever he isn't a 100 percent, and at his age that's far from all the time, that Giovinco will be the one replacing him most of the time.
If he can be first choice backup for both Diego and Del Piero, and Alex won't automatically still play when he is 80 percent or whatever, then maybe just maybe, there is a chance he'll get the games his talent definitely deserves.

On the right side there are even less options and if fullbacks are going to participate anywhere I guess it's there.
Of midfielders, there really only is Camoranesi to provide any quality width from there and in some ways he is facing the same obstacles Giovinco is on the left.
They're different though and unlike Giovinco it's not that hard to imagine Camoranesi, if in top condition, take a right-central midfielder spot on a three man midfield.

No the real strength of this team looks to be central: Diego with great passing and dribbling ability.
Melo's secure passing and strong tackling and then young Italian midfielder Marchisio, something of everything. With an upside.

Then there is also perhaps the best Juventus player last season
Mohamed Sissoko. While still not a good passer, he has supreme physical tools that makes him a really good two-way player. Whether it's crushing tackles while doing defensive work or being an immovable object while making Patrik Vieira style powerful runs forward.
He has had some injury problems recently but if you're into powerful physical midfield displays, watching him and Melo eventually playing together on the Juventus midfield should be great to watch.

Christian Poulsen, despite attempts to force him out is also still with the team.
He's been one of the better defensive midfielders in Europe for teams such as Schalke and especially Sevilla. And last season he really wasn't any worse. And certainly not as bad as popular opinion will have you believe, but on a club with lofty ambitions used to always winning but just not good enough to do so yet again, he was seen as such.
Personally I like the depth that Poulsen provides. And even if Cristiano Zanetti did a lot of good for Juve in what were tough times, Poulsen is the younger and stronger. Health is a skill too.

Up front Amauri and Iaquinta have quite a lot in common. Including at this point being better strikers than David Trezeguet (for more on that see my "more football entry" on the Berlusconi Tropy game) but how much I like seeing them both play together at the same time with Diego, I'm not really sure.
I think I prefer one of Del Piero/Giovinco getting playing time in a second-striker role together with just one of them, instead of seeing them both kind of do the same things.
Like hinted earlier I'm not sure there is enough crossing for both of them either, and there will also be situations where it's one of them placed out wide providing width, when that would be so much better if it's Alex or Giovinco.
I think Amauri is the better of the two but Iaquinta has turned into a good striker himself and should get games too of course.

I also think all of Del Piero, Giovinco and Amauri are better at complementing, what will be so new on this team, the quality passing down the middle from the Brazilians, Melo and of course first and foremost playmaker Diego.

Who by the way has a frequently updated youtube-channel!

Worth watching: Giorgio Chiellini: In his prime right now, he has all it takes to cement his status as the best current Italian defender.
When it comes to defending he really does everything well, but in my eyes "just" has to take one final mature step away from Materazzi-like reckless, sometimes dirty, tendencies and into great defender territory.
It will be interesting to watch if he will do that this year.

Serie A 2009/10 preview part III (Inter/Ibrahimovic rant)


Inter has been a very easy team to predict and break down for quite a few years now.
This year however it looks a lot more difficult and I'm not really sure what will happen which I'm sure this preview will reflect.

For starters. removing Ibrahimovic from this team spells huge change and the right tactical adjusments are very needed but what they'll actually be I'm not sure about at all.
Fortunately for Inter fans, in Jose Mourinho they have a brilliant coach with a great track record of turning teams into consistent winners.
To make it perfectly clear despite all the brutal misconception from mainly the english speaking media, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the best players in the world and quite frankly irreplaceable.

It's been quite humorous if tediously predictable to observe the british media's reaction of more or less total bewilderment following the Zlatan/Eto'o deal.
What is going on these people thought? Samuel Eto'o the much better player is being swapped for someone not even that good and on top of it they give up the staggering amount of 46 million Euro + former Arsenal great Alexander Hleb, just to get him!

