What if I coached Cesena?

My ultra-attacking Cesena XI.

Cesena has been struggling since it has returned to Serie A this season and it shares the bottom spot with Parma.

The Sea Horses have replaced their coach Pierpaolo Bisoli with Domenico Di Carlo but the results have not improved and the roster is weak.

Regardless of who coaches this Cesena side, it would be a very demanding task. If I was coaching Cesena, I would make this team take inspiration from Sassuolo and Empoli. Both sides have young players and play attacking football.

A lot of the players on Cesena’s roster are journeymen in Italian football so I would take a punt on some youngsters and place them in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield.

I would keep Nicola Leali in goal, who was impressive under Bisoli but has somehow struggled under Di Carlo. Federico Agliardi has hardly had an impressive Serie A career so I would be happy to give Leali more experience.

In the centre-back roles, I have selected Luka Krajnc and Hordur Magnusson despite being 20 and 21 years old respectively. Usually the defence should have some experienced players but Cesena hardly has any that are of Serie A quality.

I would get those two to take inspiration from Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci who were in their early 20s and played a part in Bari’s Serie A survival in 2009-10.

Constantin Nica and Francesco Renzetti would occupy the full-back roles. Both players would be expected to overlap and send crosses into the box but I would encourage them to take cross-shots or even get into scoring positions like a Roberto Carlos, Giacinto Facchetti or even a Christian Maggio.

The midfield has been a massive issue for Cesena this season and this is where players have more defined roles in my team.

Emmanuel Cascione is the key player in the team. He has great stamina, tracks back to help the defence and he contributes well in attack. In my team, he would be a deep-lying playmaker and a box-to-box player.

Placed slightly ahead of Cascione would be Carlos Carbonero and Luca Valzania. They would operate on the flanks but contribute to the offense than the defence. Franco Brienza has been one of the bright spots in this Cesena team in the trequartista role and he would occupy that role in my team too.

Alejandro Rodriguez and Gregoire Defrel would be the Sea Horses’ attacking duo in my team. Rodriguez was Cesena’s leading goalscorer in Serie B last season with eight goals and Defrel has been revelation this season with four goals so far.

My team would also feature two super-subs in Guido Marilungo and Gabriele Moncini. When Marilungo is fit, he can play as a trequartista or support striker, and Moncini has been impressive for Cesena’s primavera team, scoring 14 goals in 15 games.

The overall philosophy would be for this team to press, be compact and to attack. There is lack of stars in the Cesena roster so neat, elegant possession football is out of the question.

With the youngsters in the team, there should be attacking intent but the team would play at a high-tempo and nobody should be isolated in attack. This would be my recipe for a possible Cesena salvation.

Zeman Must Drop Cagliari Veterans to Keep Job

Cagliari coach Zdenek Zeman is at risk of losing his job.

Cagliari lost on Thursday night CET to Juventus in Serie A and Isolani coach Zdenek Zeman could be facing the sack soon.

Zeman has not been able to constantly stick with the same starting line-up week-in, week-out so far and he has had trouble fitting certain players into his starting line-up.

If Zeman wants to keep his job, he will need to beat Palermo in the next round of Serie A action and one way he can achieve victory is by benching veterans Daniele Conti and Andrea Cossu.

These two players are not as influential as they used to be for Cagliari and Zeman needs to start the players who have been able to adapt to his tactics.

My ideal Cagliari formation for the Palermo game on January 6.

The centre-back pairing of Luca Ceppitelli and Luca Rossettini could be left as they are but the Sardinian club’s best full-backs are Antonio Balzano and Danilo Avelar.

Balzano and Avelar are excellent at going forward whereas the other full-backs on the roster Francesco Pisano and Nicola Murru don’t possess the same threat. Avelar has been a loss whenever he isn’t available and Balzano sometimes plays at left-back to little effect.

The midfield has been Zeman’s biggest problem and only Albin Ekdal has played well on a regular basis. Il Boemo has tried to play Conti and Lorenzo Crisetig simultaneously but it has not worked.

Crisetig cannot play as a box-to-box midfielder and he is much more comfortable as the deep-lying playmaker. Although Conti has been a servant for Cagliari, it is probably the time to phase him out.

On the right side of midfield, Daniele Dessena has played in that role in the past but he has had trouble fitting into Zeman’s team.

As pointed out before, Crisetig is no good in that role so it is time that Zeman puts Godfred Donsah in Cagliari’s starting line-up. Donsah has been energetic when he has came off the bench and perhaps he suits Zeman’s high-tempo tactics better than Dessena.

In the forward line, Marco Sau has been a loss for Cagliari since the 1-1 draw against Genoa. His skill and pace have been an asset to this side.

Zeman tried replacing Sau by playing Cossu and Diego Farias in the false nine role which has not worked. Farias has been more impressive when he plays on the wings and he can drift into goalscoring positions. Cossu is better off on the bench because he has also struggled on the left-wing.

