The transfer window isn’t shut yet, but we’ve already got the first verdicts from this 2017-18 Serie A season. The Milan clubs are most definitely back in business, Napoli pick up where they left off, Roma have learned how to win ugly and Gigi Buffon remains the best.
As if the summer spending spree weren’t enough to make the San Siro faithful – on both sides of the arena – optimistic, then the opening weekend performances certainly did the trick. Luciano Spalletti confirmed the pre-season friendly signs with a commanding 3-0 victory over Fiorentina. Mauro Icardi is the same great target man, but now he’s finally got some decent service thanks to Borja Valero and Matias Vecino pulling the midfield strings. When you compare the Spaniard to Geoffrey Kondogbia, and realise Joao Cancelo is on his way from Valencia to resolve the full-back issue, then this is truly an impressive Nerazzurri outfit.
Stefano Pioli’s Viola proved that good players do not make a team, as he was forced to cobble together a completely new XI, including Giovanni Simeone with the ink on his contract not yet dry. The Tuscans lacked cohesion, understandably, yet it was the few faces left over from last season who did the most damage on the night. Davide Astori and Nenad Tomovic are simply not good enough to lead an all-new defence and were made to look painfully inept.
There were concerns on how Vincenzo Montella would forge a unit from so many new players, but the truth is Milan haven’t really been tested yet. A 6-0 Europa League victory over Macedonians Shkendija couldn’t tell us much and playing 85 minutes against 10-man Crotone was not a fair examination either. We have ascertained one thing, though: Patrick Cutrone is the real deal. He can make his mark this season and I hope his opportunities won’t be too limited by the arrival of Nikola Kalinic.
Roma are revamped too and it was feared Eusebio Di Francesco wouldn’t be able to bring the necessary grit after his experiences at Sassuolo. Instead, the Giallorossi did something in Bergamo we rarely see from the Lupi under any tactician: they won ugly. The bare minimum, a cheeky Aleksandar Kolarov free kick under the Atalanta wall and Josip Ilicic somehow hitting the post from 30cm made for three points.
Juventus are the masters of winning ugly, of course, and made relatively short work of Cagliari. Miralem Pjanic is relishing the freedom he has to make searching passes now that Leonardo Bonucci isn’t beating him to it and the assist for Paulo Dybala was Francesco Totti-esque in its execution.
Video Assistant Referee technology has been introduced in Serie A this season and I did warn this would cause even more controversy. I’m already being proved correct after one round. Cagliari received a spot-kick thanks to VAR – which the peerless Buffon saved anyway – and yet all the debate afterwards was about why Dybala’s goal wasn’t disallowed for handball. Easy – VAR can only be used to correct CLEAR errors from the referee. The footage from several different angles did not clarify whether La Joya used his arm or his chest, and do not send in blurry freeze-frames, because I’ve seen them and they are inconclusive. As long as there is an interpretation to be made, there will be controversy, but that's the nature of the sport.
Torino unfortunately proved the limitations of VAR when robbed of a winner away to Bologna. It cannot be used once play has already been halted, so the fact Andrea Belotti was demonstrably not offside made no difference – the whistle was blown and that was that. Hopefully, this incident so early will encourage officials to hold off on the interruptions next time for at least a few seconds.
I tipped Napoli for the Scudetto before the season began, as I feel the relatively few changes allow them to build on already strong foundations. The 3-1 victory at Hellas Verona confirmed Maurizio Sarri’s men are the same as ever – beautiful to watch, don’t make all that dominance count and can’t help but make life difficult for themselves in the final 20 minutes. It’s good to see Arek Milik back on the scoresheet and that Sarri has finally embraced the concept of squad rotation.
Spal and Benevento immediately suggest there will be no easy games in Serie A this season. The minnows gave a very good account of themselves, earning a draw away to Supercoppa victors Lazio and unlucky to lose 2-1 at Sampdoria. Amato Ciciretti scored perhaps the goal of the round and will be one to watch along with his Streghe teammates.
It was also pleasing to see youth continues to be given a chance in Italian football. Along with 19-year-old Cutrone, Genoa gave a Serie A debut to 15-year-old Eddy Salcedo Mora – and he almost won it at the death away to Sassuolo. Simone Scuffet was given the gloves in Udine, but the 21-year-old was at fault for both Chievo goals and the positioning on Valter Birsa’s lob was atrocious. He’ll live and learn, though patience is short in the Peninsula, especially for shot-stoppers.
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