Even more predictable, sadly enough, the followup reaction to that, the usual combination of ignorance and arrogance from football journalists so removed from reality that they're quite certain they know better than the football mind of man just responsible for creating what last season was one of the best teams in history, and without much thought at all more than willing to call that man out on the silliness that was the thought (what thought surely?!) behind his transfer.
Overall it must be one of the most shining examples of any doubt about the utter wrongness of the collective assessment by a group of little knowing journalists, being swept away by the amazing dose of reality that was the astronomical value of a player, THAT they didn't really rate.

Did these people even watch Ibrahimovic regularly. At Ajax? In Serie A for Juventus and Inter?
Every year where he was a key player in securing the championship. Or THE key player.
Even at his so called bad year for Juve he was actually pretty good.
That the team he is on is basically winning the championship every year, shouldn't that at least appeal to what's generally very results oriented thinking.

Instead, enter the big game myth. This or that player, in this case Ibrahimovic, isn't a "big game player".
Often used as the last straw to grab onto when in denial about whatever great player's qualities, it's been wrongly used over and over.
Of the top of my head everyone of these players I remember not being so called "big game players" at various stages in their careers:
Ronaldo was not a "big game" player cause his team lost a World Cup final to a great France team?
Zidane was not a "big game" player. cause omg Juventus lost a championship league final where he was actually injured.
Christian Ronaldo was not a "big game player" cause if he was why didn't Manchester United win the Champions League every year?
And right now Zlatan definitely is NOT a "big game" player cause all he does is win one league championship after another. And you're obviously a much better player if you're good in one game instead of 38!

Of course it's all pure nonsense constructed using misconceptions and tiny sample sizes.
What makes Ibrahimovic excellent is his strenght/technique combination and when on top of that he is blessed with great vision, creativity and flair, you have a truly unique player who can both be a great striker, a great playmaker as well as an effective targeman or simply a moving-around, versatile forward.

The only things really I can see Eto'o at this point in his career doing better than Ibrahimovic is the accelaration on the first meters and that quickly released out of nowhere great shot of his, that's resulted in many goals.
Ibrahimovic however is a much better passer and more creative. To a point that could make Barca this year the best attacking team that we've ever seen. Yes I said it.
He is also stronger which really helps against teams (like against Chelsea where Eto'o was useless) with a strong physical team defense, and perhaps most importantly he is much more durable and unlike Eto'o can carry a team throughout a season.

It just wasn't for fun or out of charity they gave Eto'o plus tons of money away to secure Ibrahimovic. It's because Guardiola rightly think of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as being on a higher level than Samuel Eto'o and that Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes the team better than Samuel Eto'o does.

So with almost no hope of replacing such an elite player (the only right here, right now option I see is Mourinho darling, Didier Drogba) Inter for the first time since calciopoli crippled their nearest rivals, have some real questionmarks.

On paper they still look like the strongest and deepest team but when they can't replace the great player who in many ways carried them, they're in a situation where they are forced to try and do new things, and with that comes the uncertainty.

Not helping at all is that they'll be without, for some time, one of best central midfielders in the world, Esteban Cambiasso.

One thing that's worked great for Inter is the midfield diamond but while that midfield worked well with Ibrahimovic, more uncertain is how well it would work with a front duo of Eto'o and Milito.
Not that Milito and Eto'o are bad. Quite the opposite. They're both excellent strikers and one of the strongest duos around, easily. But they're two strikers who usually feed of a nice passing game. Providing the excellent finishing touches, TO that.
Eto'o as we all know for years now at Barcelona but Milito as well for Genoa and before that for Zaragoza.
Remember, the sadly way too short time, before it all went wrong, when Zaragoza had one of the most exciting attacks in Europe?
The coach was attacking mastermind Víctor Fernández and through dazzling passing and technical play, players like Pablo Aimar, D'Alessandro and Milito excelled.