When Sau doesn’t play, Samuele Longo plays at centre-forward but he has not made a breakthrough yet. He might be impressive as youth level but he has struggled at senior level and he has been accused by the Italian press for looking disinterested at times.

Colombian winger Victor Ibarbo has shown glimpses of brilliance but he is still too raw and Zeman out of all people should be turning him into the genuine article. Perhaps if Zeman can structure the whole team properly, there might be an ideal platform for Ibarbo to flourish.

Zeman needs to start players based on form than on reputation or how long they have been at Cagliari. He could make the Sardinians climb up the Serie A table and he might be able to keep his job.

What went wrong for Roma in the Champions League?

Roma is out of the UEFA Champions League for this season and it has sunk down to the Europa League.

The Giallorossi lost 2-0 at home to English club Manchester City and they finished third in Group E with five points.

There were a number of reasons for Roma’s failure such as its 7-1 humiliation by German giants Bayern Munich and possibly because it isn’t used to facing strong opposition in Serie A but Rudi Garcia’s side has its own issues.

Issues in Defence

Roma sold centre-back Mehdi Benatia to Bayern Munich in the summer and Garcia has not been able to work out his best back four with all the new arrivals.

Kostas Manolas and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa have been the regular duo in central defence, and although they are good individually, there is a lack of defensive structure in the back four and gaps emerge.

Manolas is a hard worker and Yanga-Mbiwa is comfortable on the ball but they needed to close down spaces in defence better than they did.

Former Cagliari defender Davide Astori has battled with injuries and Leandro Castan will be missing for some time because he has had brain surgery.

In the full-back roles, Maicon and Vasilis Torosidis can take turns at right-back, but Ashley Cole’s inability to adapt at Roma has resulted in Jose Holebas taking his place.

Aside from the lack of defensive structure in the Roma backline, Morgan De Sanctis has been in horrible form. The 37-year-old goalkeeper has not been able to read the play, position himself well or react quickly to shots. Perhaps it is time for Garcia to drop him from the starting line-up.

The “False 9” Conundrum

When Roma lost at home to Manchester City, it needed a centre-forward in form. Mattia Destro came off the bench but the striker struggles to get into the game as a sub. Destro plays with more confidence when he starts regularly.

The main reason that Destro does not start most games is because Francesco Totti plays as a false 9. Although the Romanisti would consider it blasphemous to criticise Totti, he is 38 years old and he only plays when occasionally. A new generation of stars has to come through eventually.

Totti’s presence has hindered Destro’s development but both players could start simultaneously if Garcia tried a different formation.

Garcia’s Unwillingness to Change Formation

Garcia usually sets his team up in the 4-3-3 formation and he hardly moves away from it. Some coaches have a certain style of play and they are reluctant to make particularly changes to their plans.

He does have the right players for the 4-3-3 formation but those players might not necessary be the best players on the Roma roster. There are players like Totti and Miralem Pjanic who play well when they operate in between the lines.

What does the rest of the season hold for Roma?

Although they want to do well in the Coppa Italia and Europa League, the Giallorossi look more eager to win the Serie A title now they are out of the Champions League.

Roma has had issues with Financial Fair Play and the winter transfer window could be an ideal team to cash-in on Destro and Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman.

Both players were linked with moves away from the Stadio Olimpico in the off-season and there is little point in holding onto them after Roma’s Champions League elimination.

Dybala must refuse to play for Italy

Palermo’s Argentine striker Paulo Dybala has been asked to play for Italy.

Paulo Dybala has been asked to play for Italian national team but he must refuse to play for the Azzurri.

Historically Italian coaches have been quick to select oriundi but Antonio Conte should not select him. Although I am an Italo-Australian, I want to see the Italian national team filled with players born in Italy.

The Argentine-born Dybala has said that he will think about it and he has the right to choose who he wants to play for. Preferably I don’t want to see the Palermo forward select Italy because of the precedent set by recent oriundi selections.

Have the likes of Cristian Ledesma, Pablo Osvaldo, Amauri and Thiago Motta been much better than the Italian-born players? I don’t think so. Those played occupied roles in which Italian-born players were good enough to play in.

When Vittorio Pozzo picked oriundi players in the 1930s, he selected players that filled roles that the Italian-born players could not perform in and the oriundi chosen by Pozzo improved the Italian national team.

Although Pozzo could have selected Fulvio Bernardini for the 1934 World Cup, he wasn’t the type of centre-half he wanted. Luis Monti was the type of player he wanted and he was already a star with Argentina. Pozzo also selected Enrico Guaita and Raimundo Orsi on the wings and at the time they were better than the Italian-born options.

More than 80 years later, Conte does not need any oriundi regardless of the lack of world-class players, and he does not need Dybala in particular.

