This Serie A season’s going to be a hell of a ride. It’s an ungrateful job to try separate the top teams, as there’s such competitiveness this year. Either way, here goes!
This season, six places are designated to the six best Italian teams in regards of the European stage the following season (18/19). Instead of doing a traditional league prediction, I’ll only focus on the European spots, which I see as the most intriguing part.
Sixth place, and qualification for Europa League, will be a battle between Fiorentina and Lazio. Both teams have seen essential players leave this mercato. Fiorentina have, first and foremost, parted ways with coach Paulo Sousa and replaced him with Stefano Pioli. Other than that, goalkeeper Tătăruşanu, Uruguayan midfielder Vecino, centre-back and captain Gonzalo Rodríguez, Valero, Iličić, Milić and Valero. The loan spells of Salcedo, Tello and De Maio have ended as well. Players who have been coming in the gates of Florence are, to mention the most important ones, attacking midfielder Eysseric from Nice, centre-backs Hugo from Brazil and Milenković from Partizan, Torino midfielder Marco Benassi, full-back Gaspar from Brazil and attacking midfielders Rebić and fellow Norwegian Rafik Zekhnini (LW). As I’m writing this, Simeone (son of Atleti coach, Diego) from Genoa is probably set to fill the hole after Kalinić just now seemed to have agreed a deal with AC Milan.
Lazio, on their part, have seen captain Biglia left for Milan’s new project and that’s a major loss for Inzaghi’s team. The whole ongoing saga with Keita Baldé, who was phenomenal last season, seems to end with he leaving the city of Rome. At this moment, he’s left out of the squad for Lazio’s Supercoppa final versus Juventus. What goes for acquisitions, the services of former Liverpool man Lucas Leiva, Caicedo from Espanyol and Di Gennaro from Cagliari which I see as the most vital ones.
Lazio will have to deal with the Europa League this season whereas Fiorentina will only focus on their domestic duties as they failed to make the European cut last season. That said, the mercato isn’t over yet, and Fiorentina aren’t quite finished with their shopping it seems. Lazio was a team under Inzaghi’s guidance last season which I was really fond of. I could see Inzaghi continue to build, but the losses of Biglia and the uncertainty with Keita will be issues that needs to be sold. Their depth isn’t that deep and the European matches may make the Serie A even tougher. Fiorentina with their numerous departures this summer is a team with a lot of questions marks around. Pioli though, is an experienced coach and could perhaps create a competitive team anyway.
It’s difficult to separate the two, but I have to go with one of them, and it has to be Lazio. Although Lazio have Europa League to pay attention to, the solidity that Inzaghi created on such a short time last season was of so remarkable character that I can see them snapping the sixth spot this season. Their Supercoppa display against reigning Serie A and Coppa Italia champions, Juventus didn’t exactly impair my view.
Fifth place (Europa League spot), probably a surprise for some of you, but my feeling says Roma. With Spalletti heading north to the black and blue part of Milano and seeing Szczęsny’s loan spell end and both Rüdiger and Salah choosing a move to London and Chelsea, Roma have some serious issues to be dealt with. They have made some signings – yes – but I honestly don’t see those signings ultimately strengthening their starting-XI. With Spalletti’s farewell, Roma brought in former Sassuolo coach, Eusebio Di Francesco, who did a pretty decent job a bit further north.
The pressure he has to handle and the size of the players he has to manage in a club like Roma compared to his former job, is extreme. He’s, to be honest, unproven at this particular level. That’s definitely a variable which needs to be taken into consideration. He’s completely dependent on the players believing in his project and management. I think we may see Roma fall just short of Champions League participation as the the Milanese clubs are set to rise up again.
Fourth place and Champions League football guarantees, we’ll find Milan. The insane amount of players, quality players I’d say, that I Rossoneri have signed this transfer window, should on paper be enough to finish inside the top-four (guaranteed Champions League group stage), but it’s not that easy in practice. The pre-season of Montella’s men have been decent, but it is, after all, pre-season. As their starting-XI isn’t cemented and all well-oiled at this early stage, combined with their upcoming Europa League participation (qualification at this moment of time), I could see them getting a hard time for that fourth spot. It will definitely be hustle for this spot this season, as it won’t be much that sets the teams apart.
Anyway, I’ll give Montella the benefit of the doubt given what he managed with such a poor team last season. Now, you can easily see he has, undoubtedly, had his say in this year’s mercato shopping. All the players acquired, will fill some sorely needed holes in this team. When I’ve taken some time to sit down and study this Milan team, at the time being, they could really field quite a few terrifying line-ups, both 3-5-2 and 4-3-3/4-2-3-1.
Third place smells much like an Inter team with touches of Luciano Spalletti’s management, which I see as Inter’s, and maybe the best signing in this mercato period. The latest seasons’ failure has not been because of the quality of the squad, but rather the management. Their defence hasn’t been that great either, to be fair. The additions of Skriniar from Sampdoria in the central defence and Dalbert as left full-back are definite upgrades. Valero and Vecino from Fiorentina added to the midfield aren’t signings to be ashamed of neither.
As I Nerazzurri fell out of the European spots last season, they could allocate all of their manpower to the Serie A (and Coppa Italia) the coming season. Spalletti knows the drill at these giant clubs as well as the culture and language required in order to succeed. The Tuscan, with a pre-season at Inter, will make them a nasty team to face I guess.
Runner-up for this year will be the end of an era, which Juventus have represented the last six seasons. First of all, I think this season will be much tighter overall regarding the top finishes. From what I’ve seen, the loss of Bonucci at the back won’t be easy to recover from. Some might argue that Juventus are reinforced in the attacking department and weakened defensive wise. That may be true, but overall I honestly don’t see an overall upgrade on the team as a whole, at least to begin with. It takes time to replace one of the major fundaments of Juventus’ success over the past six years, as well as Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi need to be drilled in the system. That exact point brings me over to the main reason that I think Napoli will win their first scudetto in 28 years.
Winner of Serie A 17/18 is managed by my favourite coach, Maurizio Sarri. He has built this machine like footballing unit with weapons that’s a true nightmare to face. Step by step has he slowly and steady made this Napoli team to such and terrifying, aesthetically and extremely effective piece of art. Last season he had to deal without the supposed main man, Arek Milik’s, injury on international duty just a couple of months into the season. The solution for that was Mertens, and in all humility, that did turn out quite well. This season though, Milik is back and Sarri hasn’t seen a single player, involved in his first team plans, leave the Partenopei. They have, on the other hand, not made any spectacular signings either, but that may just be a blessing in disguise. Another year with experience, both in Europe and domestically, and what goes for relations internally in the team – I could only perceive that as a positive thing. I’m confident that Napoli will be fighting for lo scudetto all the way to the finish line, and I think this may just be their year.
WRITTEN BY TRYGVE RØED, SERIE A BETTING EXPERT FOR VALUEWINS
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