Last season was a mixed bag for Serie A.
On the one hand, the Scudetto was never in question, and Juventus ended up winning the title race by a whopping 17 points. On the other hand, the fight for third (between Lazio, Fiorentina, Napoli) was compelling, while Genoa and Sampdoria surprised with sixth- and seven-place finishes.
On the one had, Italian pride was restored in Europe, as Juventus reached the final of the UEFA Champions League, and Fiorentina and Napoli advanced to the semifinals of the Europa League. On the other hand, Parma, one of the great Italian sides, fell further into economic disarray and was eventually relegated to Serie D.
Serie A was also the highest scoring league—both in terms of total goals and goals per game average—among Europe’s top divisions last season, further debunking the myth Italian soccer is defensive and dour.
So, what to expect in the 2015-16 campaign? Here are five storylines to watch for in Serie A this season.
Juve’s title to lose
Sure, the Bianconeri lost three key starters in the off-season: Carlos Tevez returned to Argentina, Andrea Pirlo moved to MLS, and Arturo Vidal was sold to Bayern Munich. But the Turin giants effectively re-tooled, bringing in players the calibre of Paulo Dybala, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic and Alex Sandro. Impressively, they also kept French midfielder Paul Pogba, the hottest prospect in world soccer, despite keen interest from Barcelona. The additions of forward Simone Zaza and defender Daniele Rugani were also quality pickups, giving the champions more depth in key positions. This new-look Juventus looks poised to claim its fifth Scudetto in a row. But can they take that extra step and improve on last season’s Champions League run by winning it all for the first time since 1996?
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The Roman Empire
AS Roma looks the most likely to mount a serious challenge against Juventus for the title after finishing runners-up the past two seasons. The Giallorossi boast a talented squad (Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic, Seydou Keita, Francesco Totti) that has been bolstered by the additions of Edin Dzeko, Iago Falque and Mohamed Salah. Those three should help Roma improve is modest output of 54 goals from a season ago. But don’t overlook Lazio—they were last season’s biggest surprise package, finishing third in the table and just a point behind their city rivals. Coach Stefan Pioli impressed in his first campaign in charge, and will again be able to call upon the exploits of Brazilian Felipe Anderson (the breakout star in Serie A in 2014-15) and German goal-scoring veteran Miroslav Klose.
What about the Milan clubs?
These are tough times for Inter Milan and AC Milan, who finished eighth and tenth last season, and failed to qualify for Europe. In recent years they have become shadows of their former great selves, but hope springs eternal as the new campaign is set to kick off as both Milan clubs look rejuvenated. AC Milan got rid of a lot of dead wood (Daniele Bonera, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Giampaolo Pazzini) and added some exciting players, most notably midfield creator Andrea Bertolacci, and prolific strikers Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano. Sinisa Mihajlovic has also taken over the coaching reins, which should give the Rossoneri a spark. As for Inter, manager Roberto Mancini will be in charge of a strengthened side this term thanks to the additions of Geoffrey Kondogbia in midfield, defenders Miranda and Jeison Murillo, and forward Stevan Jovetic from Manchester City. It’ll be interesting to see if both Milan clubs will challenge for the title or if they’ll need another season to rebuild.
Club owners and chairmen in Italy are known for being trigger-happy when it comes to firing their managers. Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini is so infamous for it that it’s become a running joke to ask how long his new appointee will last whenever he makes a managerial change. There are a handful of new coaches with new teams this season, including Paulo Sousa at Fiorentina, Sinisa Mihajlovic at AC Milan and Maurizio Sarri with Napoli. There’s a great deal of pressure on Sousa, who is taking over a solid Fiorentina side that finished fourth last season, and Mihajlovic, who succeeds club legend Filippo Inzaghi. Sarri left Empoli to replace Rafa Benitez at Napoli, and the pressure will be on him to get the Partenopei back into the top three. Will one of these men become the first coaching casualty of the season if their teams get off to a slow start?
The amazing rise of Carpi
Of the three promoted sides Carpi (not to be confused with the Island of Capri) is the most intriguing story. The tiny club from the province of Modena has quickly come up through the ranks of the Italian leagues—just six years ago, they were playing in Serie D. Since then they have pulled off four promotions: first going up to Lega Pro Division 2, then Lega Pro Division 1, and then Serie B two years ago. They won promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history by winning last season’s Serie B title by nine points over fellow promoted side Frosinone (like Carpi, the team from the suburbs of Rome also won promotion to Serie A for the first time). Carpi will have its work cut out, especially as their 4,500-capacity Stadio Sandro Cabassi does not meet Serie A requirements. As a result, the Biancorossi (The White and Reds) will play their games at the Stadio Alberto Braglia, home of Serie B side Modena.