Giuseppe Rossi is injury-prone and Mario Balotelli is struggling for form at Liverpool but Graziano Pelle has been scoring freely. Ciro Immobile and Simone Zaza have not been prolific for Italy so far, but Conte has been impressed with their work ethic, especially Zaza’s.

There are also the Sampdoria strikers Manolo Gabbiadini and Stefano Okaka. Conte had been ignoring them previously but they got called-up this month and Okaka in particular looked impressive for the Azzurri.

Mattia Destro has been scoring when he gets the chance to play for Roma but he has not made the most of his time with the Azzurri. If he can move to a club where he a guaranteed starter, it could boost his scoring rate as well as his confidence.

Sebastian Giovinco has played well for Italy under Conte despite not being a starter for Juventus. He could be more influential if he was playing regular at club level too.

Conte can also select veterans like Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri who have been scoring goals for Torino and Genoa respectively. They aren’t ideal in the long term but they could be options off the bench.

Marco Sau from Cagliari is worth considering as well. He has been out injured but when he is fit, he can trouble opposition defenders with his pace.

How about Zaza’s teammates at Sassuolo Domenico Berardi and Nicola Sansone? If Conte used a 4-3-3 or 4-2-4 formation, those two could be used on the wings.

Stephan El Shaarawy and Alessio Cerci played for the Azzurri in the latest international break and they can improve if they play more under Conte.

There are players like Samuele Longo, Andrea Belotti and Federico Bernardeschi who have starred at under-21 level but they need to play regularly for their clubs. If that can happen, they could be options for Conte when Euro 2016 comes.

If Dybala does not pick Argentina, the main reason would probably be because of the amazing depth the Argentinians have in attack. Not just Dybala but the likes of Mauro Icardi, Erik Lamela and Roberto Pereyra struggle to get into Gerardo Martino’s side.

Everyone must keep in mind that Ezequiel Lavezzi, Rodrigo Palacio and Carlos Tevez will be in their mid-30s by Russia 2018 and even the likes of Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi will be over 30 years old. By 2018, the likes of Icardi, Lamela and Dybala should be in their prime.

Choosing a nation to play for is something you must decide with you heart and your mind. Dybala must decide where his allegiance lies.

Even if Dybala does not pick Italy, Conte must not lose sleep over it. The Palermo striker is not needed.

Who does your Serie A club rely on? – Part 2

Right-winger Domenico Berardi is the most important player in the Sassuolo team.

This is part two in the list of Serie A teams and the individuals that they rely on. Here is the second half of the Serie A table after Round 11:

Fiorentina

Vincenzo Montella’s side plays a slow-tempo possession game and although Montella’s side is about the collective, there are a few players that really make Fiorentina tick. When Giuseppe Rossi is fit, he is the star in the Viola attack. Juan Cuadrado has not been very impressive this season but when he plays on the right flank instead of playing in a support striker role, he is more influential. Aside from those two, Borja Valero is arguably the most important player for Fiorentina in the attacking phase with his directing of play and ball distribution.

Palermo

The Rosanero are usually reliant on Argentine forwards Paulo Dybala and Franco Vasquez for creativity and goals but Enzo Maresca has been impressive since Giuseppe Iachini has played him. Maresca is 34 years old now but he is a fine passer of the ball and Palermo pass with more cohesion when he is controlling the midfield.

Sassuolo

Eusebio Di Francesco encourages his team to play an attacking style of football and usually plays in the 4-3-3 formation. For all of Di Francesco’s ideas, Domenico Berardi is the one that makes everything fall into place and whenever the Neroverdi win, Berardi is usually the key. He has pace, finishing ability and big-game temperament.

Torino

After the departures of Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile, this team has lacked firepower and creativity this season. Omar El Kaddouri is Torino’s most inventive midfielder and Fabio Quagliarella is carrying the Granata attack. Quagliarella has scored seven goals in all competitions this season.

Cagliari

Zdenek Zeman’s side is about the team and how they fit into his 4-3-3 formation. There are no standouts or players who really carry Cagliari but there are players who add their own unique characteristics to the team. Marco Sau is a short but fast centre-forward, Victor Ibarbo is a tall but agile right-winger and Danilo Avelar is a left-back who can score goals.

Empoli

Francesco Tavano and Massimo Maccarone were Empoli’s stars in Serie B but they have not been too influential in Serie A, Tavano in particular. Mirko Valdifiori is crucial part of the Empolesi midfield with his vision, superb passing and his dead-ball expertise. Simone Verdi adds extra flair to the Empoli midfield and Piotr Zielinski has not been able to produce the same spark Verdi does.

Atalanta

German Denis has been important in recent years thanks to his goalscoring feats but Luca Cigarini is more important. Cigarini makes the Atalanta midfield tick and in his absence due to suspension, La Dea coach Stefano Colantuono has switched to a 3-5-2 formation which is devoid of creativity. Atalanta fans should be glad that he was not sold to Sassuolo.