For Inter, Muntari on the other hand is someone who is not a very good passer. Stankovic and the evergreen Zanetti aren't bad but not very fast anymore. The same is the case with Motta and Vieira.
The one midfield player in the diamond who is both a good passer and pretty fast is in fact Cambiasso. Mostly with a defensive role and now unfortunately for Inter out injured.

It's hard to imagine Milito and Eto'o not scoring goals but that midfield in a diamond formation will not provide them with the greatest of service.

It's not all bad of course. The midfield obviously has a lot of other qualities making it very effective and able to get the better of a lot of teams. They just can't rely on the qualities they don't have, being provided by Ibrahimovic anymore.
Enter Mourinho's (rare) call for a trequartista and the various on-going speculation surrounding players such as Deco and now Wesley Sneijder.

If that doesn't materialize putting the 4-4-2 diamond to rest looks likely and even if Sneijder in fact would join, another system might be preferred by Mourinho.

Some sort of version of his abandoned last season 4-3-3 trident attack is definitely an option and would mean the central midfielders behind could have jobs more suiting their strenghts too.
Work really hard. Make runs without the ball, play more direct and cover for the immense Maicon and his runs forward.
Have Maicon be a key to the attack instead of them.

The problem with that trident is the current characteristics of the forwards.

Both Eto'o and Milito have previously in their younger days been able to do well at times in wide-forward roles but especially with Eto'o I wonder if he is still able to do that. That was a role exclusively reserved for Henry at Barca the last few years.
Milito at least has tremendous movement and can definitely be part of a flexible forward line.
But then is whoever the third part reliable enough to maintain the right balance
Would one of Eto'o/Milito have to see the bench in this system?

Quaresma and Mancini's collective hopelessnes (drunken Adriano played his part too) was of course a main reason the system was put to bed last season, but at least one of these would have to be brought back in at least occasionaly for this system to have effective width.
Mancini I almost can't see it happening for, but for Quaresma at least there is realistic hope of a comeback. He is just too young still, and too talented not to make any positive contribution ever again.

Main candidate for the leftside would of course be Balotelli. He has all the talent and upside in the world but is still extremely erratic and immature, resulting in very up and down play.
Outsiders would be David Suazo, back from loan at Benfica (likely just a backup instead of the departed Cruz and Crespo) and talented Marko Armautovic who's playing characteristics have drawn some comparisons to a young Zlatan, and if his ability to play out wide that's been talked about in Holland is for real, plus considering his size, could be just what the doctor ordered for a Mourinho style 4-3-3.
He has struggled with injuries though, so realistically a contribution from him is not something just around the corner.

In the back goalkeeper Julio Cesar has just kept improving and last season was the best keeper in Serie A.
The back-four itself has a lot of experience and the injury concerns that comes with that.
Depth is definitely needed and all in all I think they got it.
Lucio has been brought in and should enjoy playing for a much better defensive team than where he came from, even if what he still enjoys the most is actually taking part of the attacking play! Samuel when healthy can still do a good job on a well balanced side and even though he is an idiot,to a lesser extent the same is the case for dirtiest player in the game Materazzi.
More likeable and better is Chivu, but he of course is also injured a lot.

An interesting case is Ivan Cordoba who has been one of my favorite defenders to watch for many years now.
The way he through amazing instincts and agility have overcome lack of size is something quite unique nowadays for a central defender and throughout it's been great to watch.

Worth watching: Davide Santon: The wonderboy himself has from day one looked extremely impressive and basically within minutes of watching, this was one of the best in the world at his position to me! And he wasn't even playing on what's his natural right side which of course is occupied by Maicon.
He's simply got it all at just 19, and a possible future Maldini or Bergomi is of course a must watch.

I'm still feeling the bitterness of missing round one yesterday. Genoa-Roma especially sounded like it was a great game. But I'm of course not abandoning Serie A, so therefore more to come later.

In the EPL tonight, Liverpool against Aston Villa is an interesting game and I definitely plan to watch that.

lørdag den 22. august 2009

Serie A 2009/10 preview part II

Btw I've added a "worth watching player" for every team in part I.

