In February of this year, Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi said that he wanted to build a young and Italian Milan. Over the summer the club has gone a long way in making this vision come true. With at least five Italian players starting every Serie A match this season, Milan is by far the most Italian team on this list. Berlusconi also brought in Sinisa Mihajlovic as Coach, a very controversial move due to the Serb’s strong links with Inter as a player and an assistant. However, what Miha brings to the table is a ruthlessness of character and an uncompromising dedication to the cause. He’s never afraid to tell it like he sees it and will not accept anything but full commitment from his players at all times.
Milan have had a rocky start to the season. Losses to Fiorentina, Inter and Genoa were painful, while victories against Empoli and Udinese were shaky, however, the squad is developing and they have plenty of strong players that can eventually make a difference. Unlike their city cousins, Milan’s attack has been the brightest spot so far, newcomers Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca have been very impressive with their energy and dynamism, while Mario Balotelli - who may find a real mentor in Mihajlovic - can be a world class threat in front of goal if he can find his form. Where Milan seem to be found lacking is in the midfield. Since Andrea Pirlo’s departure to Juventus five years ago, Milan have struggled to balance defence with attack, resulting in various incarnations of a side that can’t seem to find its identity or character. Riccardo Montolivo has struggled to emulate his early career form, while newcomer Juraj Kucka seems to be more of an enforcer than a regista. Milan faithful hope that once Andrea Bertolacci finds his groove in Rossonero he becomes the link they’ve been so desperately missing.
Milan seem to be going through their own “year zero” this season, so a real title challenge might be premature, however, along with Inter, they are the only side with no European commitments this season, so a finish near the top may not be so far-fetched.
After Rafa Benitez’s disappointing 5th place exit from the club, owner Aurelio De Laurentis appointed city “boy” Maurizio Sarri as Coach. The appointment raised more than a few eyebrows, as the club was expected to hire a higher profile name more in line with its ambitions. The Partenopei’s start to the season has been a roller-coaster ride, high profile wins against Juventus, Lazio and Brugge are difficult to reconcile with lacklustre draws with lowly Carpi and Empoli.
Napoli have had a relatively subdued summer mercato, where the highest profile incomers were Allan and Mirko Valdifiori in midfield, meaning that they’re the side with potentially the least player integration headaches amongst the contenders. Sarri has at his disposal one of the league’s most prolific front lines which is composed of players who have shared the same dressing room for at least two seasons.
It is difficult to see where Napoli will end up this season, what is certain is that there’s no lack of talent in their squad, if the President’s Sarri gamble proves correct, the sky is the limit for the Azzurri. However, if results don’t start to come quick, the irritable club owner may be tempted to change manager mid-season, a move that would probably end the Vesuviani’s title hopes.
The Romans are chomping at the bit to get their season going. The club hierarchy knows that this season may prove to be their best chance at winning the elusive Scudetto, largely due to Juventus’s season of upheaval and potential turmoil. Having kept faith in Coach Rudi Garcia, the club’s management has gone on to have one of the continent’s busiest summer transfer markets. Edin Dzeko, Iago Falque and Mohammed Salah have been brought in to bolster their under-performing attack, while Lucas Digne, Antonio Rudiger and Norbert Gyomber to provide quality and depth in defence. Roma continue to have one of the league’s most impressive midfields which can only get better if Kevin Strootman makes a recovery from his knee injury.
As one of the Serie A’s two remaining Champions League representatives, one can’t ignore the fact that their European commitments will probably take their toll on the squad. However, if Roma’s owners are indeed as ambitious as they claim to be, competing comprehensively on two fronts is a prerequisite for all good continental sides.
Over the past two seasons, Roma have acquired a reputation of being chokers. Last season they sat just three points behind leaders Juve at the end of the year, only to finish seventeen points behind them, having bizarrely drawn or lost fourteen games in 2015. If Roma are indeed to realise their dream of a Scudetto, they absolutely must become able to win ugly and collect points in unfavourable conditions, the onus here lies on Garcia who clearly needs to work on the team’s spirit and mentality. Roma’s core includes players such as Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan, and Alessandro Florenzi none of whom can ever be criticised for lacking passion, it is this tough gritty spirit that Garcia must harness and transmit to the rest of the squad if the Lupi are to fulfil their potential.
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