Chievo

Alberto Paloschi is the present and the future of the Flying Donkeys attack. He scored 13 goals in 34 Serie A matches last season and seven goals in 20 matches in the season before. Chievo has struggled this season and Paloschi has managed to score just two goals in 10 matches. In their recent win against Cesena, the Flying Donkeys were saved by club legend Sergio Pellissier’s brace. Even at 35 years old, he could still make the occasional contribution.

Cesena

The Cavallucci Marini have creative players like Guido Marilungo and Franco Brienza in the squad but Emmanuel Cascione is arguably their most important player. Cascione is Cesena’s most complete midfielder thanks to his ability to help his team defensively and offensively. Hugo Almeida could be an important player if he plays more consistently in the target man role.

Parma

The Crociati have been depleted since last season and they have not replaced key departures like Marco Parolo and Walter Gargano properly. Parma should be glad that Antonio Cassano is still around because he is someone who can win games on his own. Without him, the Crociati attack would be devoid of ideas.

Who does you Serie A club rely on? – Part 1

Former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi has been critical of Italian teams in recent weeks.

Arrigo Sacchi has recently said that Italian teams are too reliant on individuals to get goals after the latest disappointment from Serie A teams in Europe.

While there are a number of issues that are holding Italian teams back in Europe, the reliance on a few players in attack is one aspect of the Italian style of football that needs to be assessed.

The Serie A isn’t full of excessive ball-hogs or guys just obsessed with party tricks but Italian teams aren’t great in their combination play like the other European teams.

If we are to look at all 20 teams in the Italian top flight, which teams are reliant on an individual or a couple of players to get their goals?

Part 1 features the Top 10 Serie A teams after Round 11:

Juventus

Andrea Pirlo was the key in midfield under Antonio Conte but the Bianconeri have copped without him in midfield. Carlos Tevez is the difference maker at Juve with eight goals and four assists in 11 league games but stats alone don’t do enough justice. His energy and direct running have been important for Massimiliano Allegri’s side.

Roma

Francesco Totti is the obvious one in Rudi Garcia’s side because of the flair he produces. The Giallorossi have done fine without him though and the real key player in attack is Gervinho. The Ivorian winger in comfortable on both wings and he can run directly at players or wiggle past them.

Napoli

Rafa Benitez has some excellent attacking players at his disposal but right-winger Jose Callejon has been a vital part of this Napoli side this season. He is the leading goalscorer in Serie A with eight goals and he has taken a big load off the under-performing Gonzalo Higuain.

Sampdoria

Il Doria are a hard-working team and don’t have a trequartista or fantasista who can win games on his own. Stefano Okaka is important because of his ability to hold-up the ball and he can dribble past opponents but Manolo Gabbiadini would have to be Sampdoria’s key attacker because of his ability to score from free-kicks.

Lazio

Under Vladimir Petkovic, the Biancocelesti were too reliant on Miroslav Klose to score goals. Stefano Pioli can afford to leave Klose on the bench thanks to Filip Djordjevic but this Lazio team is not dependant on the centre-forward to score goals. Antonio Candreva, Senad Lulic and Stefano Mauri are important players for the Biancocelesti but Pioli is not dependent on them. Lazio is a team about the collective than individuals.

Genoa

Gian Piero Gasperini has managed to get his system working but there are some individuals that do stand out. Alessandro Matri has been vital in attack though with five goals and three assists, and although Diego Perotti has not been outstanding, he still provides some unpredictability. Despite all that, if there was one particular player carrying Genoa this season, it would be Mattia Perin. The young goalkeeper constantly makes saves and it is unlikely that the Grifoni would be in the top half of the table without him.

AC Milan

The clear stand-out in Milan’s attack so far is Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda. He has scored six goals in Serie A playing as a false right-winger and he has helped this struggling Rossoneri side collect points. If Stephan El Shaarawy can regain full fitness and regain his form like in the 2012-13 season, he could also be a difference maker in Milan’s forward line.

Udinese

Although Cyril Thereau has been a fine addition to the Udinese attack with four goals, Antonio Di Natale is the man who still carries the Friulani. The 37-year-old has scored six goals for Udinese this season and if Andrea Stramaccioni’s side manage to qualify for Europe next season, Di Natale’s goals will probably be the reason for their qualification.

Inter

Mauro Icardi is easily the most potent player in the Nerazzurri attack with seven goals in Serie A so far but Pablo Osvaldo has also made an impact when he has been fit, scoring four goals in seven league matches and assisting in three. Inter’s most important player though is its goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who saved Luca Toni’s penalty in the 2-2 draw against Hellas Verona, and he has been called upon regularly to make save after save.

