The Italian Serie A graces us with a return this week and hopefully graces punters with a great return to pockets as we look ahead to some exciting opening fixtures. But before we get there, let’s take a look at what happened last season, pre-season and what could happen this season. Massimiliano Allegri defied the doubters magnificently in his first season in charge of Juventus, and must now do it all over again without a clutch of last season's biggest names. Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo have all left but, crucially, Paul Pogba is still in Turin. Fortunately for Juve - and perhaps unfortunately for neutrals - there has been little going on at runners-up Roma to suggest they are ready to close the enormous points gap that existed in 2014/15. The lack of a centre-forward of suitable authority has been a real concern but Edin Dzeko's arrival from Manchester City is a potential step up after some major recent misses in the transfer market. Are we about to see the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s return to Serie A?
AC Milan and their city rivals Inter have both invested heavily in an effort to turn their fortunes around. The investment of Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol has given Milan some much-needed working capital for improvements, with coach Sinisa Mihajlovic appointed in Pippo Inzaghi's stead to oversee it. AC Milan have spent big money in all departments including buying former Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca, while Geoffrey Kondogbia has joined Inter Milan from Monaco with Roberto Mancini making big changes to his squad since he returned in November last year. The spending spree at Inter has meant many players have had to leave including Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City. What is the world of football coming to? Despite all of these drastic changes and money being thrown around like a child being bullied on a playground, I doubt there is a side in the Serie A that can give Juve an authentic 38-game challenge for the Scudetto.
Saturday 22 August
Hellas Verona 42/10
Last season’s runners-up, Roma, will visit Hellas Verona in the first game of the new Serie A season looking to start the new campaign on a high. However, Verona are no pushovers as they earned a 1-1 draw in this fixture last time around, whilst they also managed to claim a point against Juventus on their ground. Roma and Hellas Verona have proven goalscorers in their midst; Mattia Destro was Roma’s top scorer last term netting thirteen times and with the latest inclusion of Edin Dzeko, they have another lethal finisher. Luca Toni will be the one to watch for Verona after sharing the top goalscorer award with Mauro Icardi last season, bagging 22. Anyhow, I still favour Roma, who are unbeaten against their opponents in the last eleven meetings and although Verona have some fight in them, I doubt they have enough quality to get one over Roma.
Lazio will kick-start the new campaign on home soil. They proved last term that they have what it takes to challenge for top honours after finishing third on the log, only one point behind cross-town rivals Roma. At the time of writing Lazio still have a UEFA Champions League Play-off to contend with against Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen, which is more important than a game against newly-promoted Bologna. The latter will be hoping that Lazio’s attention will be solely on qualifying for the Champions League as they plan a way to dismantle their opponents. However, they were inconsistent last season and judging by their poor away form, it’s unlikely they will be get the better of Lazio. The home win is tipped.
Sunday 23 August
Sunday is where the majority of the action takes place, and where better to kick things off than Turin? Champions Juventus will take on Udinese, and expect no mercy from the three-time consecutive Scudetto winners. The Old Lady picked up their first piece of silverware a fortnight ago as they rallied to a 2-0 victory over Lazio in the Italian Super Cup. It is beyond question that it will take Udinese plenty of hard work, determination, belief, encouragement, heart and fighting spirit to walk away with a point let alone three. Udinese managed just ten wins from 38 matches last term, settling for sixteenth place on the log. Juventus are unbeaten at home in the league for the past two seasons, winning 35 matches and drawing just three. There isn’t much value to be found here except Juventus to Win Both Halves at 16/10.
Just one point separated these sides last season as they finished fifteenth and fourteenth on the log respectively. Empoli won this meeting 3-0 last time around. However, they registered just six wins from nineteen games at home last term, while their opponents were just as poor on their travels. Chievo scored the least goals in the league, only 28 in 38 matches. This one should go down to the wire and I’m expecting a scarce amount of goals. Under 2.5 Goals looks the best bet here at 11/20.
AC Milan 5/2
Arguably the biggest game in the Serie A this weekend pits Fiorentina against AC Milan. The home side impressed last season but battled to maintain winning form. Fiorentina have done well in pre-season, seeing off the likes of Benfica (on penalties), Barcelona (2-1) and Chelsea (1-0) in the Champions Cup. They have dominated against Milan in recent head-to-heads, losing just once in the last eight meetings. The Rossoneri have made some changes to their squad after ending last season tenth on the table. Former Sampdoria manager Sinisa Mihajlovic has been appointed after Pippo Inzaghi failed to impress Milan’s board of directors. Another important signing will be Carlos Bacca from Sevilla. The Colombian hitman scored twenty goals in La Liga and he could combine perfectly with Milan’s Player of the Season Jeremy Menez, who scored sixteen goals last term. This one looks to be a cagey affair and a draw looks a likely result.
Frosinone were promoted to Serie A for the first time in their history as they clinched second place in Serie B. They had the best home record in the league, winning fourteen of their 21 matches on their turf. Torino will be the first side to test them and to their credit had quite a decent past season. They finished mid-table and gained a place in the Europa League Round of 16. They are a very defensive minded team and will make it difficult for Frosinone to score their first Serie A goal. Not an easy one to call, but Under 2.5 Goals is the way to go at 11/20.
Inter Milan 5/10
Inter Milan showed glimpses of greatness but their lack of consistency led them to yet another mediocre season. They have strengthened in the transfer window in order to bring back the good old days. Montenegrin forward Stevan Jovetic is on loan from Manchester City, Spanish defender Martin Montoya is on loan from Barcelona, Brazilian defender Miranda has arrived from Atletico Madrid and French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia from Monaco. Those four players have been brought in to change the fortunes at Inter and what better place to start than the iconic San Siro Stadium. It’s Atalanta who are first to visit. They had a dreadful campaign, concluding the season just three points above the drop zone in seventeenth place. Atalanta were horrid on their travels, with just three victories from nineteen matches, scoring sixteen goals. However, in the last six meetings between the sides, Atalanta only haven’t managed to find the net on one occasion. So instead of hoping for the best of Inter, a safe bet would be Both Teams to Score at 19/20.
Genoa were one of the surprise packages last season with a sixth place finish, something I doubt they thought they would accomplish. First up for them is Palermo, who ended their season in mid-table after a rocky start to the campaign, where they picked up their first victory after six matches. They have a decent record against Genoa; unbeaten on their ground in the last six meetings. Although Genoa ended the season ten points clear of Palermo, I’m backing the latter for a brighter start but with Both Teams To Score (Matchbet + BTTS) at a valuable 7/2.
Sampdoria were a force to be reckoned with last season. They lost just twice on home soil but their lack of consistency let them down. Another first time ever Serie A side, Carpi, come to town looking to make a dream start after winning the Serie B by an impressive nine points. However, their main objective will be to stay afloat this season. Although they had the best away record in the second division last term, Sampdoria’s experience and quality should prove superior. Go with the home win.
On to the next one. And it’s Sassuolo up against Napoli; two sides who failed to impressive last season. Well for Napoli it was disappointing as they settled for fifth spot and a place in Europa League. For some neutrals it sounds pretty decent but for Napoli it was disappointing, especially after playing Champions League football for the past two seasons. To make matters worse, the loss of manager Rafael Benitez could take a toll, but only time will tell as new boss Maurizio Sarri begins his reign in Naples. Sassuolo will be aiming to take advantage of Napoli while they are still vulnerable. But seven wins from nineteen home games doesn’t give one the confidence to back a team to defeat Napoli who will be raring to find their feet once more. The Azzurri have won the last three meetings against Sassuolo without conceding a goal and they should do enough to edge the win here.