This is The Stoppage Time’s 2017-18 Serie A Season Preview. Another year of fun calcio awaits the world in Italy. There has been only one team that has outperformed Juventus Football Club all year. We’ll let you guess who it is; we won’t give away any spoilers but one: they’re not based in Italy at all. There. There’s your hint; do what you want with it. Music.
Anyway, in Serie A, there’s Juventus and then there’s everybody else. And truth be told, there are some capable names in the latter category that have the acceptable tributes to surpass the Old Lady this campaign. We’ll rank them in how we think they will finish then key in on some players you gotta check out here in Serie A. So here we go, but first…more music!
The first song in this piece, O Generosa, is the official anthem of Serie A and the TIM Cup. The second is pretty much the de facto anthem of both competitions, believe it or not. And why do we say this? That’s a good question; here’s the answer: Massimilliano Allegri’s Juventus Football Club have won the Italian Football Championship/Serie A 33 times, a record. They have also won the Coppa Italia (the TIM Cup’s actual name) 12 times, another record. So, you should never be surprised if “Juve: The Great Love Story” is played immediately afterwards.
In fact, you should pretty much expect it because Juventus is back and ready to get back to work as if the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League final was yesterday. This is all but certain to be Gianluigi Buffon’s final season playing football, and defender Giorgio Chiellini will see to that. Brazilian forward Douglas Costa is on loan from another domestic league winning regular in Bayern Munich. From one auto-crazy town (BMW – Munich) to another (Alfa Romeo – Turin): now that’s getting your motor running.
And this Juventus machine is built to go the distance across all competitions with other key parts of the engine, including midfielder Juan Cuadrado, forward Gonzalo Higuain, forward Paulo Dybala, forward Mario Mandzukic, midfielder/3rd captain Claudio Marchisio, defender Mehdi Benatia and midfielder Sami Khedira. A healthy and fit Juventus side will ensure that the status is maintained domestically, but if they want another crack at Real Madrid (there, we gave it away, prego) and Cristiano Ronaldo, they’ll have to work for it in the UEFA Champions League. The Turinese are a blue-collar, hard working type of people to begin with. That’s why the likes of Detroit is one of their sister cities, mind.
2. AS Roma
Juventus is one Serie A team that is starting its preseason in America with the International Champions Cup. The other is AS Roma, now under the leadership of Eusebio Di Francesco, the former boss of U.S. Sassuolo Calcio (more on them in a bit). With the retirement of another Francesco in Francesco Totti, Di Francesco is looking to its current list to issue a worthy challenge to Juventus. Players to watch include Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko, midfielder and captain Daniele De Rossi, midfielder Alesssandro Florenzi, midfielder Radja Nainggolan, midfielder Kevin Strootman and El Tri defender Hector Moreno.
3. SSC Napoli
The club of Diego Maradona, Maurizio Sarri’s SSC Napoli finished third and are looking for a deep run across all competitions. Defender Mario Rui is on loan from Roma and joins a stacked list that includes midfielder/captain Marek Hamsik, the Insigne brothers of Lorenzo and Roberto, defender/vice-captain Christian Maggio, midfielder Jorginho, forward Jose Callejon and defender Nikola Maksimovic.
4. Atalanta BC
Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta B.C. had a very impressive campaign, finishing fourth and outperforming both Milan-based teams in the process. A couple of players are on loan from Juventus in defender Mattia Caldara and midfielder Leonardo Spinazzola. Also on loan is goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini from EFL side Aston Villa. Argentine midfielder Alejandro Gomez is Atalanta’s captain. Other players to watch include defender Jose Luis Palomino, midfielder Robin Gosens and Danish forward Andreas Cornelius.
5. S.S. Lazio
Simone Inzaghi’s S.S. Lazio came up painfully short in their bid to upset Juventus in the 2017 TIM Cup Final. Nonetheless, they have the Europa League to look forward to, despite being relative outsiders to challenging for a Champions League spot. Players to keep an eye for on this Eagles side include goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, forward Ciro Immobile, defender Stefan Radu, defender Jordan Lukaku (Romelu’s brother), midfielder Luis Alberto, defender Wesley Hoedt and midfielder Felipe Anderson.