Hellas Verona

Andrea Mandorlini’s side does not have a particular player that stands out nor does it really on an intricate system. Luca Toni had the Verona attack built around him last season and thrived with the crosses that he got. Toni has scored three goals this season as well as young Uruguayan forward Nico Lopez, who could have a breakthrough season in 2014-15.

Corini Must Change Chievo’s Style

18-10-14

Roma’s Adem Ljajic scores against Chievo in the Flying Donkey’s 3-0 loss to the Giallorossi.

Eugenio Corini needs to change Chievo’s tactics and style of play if his team want to stay away from the Serie A relegation battle this season.

Luigi Delneri’s cavalier style is long gone and the Flying Donkeys have accepted their place as underdogs by playing in a defensive manner.

During the summer, Chievo made some good signings and it should be punching above its weight. There is nothing wrong with having a well-organised defence but the Flying Donkeys need to be more ambitious and daring.

Corini’s approach can improve and so can his choice of personnel. I have came up with two possible formations that can be used and I believe that they can bring the best out of the players currently on Chievo’s roster.

3-5-2

A Chievo line-up in the 3-5-2 formation.

Corini has used the 3-5-2 in most games but his approach has been too conservative. With the right players, this formation should work against most Serie A teams because there aren’t many teams in Italy that play with wingers.

The defenders here are slow but they have experience and behind them is an emerging star in Francesco Bardi. This midfield possesses more creativity than what Corini has been using and I have not selected two pure centre-forwards in my team like Corini regularly does.

I have gone for Nicolas Frey, Dario Dainelli and Bostjan Cesar in defence but Alessandro Gamberini could be worth considering because he has played with Dainelli at Fiorentina. Ervin Zukanovic struggled to defend against Adem Ljajic in Chievo’s 3-0 loss to Roma so he does not feature here.

My central midfield consists of Perparim Hetemaj, Issac Cofie and Nicola Bellomo. Hetemaj operates as a box-to-box midfielder, Cofie would operate here as a deep-lying playmaker and Bellomo would play as a more advanced attacking midfielder.

Bellomo had a few good games at Torino but he disappeared once he gave away a penalty against Napoli last season. Corini needs to give him chances to play and he can take free-kicks.

Ezequiel Schelotto and Cristiano Biraghi have been selected in the wing-back roles. Biraghi has not been particularly impressive so far but like most Italian youngsters he needs to play. Dropping players after making a mistake or two and then letting them rot on the bench is wrong.

Schelotto’s role differs to Biraghi’s because I would not want him to only send crosses into the box. He is tall and fast so he could make late runs into the box and score goals like Christian Maggio did in his prime at Sampdoria and Napoli.

Riccardo Meggiorini is in my team ahead of Maxi Lopez because of his work ethic and his ability to drift to the wings. He should be able to drag the opposition centre-backs away and leave gaps in the middle of the park.

Paloschi’s selection is a no-brainer. He is the present and the future of Chievo’s attack and he is far more effective than Lopez.

4-3-3

A potential Chievo line-up in the 4-3-3 formation. Schelotto’s position has changed slightly but the key is Lazarevic on the left-wing.

The 4-3-3 formation is ideal whenever Chievo needs to attack down the wings and try and break down defensive walls. Dejan Lazarevic is the key to this formation. Whenever he plays, Lazarevic creates some magic on the left-wing and Corini must start him more regularly.

If Bellomo is too attack-minded in midfield, then Ivan Radovanovic can be used to provide more steel in the middle of the park. Corini plays him regularly but I didn’t include him in my 3-5-2 because I wanted more creativity in midfield.

Although most teams play with inverted winger these days, I have left Schelotto on the right flank because he can score from any over-hit crosses from the left-wing or run into the centre in case Paloschi is not right in the middle.

AC Milan Should Have Got Borini Instead of Torres

Fabio Borini doing his trademark celebration with Liverpool.

AC Milan should have acquired Liverpool striker Fabio Borini instead of Fernando Torres.

Torres is 30-years-old now and he has developed a reputation for wasting easy scoring opportunities at Chelsea. He was an excellent striker in his prime and he has been a winner but there is no guarantee that Torres will be reliable in front of goal for the Rossoneri.

I will still look forward to watching Torres in Serie A because of the profile he brings and it would be good if he can become a prolific goalscorer in Serie A instead of being a player who misses from in front of goal.

Despite the media attention Torres would bring, I still would have preferred AC Milan to have made a move for Borini. He refused to move to Sunderland on a permanent basis because he wanted to earn his place at Liverpool or return to Italy.

Borini scored seven goals in 32 EPL appearances last season for The Black Cats and he scored three goals in five League Cup matches, including one in the final defeat against Manchester City.

His compatriot Mario Balotelli has moved from AC Milan to Liverpool and perhaps Borini should have been included in that deal instead of the Reds just paying the Rossoneri €20 million.