Still in alphabetical order:


The flying donkeys are still around. People in Verona still prefer... Well Verona, and captain Sergio Pellisser is still the best player.

Coach Di Carlo or maybe rather the club apparently have ambitions of securing Euro League play for the club.
If so, then some of the many draws from last season has to be converted into wins. Only Lecce drew more games, and staying clear once again of relegation looks to be the much more pressing matter, for a team who on paper at least doesn't look very impressive, than any time soon conquering Europe.

Worth watching: Nicolas Frey: The brother of star goalkeeper Sebastian has become a solid defender.


For Fiorentina the goal is once again the top 4 and despite losing Melo to Juventus they still have what it takes to mount a serious challenge to repeat that.

Despite last season, maybe for the first time during his reign, coach Prandelli came under some fire, thankfully no one really panicked and one of the world's best coaches is still at the helm.
Prandelli seems to always make the right tactical adjustments both before and during games and has his team working hard at all times.
He has the players to play both a conventional 4-4-2 as well as more flexible systems like 4-2-3-1.
One worry for both of these systems is if there will enough defensive quality in midfield now that Melo is gone.
There is no doubt there is plenty of skill with the likes of Montolivio, Jovetic, Mutu, Santana, Vargas and Marchionni behind Gilardino up front, so even with that being very good too, it's not exactly Melo's passing that will be missed, BUT defensively, players like Christiano Zanetti and Kuzmanovic needs to have good seasons.
Montelivio and/or Jovetic improving physically would definitely also help fill the void.

For the back-four, veteran central defender Cesare Natali has been brought in for more depth, something needed with (hopefully) Champions League play coming up, and he will battle solid Per Krøldrup and experienced Dainelli for the right to play alongside World Cup aspirant Gamberini.

Always an x-factor is skilled danish veteran Martin Jørgensen who has turned into something of a utility man with flair for all the wide positions. Not just the attacking ones these days but the fullback roles too.

Worth watching: Alberto Gilardino: He is still not the greatest technician but without the ball he makes some of the best runs between defenders of anyone, making him a very dangerous striker.
He just has a gift of awesome timing when it comes to that and it inevitably results in a lot of good scoring chances.
At Fiorentina behind him he has plenty of people who can pass him the ball and with his old Parma buddy Marchionni joining the team, another player who can cross it too.
With World Cup places at stake he should have another excellent season.


Finishing 5th with same points total as Fiorentina, Genoa barely missed Champions League qualification.
Led by former Juventus head of youth, dare I say coaching genius, Gian Piero Gasperini, Genoa were excellent throughout winning many fans with their style of play.
They play, a these days very rare 3-4-3, which is based on just about everyone contributing to both sides of play.
It can be said that on more than most teams, when watching Genoa there is a lot of two-way play to admire, from a lot of different players. Everywhere from the attacking positions to the defensive ones.

Two years ago when they lost top scorer Marco Boriello to AC Milan they managed to replace him with something even better.
Genoa hero Diego Milito was brought back from Spain and with his skill and speed in and around the penalty area he was the perfect fit for Genoa's quick passing game.
Now he is gone too and is finally getting a chance at a really big club and repeating what they did with Boriello and find even better replacements seems impossible.

However there is no doubt that Genoa is a great team to be the main striker on and whether one in the group gets to become the clear number one option or if the goals will be more spread, everyone of the replacements is good enough to score a nice number of goals for an attacking team as good as this.
Figueora is back from loan at Boca Juniors and can play as a wide forward as well.
Floccari signed from Atlanta and has some of the same qualities of Milito.
Crespo is more of a gamble and I wonder if he still has the movement needed to be really effective in this system, but even that is something that can be adjusted for and Gasperini as always will have everyone complementing eachother's strenghts very well.
Another player who has moved on who was a great succes last season is Thiago Motta.
Motta who had seen much of his promising career ruined by injuries was a real gamble but he stayed healthy and was one of the best midfielders in Serie A.
That they likely won't have anymore but they've still bought very well I think.
Zapater is a rare Spanish player in Serie A. He is 24 but has loads of experience already and from what I've seen is a complete player.
Houssine Kharja who was probably Siena's best player last season has also been bought.
Add them to already in place proven veterans Marco Rossi and Ivan Juric and you have a solid midfield group with plenty of options.