6. AC Milan
It was a tough season for AC Milan under Vincenzo Montella, as they slumped to sixth on the ladder last season. A new-look Rossoneri list is on the books for Milan fans, which include a couple of loanees in forward Fabio Borini (Sunderland) and midfielder Franck Kessie (Atalanta). Riccardo Montolivo is Milan’s captain, while Ignazio Abate is the vice-captain. Other players to watch for include forward Suso, forward Carlos Bacca, defenders Gustavo Gomez and Cristian Zapata, and midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. Goalkeeper Antonio Donnarumma joins younger brother Gianluigi on the books, while midfielder Lucas Biglia is joining the side from Lazio.
7. Inter Milan
Inter Milan is Luciano Spalletti’s newest gig, replacing Stefano Vecchi, who resumes his duties as overseer of Inter’s youth system. The decline in form under another Stefano in Stefano Pioli did not sit well with the Chinese majority owners from Suning Holdings, and so Spaletti was brought in to revitalize the hopes and aspirations of a brand in need of a new sense of purpose and belonging. Mauro Icardi resumes his role as captain of the side. Others to watch include defender Yuto Nagatomo, forward Stevan Jovetic, defender Gary Medel, defender Cristian Ansaldi, forward Eder and midfielder Joao Mario. Midfielder Roberto Gagliari joins Inter on loan from Atalanta.
8. ACF Fiorentina
After getting the boot at Inter, the aforementioned Pioli started anew as the manager of ACF Fiorentina, replacing Paulo Sousa. More of the same should be expected from this side, as Serie A this season will be top-heavy in terms of form. Notable faces among the Violet include defender/captain Davide Astori, forward Nikola Kalinic and the Uruguayan tandem of defender Maximiliano Olivera and midfielder Sebastian Cristoforo. Goalkeeper Marco Sportiello is another Atalanta loanee. Fun fact: the women’s team are the current league champions in their division.
A notable American abroad to watch is Joshua Perez, a 19-year old local product from Montebello, Calif., the nephew of former USMNT international Hugo Perez and a player that should factor into future World Cup captains with increased playing time and exposure. His former club: the now-folded Chivas USA. Could a loan move to LAFC be in the offing? Stay tuned…
9. Torino FC
Juventus FC is associated with Turin, obviously. But there is another Turin-based club in the top flight: Siniša Mihajlovic’s Torino FC, who finished last season in ninth. Torino don’t have the names that the Old Lady have (and of course, Joe Hart is no longer with the side), but they have other some capable hands to work with to ensure a respectable run domestically. Players to watch include captain/midfielder Marco Benassi, midfielder Afriyie Acquah, forward Lucas Boye, midfielder Samuel Gustafson, defender Lorenzo De Silvestri, forward Iago Falque, forward Adem Ljajic and forward Maxi Lopez.
10. U.C. Sampdoria
It seemed that Marco Giampaolo’s U.C. Sampdoria were due to be the only Genoa-based team in Serie A. Fortunately, Genoa were able to secure survival at the death and so the Derby della Lanterna will go on as scheduled. As for La Samp, it will face an uphill battle to test the higher-based sides but it should not be in the situation that they were in 2011 when they indeed got relegated. Keep an eye out for forward Fabio Quagliarella, defender Dodo (on loan from Inter Milan), midfielder Ricky Alvarez, midfielder Edgar Barreto, goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, striker Patrik Schick and midfelder Karol Linetti.
11. Cagliari Calcio
Call then the Islanders. Call them the Sardinians. Heck, you can call them Casteddu for all we care! But know this: they will always be known as Cagliari Calcio, the Rossoblu, managed by Massimo Rastelli and who have experienced relative stability under his tenure. And that’s pretty much what you can expect from this club: stability and reasonable form from a side that finished 11th last year on the island. Cagliari do a have a midfielder by the name of Joao Pedro, but unlike his LA Galaxy counterpart, he is Brazilian and far superior in terms of technical ability with 24 goals in 85 league appearance for Cagliari since 2014. Goalkeeper Rafael and forward Diego Fanas are the other Brazilians. Midfielder Daniele Dessena is the captain while forward Marco Sau is the vice-captain. An interesting face to watch is North Korean forward Han Kwang-song, the first-ever Chollima to not only appear in the competition but also score in it.
12. U.S. Sassuolo Calcio
With Di Francesco moving out of U.S. Sassuolo Calcio, the keys to the team are in the hands of Cristian Bucchi, whose last team was Perugia, a club that came painfully close to making the top flight through the playoffs (more on that in a bit). Oh, that’s right, speaking of playoffs (here comes the bit), this team is moving up. Watch this.