At 23 years old, he is still a young player and he can keep on improving. New Rossoneri coach Filippo Inzaghi has been looking for a right-winger and a centre-forward while the transfer window has been open and Borini can play in both roles. He prefers to play as a centre-forward but he can play on the right side of an attacking trident.

There are many foreign players in the Serie A and there have been cries from the Italian media for more Italian youngsters to play. Borini has bright future ahead of him and his wages would have been lower than Torres’.

Torres was a star and Borini could be a star. AC Milan should stop looking for the quick fix and think ahead.

What if the Serie A started today? – Part Two

Can Domenico Berardi perform more magic for Sassuolo this season?

Yesterday I posted my Top 10 Serie A teams if the league had already started and today’s post will feature the teams that I predict will finish in the bottom assuming that the teams stay as they are.

Some teams have improved their rosters and there are others that really need to improve if they are going to do well this season.

Aside from Cagliari, Sampdoria and perhaps Chievo, most of the teams in the Top 10 should actually finish in that position.

The teams feature in today’s post could finish in the Top 10 but it won’t be easy. I am also predicting the mid-table and the relegation battles to be very tight this year.

Here are my predictions of the bottom as of today. There will be a 2014-15 Serie A preview just before the season starts and hopefully most teams have strengthened their rosters.

11. Lazio

Claudio Lotito remains as president despite calls from Lazio’s ultras for him to resign but the biancocelesti do have a new coach as well as some new additions.

Lazio has appointed Stefano Pioli as the coach and also joining him are defenders Dusan Basta and Stefan De Vrij, midfielder Marco Parolo and striker Filip Djordjevic. Right-winger Antonio Candreva has also been bought outright from Udinese. The biancocelesti do have a good youth system and Greek-Australian Chris Ikonomidis could be another player to come through the ranks depending on his pre-season form.

Pioli has had some credible campaigns at Chievo and Bologna but coaching Lazio will be different. He will be working with a stronger squad but he must prove that he is good enough for a club that should aim for the Europa League.

12. Sassuolo

Eusebio Di Francesco’s side survived relegation last season but with more experience under their belt and if Domenico Berardi can score on a more consistent basis, Sassuolo has the potential to become a mid-table side.

The neroverdi have an up-and-coming attacking trident consisting of Berardi, Simone Zaza and Nicola Sansone and they have bought full-backs Sime Vrsaljko and Federico Peluso from Genoa and Juventus respectively.

Another centre-back and a playmaker – possibly Atalanta’s Luca Cigarini – could come handy but if their midfield stays fit and their attackers can keep progressing, the neroverdi could be more than just a team battling relegation.

13. Parma

The crociati could have another fine campaign or they could be less impressive than they were last season. Keep in mind that most of Parma’s players punched above their weight in 2013/14.

These players who overachieved include the likes of Alessandro Lucarelli, Gabriel Paletta and Antonio Mirante and players such as Raffaele Palladino and Ezequiel Schelotto were able to play roles whenever they came off the bench. Midfielders Parolo and Walter Gargano have departed and the loss of the former could hurt Parma.

If Parma can help Antonio Cassano keep his cool again and also recruit a prolific centre-forward, another Top 10 finish is possible but other rosters look stronger or they have better coaches than Roberto Donadoni.

14. Genoa

The grifoni are choosing quantity over quality once again. They usually procure lots of players during the European summer but they usually do not improve the roster greatly.

Gian Piero Gasperini has a pre-season to work with this squad after returning to Genoa last season but he needs to make new signings like Armando Izzo, Leandro Greco and Diego Perotti fit into his tactics. Alessandro Matri could be decent replacement for Alberto Gilardino because he won’t have the same expectations that he would have had an Juve and AC Milan.

Genoa will probably struggle again unless Gasperini can make a competitive team out of the players at his disposal.

15. Atalanta

No major signings have arrived at Atalanta but there have not been any major departures either for Stefano Colantuono’s side.

The Orobici have youngsters Davide Zappacosta and Marco D’Alessandro on their books and they could emerge like Daniele Baselli has done but keeping left-winger Giacomo Bonaventura is vital if they want to climb into the top half of the table. Gaining full ownership of Cigarini is excellent news for Atalanta too.

Atalanta should survive relegation but keeping key players and buying more players of exceptional quality are necessary if they want to be more than a mid-table team.

16. Palermo

The rosanero are back in the Serie A after a season in Serie B and despite winning the cadetti title with ease, I am not expecting too much from the Sicilian side for now.

Palermo’s midfield and attack looks good but its defence is not that outstanding for Serie A. Giuseppe Iachini has good central midfielders like Enzo Maresca, Edgar Barreto and Luca Rigoni and he also has Swedish prodigy Robin Quaison at his disposal.

