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 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

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