Defensively Genoa also lost a key player last season. Matteo Ferrari wasn't getting any younger but he was someone with a lot of experience and who was comfortable in three man defensive systems.
Luckily though Genoa have some great defensive talent at their club.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos has an impossible name but is recognized as the most promising greek defender.
He actually goes under the nickname "The greek Tony Adams" believe it or not.
He should be even more comfortable in the system this year and has all the qualities to be a good defender for many years to come.
Alongside him is perhaps Italy's most talented defender, Salvatore Bocchetti
He is someone who has drawn comparisons to the young Fabio Cannavaro.
Like Cannavaro he isn't tall or overly strong but outplays defenders through expert timing, superiour athleticism, great tackling ability and classic italian old school defensive instincts belying his young age.

Another permanent fixture last season was Domenice Criscito. He is another young talented player. Someone who on a personal note I definitely wish was still at Juventus. Who in this system can play both as a defender in the three-back line and as the left-wingback.
He is a very complete player who at this point I wouldn't say necessarily is excellent at anything but good at everything with no real weaknesses.
To help him out some this year is another very good addition, because he is such a good fit, signed from Valencia, Emiliano Moretti.
He has the potential to play the very demanding left-wingback position meaning Criscito could play in the back or it could simply be vice versa with Moretti in the backline.

Finally Genoa even managed to upgrade their goalkeeper position by bringing in (read:stealing) Italy number 2 Marco Amelia in a swap deal with Palermo, sending Genoa's Brazilian keeper Rubinho the other way.

Teams this year will now know for certain that Genoa are for real and increasingly try to adjust and create I suspect mainly counter attacking scemes, but it's easier said than done. Unlike Roma when things aren't working optimally there, there is just so much good two-way play on this team that they're hard to outplay, in either end.

Worth watching: Rodrigo Palacio: Tagging along with Figueora from Boca Juniors, Palacio is yet another in a seemingly endless line of great attacking talent coming from Argentina.
He is a bit older and likely without the upside of compatriots Ezequiel Lavezzi and Mauro Zarate who have become Serie A stars, but I suspect by the end of the season Palacio will have joined them when it comes to that kind of recognition.

He will occupy mostly the right forward spot and with his very good technique coupled with a good workrate, creativity and pace, he should be one of Genoa's best players this season and probably the most important when it comes to re-creating the goals gone with Milito.


Well I have about half the teams still to go, so turns out there will indeed be a part 3 and it probably won't be finished until after the games tomorrow, sadly enough!
Speaking of tomorrow, even more sadly, I have a birthday to attend and therefore will definitely miss, maybe all of the games live!


fredag den 21. august 2009

Serie A 2009/10 preview part 1

The above is the legendary intro to legendary Channel 4 program Football Italia presented by James Richardson who gave Serie A to the UK in the 90s, but must also have been used here where I'm from one way or the other, for one of our Serie A shows, since I'm quite certain I remember seeing it, and being from Denmark I've never watched neither Channel 4 or Football Italia.

Anyway I thought it would be a nice intro here as well, but lets get things started!

First with AC MILAN because I have what I think is quite an interesting follow up to some of my thoughts about the Juventus-Milan Berlusconi Trophy game where I wrote this about Ronaldinho:

One interesting thing though is that he wasn't playing his old role or the role previously occupied by Kaka at Milan.
Pato actually did this and was much more of a forward in this game bordering on attacking midfielder involved in buildup, than being a pure striker. He still made some great speedy runs though. Really he was kind of an everywhere man.
To a lesser extent the same was the case with new signing Huntelaar. He was seen a lot of other places than in the box, working really hard.
Personally I think Pato can be great in that role. His talent has no limit almost but to put Huntelaar out of his element like this just to accommodate a Ronaldinho not at his best anymore and not good enough to play the role he used to, having other people to do that, just so he maybe can be effective around the penalty area, WHERE probably the likes of Huntelaar and Pato would be more effective anyway.
It seems when Ronaldiho plays this is what they will do. The question then of course is how much he will play? We shall see.

