The suspicion that this year’s Serie A title contest is going to be a lot less one-sided than last year’s Juventus-dominated competition would seem to have been borne out by a firecracker start last weekend. Not only did champions Juventus get surprisingly turned over on the opening day by Udinese but also two other “biggies”, namely Milan and Napoli, lost their opening games, respectively to Fiorentina and Sassuolo.
To begin with the Old Lady herself – Juve coach Massmiliano Allegri was correct when he pointed out that his side had dominated their home tie with Udinese only to lose out to a 78th minute winner, scored against the run of play by Frenchman Cyril Thereaux. This was a game we could and indeed should have won, implied Allegri, as he ruminated on Juve’s first ever Serie A opening day home loss.
Perhaps Juve should have won but, inevitably, critics were quick to suggest that had Pirlo, Vidal and Tevez still been playing for Juventus, the champions might have made much more of their dominance. In fairness, Juventus were without important players in the shape of midfielder Claudio Marchisio, Spanish striker Alvaro Morata and German-Tunisian midfielder Sami Khedira.
However, it is at least arguable that, as of now, the huge holes left by the departure of Pirlo and Co. have yet to be adequately filled. Not for nothing, too, Juventus are this morning widely reported to be looking for more firepower in the shape of the ex-Fiorentina and Chelsea player, Colombian Juan Cuadrado.
Also reportedly back on the transfer market are Milan, defeated 2-0 by the new look, Paulo Sousa-coached Fiorentina. Heroes of the day here were two established Fiorentina players, Brazilian Marcos Alonso and Slovene Josep Illicic, scorers of the goals. Turning point in this game came in the 36th minute when Milan’s new Brazilian central defender, Rodrigo Ely, got sent off, with Fiorentina’s Alonso opening the scoring from the subsequent free kick. Illicic finished off the business by procuring and then scoring a second half penalty.
Speculation has it that Milan may be now looking for a new central defender whilst reports indicate that the redoubtable Mario Balotelli is about to make his second prodigal son style return to Italian football by again signing for the club. Remember the Liverpool striker left English football and Manchester City to join Milan back in January 2013. 20 months later, in August last year, Balotelli moved to Liverpool.
After a largely anonymous and disappointing spell with Liverpool, Milan will be hoping that they can get the player on a loan deal which will also see Liverpool pay a significant slice of his reported £4 million sterling per annum salary. Not everybody can understand the logic of this proposed move, however, with former Milan great, Croat Zvonimir Boban, telling viewers to Sky Italia that he found the transfer “absurd”. Not for the first time, Boban appeared to harbour serious reservations about Balotelli’s attitude and commitment.
As for Fiorentina, they can only get better, according to coach Sousa who could hardly have made a better start to his new job. Even if Sousa was busy trying to keep everyone’s feet firmly on the ground, the Fiorentina fans are clearly going to become just a little agitated. Pre-season friendly wins against Real Madrid and Chelsea had already set the fans dreaming, whilst last weekend’s opening win will only further encourage the oftimes passionate Fiorentina fans.
Another man to make a successful start with a new club was the former Fiorentina and Manchester City Montenegrin, “Jo-Jo” Jovetic, who scored a dramatic 93rd minute winner in Inter’s 1-0 home win against Atalanta. Until then, Inter had seemed destined for a disappointing draw against an Atalanta side that played the last 20 minutes with just ten men, following the sending-off of Chilean defender Carlos Carmona.
Also immediately in the wars on this first weekend was Napoli’s new coach Maurizio Sarri, under pressure after his side lost 2-1 away to little Sassuolo, notwithstanding a third minute opening goal from Napoli’s Slovak schemer, Marek Hamsik. After Eusebio Di Francesco’s side had come back to win 2-1 thanks to second half goals from Antonio Floro Flores and Nicola Sansone, coach Sarri attracted a deal of ironic comment when he complained that his seasonal preparations had been ruined by world football’s international fixture list, saying bitterly:
“Either they change the international calendar or you’re always going to have this problem…(Gonzalo) Higuain only came back from playing for Argentina (in the Coppa America) in late July. The international fixture list is a real problem, in two weeks time, I will have to give up a lot of players for international games (European qualifiers) and when they get back, if they come back injured, it will have been my fault…”
On the web, a number of fans were quick to reassure the new Napoli coach, saying that now that he has issued that complaint, the Latin American Con-Federation CONMEBOL, will be only too willing to change the Copa America dates for his (and Napoli’s) benefit…
Final thought concerns poor little Carpi who were hammered 5-2 by Sampdoria on their first ever appearance in Serie A in a match where their two goals came by way of consolation in the final seven minutes. Also worth noting that the eternal enfant terrible of Italian football, Antonio Cassano, returned to Italian football playing for the last quarter hour for Sampdoria with coach Walter Zenga suggesting that we will see more of the little genius this year.
As for Carpi, they already knew all too well that life in Serie A would be difficult. Now they know, just how difficult.