The forward line has youngsters Andrea Belotti and Paulo Dybala in it as well as Uruguayan international Abel Hernandez. Iachini has asked for Sampdoria striker Eder, a player he coached at Brescia and Samp.

To climb up the table, better defenders would help but a useful purchase for the attack would not be a bad thing.

 

17. Udinese

Andrea Stramaccioni has replaced Francesco Guidolin as coach and he can count on Antonio Di Natale firing in the goals for at least another season.

Guidolin was excellent when he was working with what he had at his disposal but coaching Udinese will test Stramaccioni after struggling at Inter. ‘Strama’ has some youngsters to work with but none standout more than Simone Scuffet, who made his Serie A debut last season at age 17.

Don’t expect the Friulani to qualify for Europe and expect more struggles. If Di Natale can keep scoring for one more season and Scuffet performs more heroics in goal, Serie A survival is likely.

 

 18. Hellas Verona

Andrea Mandolini’s side is a team that I expect to drop off. The gialloblu probably won’t get relegated but the other rosters look stronger so far.

Aside from recruiting Greek internationals Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Verona’s recruiting has not been that impressive. Brazilian forward Nene has arrived from Cagliari and Uruguayan defender Guillermo Rodriguez has arrived from Torino. Verona has sold Juan Iturbe to Roma and Romulo will be heading to Juventus.

Luca Toni had a career revival last season scoring 20 goals but depending on his support cast this time and how his body feels, he might not reach those figures this time. To do well again, Verona should consider looking for a quality centre-back and a good winger.

 

19. Cesena

The cavallucci marini have been recruiting many defenders and the overall roster has the right mix of youth and experience.

Pierpaolo Bisoli’s side has plenty of central midfielders and lacks a quality attacking midfielder. This could be Cesena’s downfall as well as the lack of a quality striker. AC Milan striker M’Baye Niang has been linked with Cesena and moving to the Emilia-Romagna could help him gain valuable match experience.

The forward line has some youngsters on the wings like Gregoire Defrel and Luca Garritano but Bisoli needs Guido Marilungo to finally realise his potential after struggling with knee injuries.

 

20. Empoli

At the moment there is a lack of quality throughout the pitch in this Empoli roster but it does contain two veterans in Francesco Tavano and Massimo Maccarone leading the attack.

Tavano and Maccarone were excellent in Serie B but will they have the stamina and skill to compete with the defences of Serie A? Empoli also has a lot of youth in other parts of the team.

If Empoli is to stand a chance of survival, defenders and midfielders with decent Serie A experience are required. Out of the current bunch, youngsters Daniele Rugani and Simone Verdi need to shine in defence and midfield respectively after making an impact in Serie B.

What if the Serie A started today? – Part One

Could Rudi Garcia’s Roma break the hegemony of Juventus in the Italian Serie A?

There is less than a month to go until the next Serie A season commences.

Everyday TuttoMercatoWeb, like the other major Italian media outlets, has been doing predictions of the starting 11s for all 20 teams for the 2014/15 Serie A season. If the league started on August 1, this is what the teams would look like.

So if the league did start today, where would the teams finish? Here are my predictions for the season based on the current outlook of the Serie A squads. Today’s post will feature the Top 10 and tomorrow’s post will include my predictions on the bottom half.

 

Serie A Top 10 for 2014-15

 

1.       Roma

Roma had an impressive campaign under Rudi Garcia. It only finished second last season because Juventus was very strong and players like Kevin Strootman, Francesco Totti and Mattia Destro weren’t always fit.

The giallorossi have been busy early in the transfer window signing Ashley Cole, Seydou Keita and Juan Iturbe as well as getting Davide Astori on loan. Destro could leave for German club Wolfsburg if it puts in a large bid for the 23-year-old.

Garcia’s team has enough depth in all positions and sporting director Walter Sabatini has made some fine signings. This is a great chance for the giallorossi to win their fourth Serie A title.

 

2.       Napoli 

The Napolitani have not been very active during the summer transfer window. Michu has arrived on loan from Swansea City but they have struggled to get German midfielder Christoph Kramer from Bayer Leverkusen.

Napoli needs a goalkeeper to replace Pepe Reina but it seems that a defensive midfielder is more of a priority. Valon Behrami is set to go to Hamburg but the options to replace him are Kramer, Lucas Leiva from Liverpool and Belgium’s Marouane Fellaini.

Coach Rafa Benitez has the players to fit into his 4-2-3-1 formation but he could try different formations and he has the players to do so. If they the vital additions and they fit into the team quickly, they can push Roma for the title.

 

3.       Juventus 

Massimiliano Allegri has replaced Antonio Conte as Juve coach and he will need to make a positive impact quickly.

Allegri was not a popular choice to replace Conte. The former Milan coach made some obscure choices during his time with the rossoneri whereas Conte lead Juve to three scudetti and he encouraged his players to fight as well as play a pressing game.