Then yesterday I stumble upon this article from before that game http://www.goal.com/en/news/10/italy/2009/08/17/1446060/silvio-berlusconi-ac-milan-wont-buy-anyone-else-ronaldinho where Berlusconi has these quotes:
"Ronaldinho is the number one in the world, in midfield he is totally wasted," he suggested.

"If he was playing on the edge of the area, he would be able to punish the opposition more and score more goals. It is the most intelligent solution from a tactical point of view."
Hey Milan fans isn't it great that while Silvio may not pour millions of cash for transfers into your club anymore, at least he still provides great tactical insight!
Down your throats! Or at least the coach's.

Some things just never change and while the coach is new there is still the same old challenge of channeling Berlusconi's "insight" into something workable on the pitch.

The people who did this most successfully was of course legendary coaches Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello. They both stayed strong to their particular formulas of winning and off the pitch Berlusconi could use that succes to build his career in politics.
Even now somewhat forgotten star coach Alberto Zaccheroni, stayed true to his unique 3-4-3 system and secured a scudetto.
At the first sign of things going bad Zaccheroni was sacked though. Following a 2001 Champions League quaterfinal knockout against Deportivo La Coruna, Berlusconi in the middle of a busy election campaign took time to make it very clear on live tv afterwards that he didn't agree with many of the tactical choices that were made. "Tonight we saw that I was not wrong" was his quote, and that Zaccheroni's days as the Milan coach were numbered.

A couple of years before that, even Fabio Capello had felt Berlusconi's wrath as soon as things weren't going well and ended his second spell with the club getting sacked.
Granted things were very ugly at that point but this was the most succesful coach in the world who after winning everything with Milan had gone to Spain and just won La Liga in his first spell there with Real Madrid.
A couple of years later Capello in perhaps his finest achievement lead Roma to the title. Then Juventus. Then Madrid again. This man was far from done and obviously a great coach but also someone probably not very likely to implement Berlusconi's tactical input on to the pitch.

Sure finishing with a goalscore of 36-15 in 34 games (drawing 12-losing 3) as Capello's Milan team amazingly did in 1993-1994 was acceptable when also winning the title, but the first sign of that kind of football not transformed into great results, surely Berlusconi himself will have the best ideas of what to do instead!
Capello however I'm sure would not feel that way. Zaccheroni didn't.
Sacchi actually was also sacked, probably doing exactly what he had done before just not with the same results, ending his brief second spell with club.

One man who kept lasting though was of course Carlo Ancelotti. He won (just) one Scudetto in 8 years.
Of course his great succes in the Champions League where the team should have won 3 trophies instead of the two they did win helped a lot, but with plenty of dry spells during his long run as the coach, I strongly suspect that an important part of his quite remarkable staying power had to do with his willingness to listen to Berlusconi's insight when things weren't going well.

So with that, enter rookie coach Leonardo and his already shown willingness to play Ronaldinho where Silvio feels it's right. That's encouraging right? Well for Leonardo's staying power it is.
But what about the team actually winning?

Despite the disasterous preseason hilarities of 8 succesive defeats making it tempting to predict doom and gloom I actually like this team and think it very well could be the one with the most upside.
I don't expect Nesta to stay healthy throughout but even some contribution from him makes the defense stronger and beside him young brazilian defender Thiago Silva looks really good. At least Berlusconi is somewhat right there (following the Berlusconi Cup he called them the best in the world)!

