The Italian Serie A season that many have pointed to being the most anticipated in recent memory kicks off this weekend.
The annual Ferragosto celebrations across the peninsula are the perfect pre-parties to what should be 38 wonderful matchdays of football. Among the cacophony of fireworks and live music, fans are currently hashing out all the preliminary footballing clichés and faint optimisms embedded in the fabric of this time of year.
Personally, I believe there’s no better way to build your Serie A 2018/19 agenda than to arrange it gastronomically. Allow me to explain.
Deep rooted within the Italian expression is food; more precisely, the meal structure. A remarkably well constructed order of eating is resemblant of a culture that is deeply invested in its pastimes. Seeing as calcio is as much a pastime as fonduta is to the Torinese, it is only appropriate that we observe this coming Serie A season through the lens of the Italian cucina.
“An alcoholic beverage that is consumed prior to a meal with the intention of stimulating the appetite”.
No better place to start than with transfers. The infamous European Transfer Window has morphed in to something of its own soap opera in recent time. Italian clubs this year look to be in a position of (relative) advantage with the English Premier League window shutting down prior to their own. Let’s pour some vermouth and look at the most exciting transfers.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus
The obvious one. For the first time in years, the most talked about transfer of the football calendar reaches Italian shores. Since his time in Manchester, Ronaldo has moved the game’s needle. He has backed up his fame and fortune with an incredible trophy haul during a sparkling 16-year career, one he will surely look to continue in northern Italy. Welcome to Italy.
Gonzalo Higuain: AC Milan
Juventus have shipped out their goal scoring talisman to northern rivals Milan. The move is a Serie A favourite ‘loan with an option to buy’ arrangement that, in the interim, will act as a source of wage relief following Ronaldo’s arrival.
Juve are expected to flex their muscle without Gonzalo thanks to a sublime supporting cast. Milan, however, have added a vital piece to their project. The team’s recent struggles are no secret, and the soon-to-be 31-year-old Higuain arrives knowing Serie A opposition as good as anyone. With over 100 goals between Napoli and Juventus, Higuain will have most Rossoneri supporters excited.
Note: It will be fantastic tutoring for young Patrick Cutrone to train alongside Higuain for (at least) a whole season. The 20-year old is a key piece in Gattuso’s plans going forward.
Alban Lafont: Fiorentina
A regular feature in the French football ranks, Lafont is one of the most exciting young goalkeepers on the planet. Born just a month and three days before Italy’s hottest prospect between the sticks in Gigi Donnarumma, Lafont warrants similar praise for his performances at the top level at such a young age. He was two matches shy of reaching 100 for French Ligue 1 side Toulouse before putting pen to paper on a multi-year contract for la viola.
What is most encouraging is his decision to move to Florence. The cultural transition from southern France to Tuscany is far less intense than, say, a move to Selhurst Park (which was rumoured) may have been. The new club no.1 is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Justin Kluivert: AS Roma
The former Ajax youth product is one of Monchi’s many teenage recruits to arrive at Fiumicino airport this summer. Kluivert joined up with the squad early enough to take part in Roma’s pre-season tour of the US, and impressed in every match he featured.
A smooth, agile runner with the ball, Kluivert looks to be a menace for defenders going forward. He will look to bolster a formidable attack that includes Edin Džeko, Javier Pastore, Cengiz Ünder and Stephan El Shaarawy. He was rightly included in Sports Illustrated’s ‘Top 20 Under 20’ footballers at number 5 for his impressive spell with Ajax’s first team. At €17.25m, if he is able to perform consistently for one of the strongest Roma sides of the last decade, that price tag will seem a bargain.
“An appetizer typically consisting of olives, anchovies, cheeses, and meats”
Now that you’re feeling nice n’ loose, let’s go to where the best such platter would be found: Parma.
Emilia-Romagna has its club back after an astonishing fall from grace following liquidation. The famous Tardini will play host to Serie A football once again in 2018/19 and they will do so with the highly regarded Roberto Inglese among their ranks. The Napoli-owned striker is a respected figure across the league and even earned himself an Azzurri call-up in October of last year.
