With a still-uncertain defence, Verona need every goal they can get to assure a respectable finish. Edo Dalmonte takes a look at the Gialloblu as they begin Year 3 in Serie A.
Verona remain shrouded in mystery going into 2015-2016. Owner Maurizio Setti recently appeared on local television to preach frugality to the fans, a stark contrast from his addition of Giampaolo Pazzini’s €1m salary to his club’s meagre payroll. With the Gialloblu’s €19.6m total wage-bill the fifth-lowest in the league - higher only than those of Carpi, Frosinone, Chievo and Empoli - some ask whether a bit more should have been set aside to beef up the midfield and the defence.
If Pazzini is to alternate with the 38-year-old Toni, for example, Verona will have failed to add a regular starter to their front six, a bit of a problem for a team that struggled to find a midfield everyman in the mould of former crosstown rival Luca Rigoni.
Both Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Leandro Greco disappointed in that role last year, whilst new signing Federico Viviani is promising, but notoriously injury-prone. Pre-season training has highlighted just how isolated Pazzini and Toni can be when playing together.
Though lack of flair may not be a problem for Verona - they have Emil Halfredsson, Juanito Gomez and Jacopo Sala, who hope to replicate the feats of Juan Iturbe and Jorginho - there is genuine concern about what was last season’s fourth-worst backline.
Though good long-term bets, Hellas’ latest signings aren’t an immediate upgrade: Under-21 Captain Matteo Bianchetti didn’t take Spezia by storm last year and is expected to start on the bench behind a leaky central pairing of Rafael Marquez and Vangelis Moras, whilst Eros Pisano, Fabio Winck, Filip Helander (and Samuel Souprayen, who has impressed so far) will need to prove they can add speed to a notoriously slow defence.
If things don’t improve at that end, Verona will need to revert to trying to score one more than their opponents, hardly a tried-and-tested method in this league.
Unimpressive outings against Hamburg and Rizespor have also called the quality of the team’s play into question: the feeling is that after dazzling everyone on Verona’s return to Serie A, Mandorlini has struggled to adapt his tactics to his player’s strengths. Sala in particular is still unsure of what his role will be, leading fans to wonder whether he will stay, or whether sporting director Riccardo Bigon will sell him on to his former employers Napoli.
Mandorlini responded to last year’s defensive woes by sacking long-time collaborator Roberto Bordin - an acknowledgment of tactical errors, or shifting the blame? Time will tell for a Coach who was praised for his first season in Serie A, but is now called upon to remedy his tactical inflexibility.
With the defence and midfield still in a state of flux, fans at the Bentegodi will hope Toni can conjure up some of last season’s magic and keep this second wind going. Considered to be on the way down two seasons ago, the former Fiorentina hitman responded with a preposterous 42 league goals.
Verona may well have found their striker of the future in Pazzini, a man who is out for revenge after being dumped by Milan over the summer. Even if he doesn’t get the lion’s share of the starts this year, Verona will still have acquired a good Serie A striker off the scrapheap.
Romulo wins this this one almost by default, as Toni and Pazzini are years removed from their last call-ups (Toni’s was in 2009). The Brazilian-born central midfielder should be a very valuable contributor once healthy, though there are worries that last season’s sports hernia is still keeping him out.
Rafael; Romulo, Moras, Marquez, PISANO; Sala, VIVIANI, Halfredsson; Juanito, Toni, Jankovic
Verona are not a bad team, but they have a glaring weakness in defence which they don’t look to have addressed. Even if they make limited improvements there, the quality of Serie A’s mid-table teams is on the rise. Looking at last season’s rankings, it’s hard to see Verona finishing ahead of any of the 12 teams who preceded them, except for Sassuolo. If anything, a goal drought - or a repeat of last year’s injury crisis - could land them in a lot of trouble.
Keep up to date with all the Serie A transfers with Football Italia's summer 2015 transfer table.