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  24/08/2011: 2011-12 Serie A Preview: Part III
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Inter
 
2010-11 League Position: 2nd

One of the powerhouses in Italian football leaves a comparatively weak season behind (this being said after finishing second in Serie A and winning Coppa Italia). After the Mourinho years, were he brought Inter to new heights with consecutive scudetti as well as a Champions League trophy, things at Angelo Moratti drastically changed last season. First came Benitez, who failed to live up to the high expectations, and was replaced by Leonardo half way through the season. The Brazilian tactician decided to leave during the summer, and Massimo Moratti had to spend valuable time looking for a replacement. With Gasperini at the helm Inter has looked very different in the off-season, as the ex-Genoa man prefers to field his players in a 3-4-3 formation. The change of coach, as well as a new tactical disposition will take some time to get together and in the first competitive game of the season Inter lost to arch rivals Milan in the Supercoppa.

Since last season Eto'o has left, and Sneijder struggles to find a place in the team. The duo was at times labelled the best attacking partnership in the world of football and will be hard to replace. Apart from Ricky Alvarez and Jonathan, who both have been brought over from South America and therefore will need time to adapt, Nagatomo (signed permanently) and Castaignos can be seen as additions that can help out in a season that has the potential of being disappointing for the Nerazzuri. A warning needs to be added though, as Moratti has yet to close the books for this mercato and with plenty of millions added after the sale of Etoo Inter might be adding quality in the last days of August. Also, Goran Pandev seems to have been reborn under the new tactician, and been given plenty of time and responsibility in the friendly games of the summer. Will this be enough to steer Inter back to trophies? I am doubtful...

2011-12 LazioLand League Prediction: 3rd

Juventus

2010-11 League Position: 7th

The Old Lady had turned very old the last few seasons with an insecure and ineffective football being displayed. Another of the Italian giants leaves a disappointing season behind, and many experts foresee a brighter future for the Turin based outfit. The Agnelli family thought some massive and drastic changes were needed in order to get the most successful team of Italian football back to the top, and after having replaced coach Del Neri with previous Juventus player Antonio Conte the shopping spree started: Vucinic, Vidal, Lichsteiner, Ziegler, Quagliarella, Pepe, Matri, Motta, Pazienza and Pirlo all became permanent Juventus players and with Buffon, Chiellini, Del Piero, Marchisio and Krasic (amongst others) already present, the team has an interesting blend of youth and experience. The lack of European competition, as they missed Europa League after finishing seventh last season, means the club will be able to focus entirely on climbing back to the top of the Serie A table.

The goals are set high and the Zebras have emerged as favourites to challenge AC Milan for the domestic silverware this season. With Inter in a stage of transition, and Milan openly prioritizing a Champions League trophy, Juventus must be seen as one of the main contenders. So far being the only team owning their own arena, set to be inaugurated this season and built on the same site as the previous Stadio delle Alpi, the bianconeri might be climbing towards a new era as the main protagonists of il calcio. But things might turn ugly yet again, as the constant changing of coach, as well as the many players being transferred in and out every season, might come to show problematic. After all, a club of Juventus’ calibre needs time to find their balance and harmony in order to rise again; something that might be hard to get with owners demanding immediate success.

2011-12 LazioLand League Prediction: 2nd

Lecce

2010-11 League Position: 17th

The Via del Mare outfit successfully managed to avoid relegation last season. The giallorossi finished in 17th position 2010/2011, having beaten arch rivals Bari in the penultimate game and at the same time guaranteeing themselves another year in the top flight. With Siena, Novara and Atalanta having been promoted, Lecce have three new teams that they will need to try to keep behind them if they want to reach their goal of securing a third consecutive season in Serie A.

In order to strengthen the team Lecce has mainly turned to other Serie A teams for added quality. Strasser from Milan, Cuadrado and Obodo from Udinese, Tomovic and Esposito from Genoa and Julio Sergio from Roma have all been borrowed, while Carrozzieri is the most well known permanent addition. Jeda, Rosati and Chevanton have all left the club and Lecce need to find their new identity as soon as possible in order to avoid losing valuable points at the start of the campaign.

To do so, Eusebio Di Francesco has been brought in as the new head coach replacing Luigi De Canio, who won Serie B in the 2009/2010 season with Lecce and guided the team to survival last season. Never having managed a team in the Italian top flight might show to be a task too large to handle, but his active career as player for numerous sides in Serie A and Serie B adds useful experience. Worth noting however is that Di Francesco only has two seasons of coaching behind him, one in Lega Pro with Virtus Lanciano (where he was sacked due to poor results) and one season with Pescara in Serie B. The question that remains to be answered is whether he will be a motivator and tactician good enough to make the Lecce players perform on a level keeping them floating above relegation.

2011-12 LazioLand League Prediction: 17th

Napoli

2010-11 League Position: 3rd

Many knew the southerners had qualities in the team, but few expected Napoli to reach Champions League through automatic qualification. President De Laurentis claims to have had a clear strategy since taking over, and wants to see his team aim higher than the third spot of last season. The involvement in Europa League last season was a failure, but being a part of the finest competition of all will make the team look at the European adventure differently this time around. Will this make them suffer in the domestic league? Probably.
Having been able to hang on to sought after players such as Lavezzi and Hamsik, despite interest from mega-clubs around Europe, is a statement echoing in the football world. The added players; Dzemaili, Inler, Donadel, Rosati and Britos, amongst others, will add an extra depth as well as an edge to an already impressive and entertaining team. With Mazzari in charge, deploying a very successful version of 3-4-3, now entering his second full season at San Paolo, the napoletani are sensing a return of the glory days of the 80’s. Then there was Maradona; now they have Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan had a stunning first season at the club, and is expected to build on that.

There are however concerns for the Azzurri. The forward line is strong, but few in numbers and many expect one new attacker to be added before the closure of the transfer market. The many games of last season showed the team was too few in numbers, and too low in quality outside the starting eleven, to be able to maintain a high standard all through the season. At Stadio San Paolo they will be hard to beat as always, but I find it hard to see Napoli clinching a top three finish this year again.

2011-12 LazioLand League Prediction: 5th

Novara

2010-11 League Position: 3rd (Serie B)

55 years ago Novara was relegated from Serie A, but after only one year in Serie B the Piedmontese managed to beat Padova in the play-off finals and the return to the top flight became reality. Now the toughest tasks of all remain: survival.

Just as most promoted teams, Novara is tipped to have a short stay in Serie A. Looking at the transfers do not make me any more optimistic on the behalf of the biancoazzuri, where Jeda and Morimoto are the most well known additions. On the other hand, very few players have left the club and if Coach Attilio Tesser can motivate his boys they might surprise us all with results built on good team work and a sense of being underdogs. Plus, they have a skilful goaltender in Albanian international Samir Ujkani which will show decisive. The lack of experience is a problem though; many of the players lack time in Serie A, and Tesser himself has only managed in the finest of divisions for 12 games earlier: one game for Cagliari in 2005, and eleven games for Ascoli in 2006.
An interesting fact about Novara is that their star player of all time is a well known figure for Laziali. Stadio Silvio Pioli, their home ground, is named after the prolific striker who after scoring 148 goals in 227 games for Lazio spent his last seven seasons at Novara, where he got 86 goals in 185 games. It was also during Pioli’s days that Novara reached their highest ever ranking in Serie A, when they in 1952 ended in eighth place. To repeat that is not realistic, but in order to survive this first Serie A season in more than five decades, someone needs to step forward and deliver the goals needed.

2011-12 LazioLand League Prediction: 19th
 
 
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