They will raise the curtain against Udinese on Sunday evening, hopefully in their stunning new third strip which sold out in 24-hours following its release. The club has embarked on a marketing campaign which honours its wonderful history whilst welcoming its new beginning. In keeping with the hashtag momentum: #ChinoisiAmo and #ForzaParma.
“The first course, served as an appetizer, not the main event (pasta, rice or similar)”
It may not be the “main event”, but it often times is everyone’s favourite part. In the shadow of an exciting domestic season there is, of course, continental football. This season, a Milan side is back in the Champions League.
Inter Milan will welcome Europe’s best back to the San Siro following some final day dramatics on matchday 38 last season.
The club’s off-season business is reflective of that reward as some of the new recruits include Radja Nainggolan, Šime Vrsaljko, Stefan de Vrij, and the experienced Kwandwo Asamoah.
As for their Champions League aspirations, the club have remained coy on their chances, but will no doubt feel that a second season under Luciano Spalletti will only mean good things in terms of the squad’s identity, methods and approach.
“The main course. Typically a chicken, fish, or meat”.
THE TITLE CHALLENGE:
The heart of the issue remains who, if anybody, can stop Juventus. It’s been a question left largely without answer until last season.
The Napoli scare of 2017/18 under Maurizio Sarri was particularly impressive considering their 1-0 victory over the bianconeri in matchday 34 had supporters believing the dream was on.
This time around, there is something worth noting about AC Milan who finished the second half of last season with one of the league’s best records. Their summer signings include the aforementioned Gonzalo Higuain, centreback Mattia Caldara, – who has proven his worth during his time with Atalanta – Chelsea’s Tiemoue Bakayoko who will be seeking to reclaim his Monaco form, and Ivan Strinić who had an impressive summer in Russia with Croatia. Time will tell how well the new faces gel, but Milan showed significant improvement under Rino Gattuso.
Though, the realistic challenge may come in the form of Inter Milan. Their new signings are proven talents who will likely shift in to starting roles from the off. Matches against Juve were tight affairs last season, and with the expectation of the Old Lady’s focus shifting heavily toward Europe as the season grows older, Inter may smell blood in a title race they have been desperate to become a part of once again.
Frosinone, Parma and Empoli will all be striving to avoid the one-season carousel. They should be confident of it, though, seeing as other clubs in the division have been steadily sliding for some time.
Chievo Verona, namely, should be concerned. The perennial middle-tablers are in the midst of an ugly capital gains scandal thanks to some shady accountancy over the last few seasons.
A points penalty has yet to be adjudicated simply down to a case of legal unfamiliarity on the part of the courts, however an investigation has all but confirmed that Chievo has been hanging by a thread administratively for some time now. With little on-field improvement, the fate met by their city rivals last season may come crashing upon the Donkeys in 2019.
“A dolce (or sweet) ends a traditional Italian meal. A rich Italian indulgence”
The sweet bliss amidst the chaos and colour. A friendly reminder that the game isn’t all madness and drama. Some of the finer touchpoints give the Serie A it’s charming appeal.
Carletto and Pippo back in Serie A:
Carlo Ancelotti and Filippo Inzaghi are back in Italian top flight with both men taking on coaching roles this coming season.
Ancelotti takes the Napoli hot seat at the Stadio San Paolo as he looks to build on the exploits left by Maurizio Sarri. His long-time Milan #9, Super Pippo, returns to coaching with Bologna as he strives to better the club’s 15th place finish last time out.
Davide Astori Training Centre:
Fiorentina will begin a full season with the club’s main training centre taking on its new name “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honour of their late captain. A very classy touch to keep the memory alive a life taken too soon.
Andrea Bocelli serenades Inter players & staff:
In a case of “it’s so Italian, it hurts”, Andrea Bocelli paid Inter Milan’s training grounds a visit this week before the start of their new season. As one would expect, Bocelli belted out the famous ‘Nessun Dorma’ inside the club’s gym facility. Truly, la bel paese.