Mirko Vucinic has left and there have been rumours of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba leaving the club. Juve will need to adapt to Allegri’s 4-3-1-2 tactics but if Vidal and Pogba left, the bianconeri will have a huge decline this season.

 

4.       Fiorentina

Not having a full-strength attack was the Viola’s downfall last season and the defence was very leaky as well.

Holding onto Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado will be vital for Fiorentina, and if he does leave, he would need to be replaced properly. Even so, Montella might give youth a chance depending on the formation. Italo-Australian youngster Joshua Brillante could be the right wing-back in the 3-5-2 or Federico Bernardeschi could play as a right-winger in the 4-3-3.

Vincenzo Montella’s team play a possession-based game, and if Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez stay fit, then Fiorentina should qualify for Europe again with very little issues.

 

5.       Inter

Walter Mazzarri’s team is starting to have a blend of youth and experience in it. There is still a lack of genuine world-class players in the team and the youngsters need to keep progressing.

Yann M’Vila and Dodo have arrived at Inter but current youngsters Mauro Icardi and Mateo Kovacic will need to make more of an impact. Nemanja Vidic brings quality and experience to the defence.

Inter does lack a star in his prime. Pablo Osvaldo has joined from Southampton but the Nerazzurri need players like Chilean defender/midfielder Gary Medel and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez if they want to pose a bigger threat than they did last season.

 

6.       AC Milan 

The rossoneri should not be expected to be a title contender like the AC Milan teams of old. New coach Filippo Inzaghi must be allowed to work without a large budget give kids a chance.

Inzaghi is expected to give more playing time to players who did not play regularly last season like Riccardo Saponara and Andrea Poli and he can also count on having a fit Stephan El Shaarawy in attack. Alex and Jeremy Menez arrived on free transfers and buying them probably won’t bring much joy.

Keep an eye on youngsters Bryan Cristante and Hachim Mastour if they get matchtime this season. If they do well, it gives Milan more reason to play kids.

There has been speculation as to whether Mario Balotelli stays or goes but regardless of what happens to the enigmatic striker, Milan will likely have a tough season ahead of them. It would be better to have short-term pain for long-term game, especially if more youth team players have to play.

 

7.       Cagliari

Zdenek Zeman is the new coach and Tommaso Giulini is the new president so expect a different Cagliari this season.

Astori has left for Roma but that could mean that young defender Simone Benedetti could become a star. Also keep an eye on left-back Nicola Murru. Lorenzo Crisetig is a youngster that has been added to the midfield and Samuele Longo has become a part of the attack.

The hallmarks of Zeman teams will be apparent once again, and more experienced players like Marco Sau and Victor Ibarbo could thrive under ‘Il Boemo’, not just the youngsters mentioned above.

As with all Zeman teams, the one thing that will stop this team from climbing-up the table is the defence. There will be too much focus on attack at Cagliari but that will be the reason for the Sardi improving on last season’s results.

 

8.       Sampdoria

Massimo Ferrero has replaced Edoardo Garrone as president and so far there has been more smoke than fire on the transfer market.

Plenty of big names have been linked to the club but Gonzalo Bergessio is the only significant signing that Samp have made so far. Colombian defender Mario Yepes and Palermo goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano could arrive soon. Viviano is expected to replace Sergio Romero, who starred at the World Cup for Argentina.

Even with the current squad, a mid-table finish is possible, especially if the Doria’s young players can keep improving. With better support though, the doriani can finish higher.

 

9.       Torino

Ciro Immobile has left Toro and Alessio Cerci is expected to leave next. If he is sold and not adequately replaced, Torino will struggle this season.

The Granata have brought in midfielders Marco Benassi and Antonio Nocerino as well as full-back Cristian Molinaro. Fabio Quagliarella has replaced Immobile in attack but the Cerci scenario will be vital to how Torino’s campaign will turn out.

Giampiero Ventura’s side could struggle because of its participation in the Europa League. This will really test Torino’s depth and despite recruiting some good players, juggling Serie A action and playing in Europe could be too much for Toro.

 

10.   Chievo 

The Flying Donkeys have been very active in the transfer window since it opened and should survive relegation with greater ease.

When Coach Eugenio Corini left after the 2012/13 season, it was because the club was not going to bring in new players. This time Chievo has not made a mistake and it has added some good Serie A-standard players to the team.

Youngsters Cristiano Biraghi and Francesco Bardi have arrived from Inter but Chievo has also brought experienced players from other Serie A clubs such as Mariano Izco, Valter Birsa, Maxi Lopez and Riccardo Meggiorini.

Obviously these guys aren’t superstars but they suit a small club like Chievo and the Flying Donkeys have had a habit of bringing the best out of unknown or average players. Corini could make this team competitive and surprise anyone who takes them too lightly.