Five things to watch for in the new Serie A season
Focus will be on Inter and AC Milan, while racism is likely to rear its ugly head
Milan — Neighbours Inter Milan and AC Milan both start under new coaches, Fiorentina will be under new ownership and racism will be lurking uncomfortably near the surface in the new Serie A season, which starts on Saturday.
Here are five things to watch for:
• Can Antonio Conte’s Inter seriously challenge for the title?
With three different owners and 13 coaches in the past 10 years, Inter Milan seem to be a team perpetually in transition.
The latest in the coaching hot seat is the fiery Conte, who led Juventus to three successive titles between 2011 and 2014. The 50-year-old has replaced Luciano Spalletti who, despite leading Inter into the Champions League in each of his two seasons in charge, could never quite produce the consistency needed to challenge Juventus for the title.
Conte has already announced that he no longer wants Mauro Icardi, who was Inter’s top-scorer in each of the last five seasons but is often seen as a disruptive influence after a number of off-field controversies.
Inter have not been shy in the transfer market, signing forwards Romelu Lukaku and Valentino Lazaro, midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella and defender Diego Godin while releasing winger Ivan Perisic and midfielder Radja Nainggolan.
It will be fascinating to see whether Conte can pull it all together at the first attempt.
• Can AC Milan get it right this time?
AC Milan’s season invariably begins amid high hopes after a flurry of new signings and a new coach — only for disillusion to set in by around mid-October.
This time, Marco Giampaolo has been hired to replace old club favourite Gennaro Gattuso in the hot seat. New signings have included Algeria’s Africa Cup of Nations-winning midfielder Ismael Bennacer and Portuguese striker Rafael Leao, in addition to Krzysztof Piatek and Lucas Paqueta, who both made a quick impact after joining in January.
There is a sense, however, that Milan have spent more wisely this time and have a better-balanced squad while Giampaolo’s career has risen steadily and he arrives on the back of three consistent seasons at Sampdoria.
• A bridge too far for Atalanta?
Atalanta have performed admirably in three seasons under Gian Piero Gasperini, finishing fourth, seventh and then third in the last campaign to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
Inevitably, that raises the question of whether they can keep it up, especially as playing in Europe can place huge strains on teams such as themselves who lack the strength in depth of the big clubs.
• Racism threat remains
Italian football has been plagued by racism and there was no sign of it letting up last season. In the most recent incident, Juventus trio Moise Kean (now at Everton), Blaise Matuidi and Alex Sandro were subject to abuse at Cagliari but, after a six-week investigation, the Italian federation (FIGC) took no action, saying the chants were of a “an objectively limited relevance”.
“Racism will never be kicked out of football while decisions like this continue to take place — the Italian federation should hang their heads in shame,” said campaign group Kick It Out.
Italy forward Mario Balotelli in February described racism in Italian football as “extreme”.
Balotelli has now returned to Serie A after three seasons in France to play for promoted Brescia. “I hope the situation has improved compared to previous years,” he said.
• New era for Fiorentina?
Fiorentina start under new ownership after American billionaire Rocco Commisso bought the club from the Della Valle family. Having been re-established in 2002 after going bankrupt, Fiorentina had been controlled by the Della Valle family ever since.
There were plenty of top-half finishes but the team did not win a major trophy during that period and, as fans became increasingly disillusioned, they narrowly avoided relegation last season.
Coach Vincenzo Montella, back for a second stint, has been given the job of ushering in a new era for the twice former champions.