I already touched upon the Ronaldinho question which of course is huge. More important than even where he plays, is of course how he plays.
The last few years while still being one of the most skilled players on the planet he has been a real "teamkiller".
For some reason, and it must be poor physical condition, because he is not old, he just doesn't have much and definitely not the NEEDED movement without the ball anymore.
That he doesn't work when his team isn't in possession is not anything new of course. That's never been his role anyway. But when he never makes runs without the ball he is just too easy to mark.
And when he, say 4 or 5 times a game does make a run, then he is too out of air to do anything with it when he gets the ball.
He just doesn't seem able to keep up with the tempo at the highest level anymore, which is pretty pathetic for someone with that kind of talent when you think about it.

I don't think there is any doubt that a significant part of Barcelona's historic improvement last season was definitely the black hole that was Ronaldinho being gone from their left side.
And last season despite the odd spectacular display it was when Ancelotti finally benched Ronaldinho that results started to improve for Milan and disaster was averted.

The hope for Milan fans is that this year being World Cup year his motivation should be higher than ever to find form. The problem of course is that when it comes to Ronaldinho that really isn't saying much.

Another important factor is of course the midfield fitness and exactly how bad it will be? It's not realistic that players such as Gattuso and Pirlo will remain fit throughout but step one I feel in order to not be too negatively affected by that is to make Flamini a key player.
Like I wrote in the previous entry he is someone who now has surpassed Gattuso and Ambrosini and it will be something of a travesty if he still finds himself behind them in the pecking order. He needs to play. And not as a fullback.

Other than Huntelaar who's succes will depend a lot on the tactical decisions, a really good addition(and a young one) is Ignazio Abate. I watched him both for Torino and for the U-21 team and he is a very hard working versatile player who isn't really bad at anything.
He can defend some. He can attack. Has decent pace and is a good crosser of the ball.
Leonardo will be able to play him almost anywhere and he'll make a good contribution.
A young Gianluca Pessotto?

Well since the Milan part of this preview has already gone on for far too long, I'll just end it with saying that I think they're a very likely top 4 team (I thought this about Roma last year btw) and the only team with enough upside, especially on the attacking front, to be a realistic challenger to Inter and Juventus for the number 1 and 2 spots.
Mainly the number 2 spot it has to be said and in direct contest with the best teams I can see them struggling while perhaps play the midtable and bottomtable teams better than some of the other top 4 challengers.

Worth watching: Andrea Pirlo: Just enjoy him while you can. One of the most important and talented players of his generation who is getting up there in age, but his deep passing and through balls are as unique as ever.

But lets get some alphabetic order into this and next do ATALANTA, who also just happens to (hopefully) require a lot less words:

What first come to mind is that they've lost some good people.
Coach Luigi Del Neri has left for Sampdoria. Talented midfielder Luca Cigarini has been signed by Napoli and ever improving striker Sergio Floccari to Genoa who preferred him over u-21 star Robert Acquafresca sent to Atalanta.

Acquafresca has now basically been dumped both by Inter who included him in the Diego Milito deal and at least for now by Genoa.

I think he has some way to go as well. He is strong and I suppose has decent pace. He definitely have those right kind of striker instincts of making the right runs and is good in the air but technically and athletically there is easily room for drastic improvement.

The good news is that he will be playing with Atalanta legend Christiano Doni right behind him who has a great tendency to make those around him better.
Without knowing this team too well, factoring other team's improvements and a new coach without the same record of overachieving as his predecessor my feeling is that Atlanta will struggle to repeat their recent league finishes.

Worth watching: Andrea Consigli: Just how good will the former recent u-21 number one goalkeeper be?


Antonio Conte led this team to promotion and the Serie B championship last season, then following Claudio Ranieri's Juventus dismissal seemed quite interested in taking over there. He was certainly a subject for some time, lets just say that, resulting in rumors of him quitting Bari.
The Juventus job of course instead permanently went to Ciro Ferrara but at Bari the damage seemed to have been done and to whatever extent it actually was mutual, Bari and Conte eventually parted ways.
I really don't know too much of this team. Looking at their squad they do have some players with Serie A experience. The new coach Giampiero Ventura is very experienced and has overachieved with clubs before.
For a team who has been out of Serie A for 8 years the sole objective will be survival.

Worth watching: Paulo Barreto: Tricky Brazilian striker who scored 23 goals in Serie B.
What can he do against much tougher competition this year?
Udinese always with abundance of talent didn't find him quite good enough a few years ago.
This is his chance to prove them wrong.

One of the teams Bari likely will battle with to stay alive is BOLOGNA who barely avoided the drop last season.
Experienced coach Giuseppe Papadopulo was brought in after the club, under Mihaljovic, had dropped into the relegation zone with just seven games remaining, and on the last day they secured survival with a win over Catania. And with it, Papadopulo, a contract extension.

In midfield they've lost veteran Sergio Volpi but has a decent crop of experienced defensively, if somewhat ordinary, responsible midfielders.
Up front is more interesting where they've just signed Marco Zalayeta who is still just 30 somehow and if he can win a starting place will feature in a somewhat retro attacking duo with last season's top scorer veteran striker Marco Di Vaio.
Zalayeta never really became the very good player that a lot of people thought he would when they first saw him for Juventus.
He was very athletic and impressive but never really developed much beyond that.
It's hard to say if his improvement stalled because of too many years with only sporadic appearances at the highest level, but it wasn't exactly like he impressed on his loan spells either.
For a striker he just never really became a good goalscorer which you could say is kind of important.

Di Vaio on the other hand always was, and as long as he still has some pace left probably will be.
The great workrate and the great shot is still there. As well as the ability in the box.

I don't think really he can be that good as a wide forward anymore however. Something he was very good at when he was younger. Even if his goalscoring sometimes suffered because of it. But in a duo upfront he can still be very effective and a reliable goal scorer. Something that in the end once again could save Bologna from relegation.

Worth watching: Pablo Daniel Osvaldo: He is a player who could really provide a spark if he can rebound from poor form/injuries.
A former U-21 international who didn't even get to score last season is still only 23 and maybe the most talented player in the squad.

The star for CAGLIARI is promising coach Massimiliano Allegri who led the team to a very suprising 9th place finish last year. That they did it after losing their first 5 games makes it even more amazing.
The star upfront Acquafresca is gone and replacing his contribution there is obviously a key challenge.
There are some serious competition for craziest club owner/president in the Serie A but Cagliari's Massimo Cellino at least keeps himself in the picture with comments like these on Aquafresca's replacement, Brazilian Nene:
I heard his name and I liked it: it intrigued me. So I looked him up and noticed that we share the same birthdate. I thought to myself that this was a sign of fate and decided to sign him up

Worth watching: Federico Marchetti: One of the best goalkeepers in the league last season and was highly praised by Gialuigi Buffon.
He definitely won't steal the starting spot from Buffon on the national team but he will try to earn a place in the squad for the World Cup with a repeat strong performance this year.


Gone is their crazy coach Walter Zenga who has left for Palermo to join the craziest president Maurizio Zamparini.

While still coaching in Belgrade, Zenga read a book by a banker called Gianni Vio called "An Extra 30 Percent" which included ideas about properly capitalising on dead ball situations.
Zenga liked it so much that he hired Vio as his assistant manager to work exlusively on that in training.
One of the more standard ideas is for players to move from offside positions to create confusion. That's really nothing new.
But what was pretty unique was when Zenga (or Vio) had players in the penalty area drop their shorts in front of the opposing goalkeeper (TO MOON HIM!) as a distraction while the freekick was being taken! Against Torino that actually resulted in a Giuseppe Mascara goal.

If that was a highlight or lowlight of the season I'm not sure but while Zenga with very organized defensive football provided Catania with a good solid season, the real highlights were provided by the extraordinary wondergoals of Mascara. The first goal here is from 2006 but the other two the famous ones from this season. Click HD and ignore the horrible music:

That's also a nice end to this part 1. Part 2 (and if needed 3 as well) a little later.Oh and

Worth watching: The above