All right, back to Sassuolo. Bucchi, as the story goes, has some big shoes to fill as James Palotta and his crew are taking a massive gamble on Eusebio De Francesco and it will not be easy to ensure continuity with the Green and Black. They get a big boost in defense with the addition of Pol Lirola, on loan from Juventus. Other foreigners to watch include midfielder Alfred Duncan, forward Gregoire Defrel and defender Timo Letschert. Midfielder Francesco Magnanelli is the captain. Fun fact: defender Paolo Cannavaro is Fabio’s younger brother.
13. Udinese Calcio
The White-Blacks of Friulia, Luigi Delneri’s Udinese Calcio, had an average season finishing 13th. Defender Danilo is the captain, and this team may be a dark horse going forward. Players to watch include midfielder Emil Hallfredsson, midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Bade, forward Ryder Matos, defender Ali Adnan, forward Stipe Perica and midfielder Rodrigo De Paul. Of course, if they do want to succeed in their bid for survival, they will need to avoid unnecessary scuffles with the salty scalawags sulking and slithering about in Serie A. (We’re looking at you, Sampdoria…)
14. Chievo Verona
After a year of separation, both Verona sides are back in the saddle of the top flight. Rolando Maran’s Chievo Verona, considered the little brother to Hellas, finished 14th going it along and will be contesting the local derby with their big brothers this year. Forward Sergio Pellissier is the captain of Chievo and defender Nicolas Frey is the vice captain. Keep an eye out for midfielder Lucas Castro, forward Bismark Ngissah, midfielder Ivan Radovanovic and midfielder Mariano Izco.
15. Bologna F.C. 1909
Roberto Donadoni did well enough to keep his job at Bologna after the club avoided relegation last season. The Greyhounds will need some bite and bark to race away from the drop zone this year. One of the members of the club’s brain trust: a certain Joey Saputo of Montreal Impact fame and who the retired Marco Di Vaio has inextricable links to. A big overhaul sees a new look to Bologna, led by the addition of Costa Rican defender Giancarlo Gonzalez. Defender Daniele Gastaldello is the captain of a side that features forward Ladislav Krejci, forward Bruno Petkovic, defender Emil Kfatth and defender Vasilis Torosidis.
16. Genoa C.F.C.
The Griffin, Genoa Cricket and Football Club, nearly dropped to Serie B but were saved at the death. Ivan Juric, as result, remains in charge as manager and a new-look to Genoa is spearheaded by a couple of additions on loan from AC Milan in midfielder Andrea Bertolacci and forward Gianluca Lapadula. Also on loan, this time from Benfica, is midfielder Adel Taarabt. Goalkeeper Mattia Perin is Genoa’s captain and two other newcomers of note are Argentine defender Nicolas Spolli and Bosnian defender Ervin Zukanovic.
17. FC Crotone
By the grace of the football gods, Davide Nicola’s FC Crotone were spared the drop by pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016-17 Serie A season, a 3-1 scalp of Lazio who were still reeling from the setback in the TIM Cup Final. Of course, they needed some help from relegated side U.S. Palermo to eventually secure safety, but that’s a different story. Crotone will be fighting for survival yet again as their list may not be up to the challenge. Players to watch include midfielder Marcus Rohden, forward Andrej Kotnik, forward Simy, defender Noe Dussenne and midfielder Adrian Stolan. Goalkeeper Alex Cordaz is the captain.
18. SPAL 2013
SPAL of Ferrara are a club that fell and rose twice and eventually found their way back to Serie A, winning the second division and taking their shorts off in the process. Don’t believe me? Watch this!
Yes, this is actual footage of celebratory scenes without any pants. That’s bold stuff right there. But it was a bold season of courage for Leonardo Semplici’s SPAL 2013 as they clawed their way back to relevance after nearly five decades in the lower leagues.
So how do you stay up? Get some hired hands from other established names, of course. SPAL’s list is full of loaned players and they include goalkeeper Alfred Gomis (Torino), defender Marios Oikonomou (Bologna), defender Federico Mattielo (Juventus), midfielder Luca Rizzo (Bologna), midfielder Federico Viviani (Hellas Verona) and forward Alberto Paloschi (Atalanta. Whether or not this will be enough to ensure survival remains to be seen: SPAL’s currently list is composed primarly of domestic players.
19. Hellas Verona
Chievo’s big brother, Fabio Pecchia’s Hellas Verona, is back for more derby matches with younger brother Chievo after finishing second in Serie B. Needless to say, both Marc’Antonio Bentegodi-based outfits will have it tough staying up, let alone have the audacity to sufficiently challenge the more fancied brands of the competition. Hellas has an Argentine presence in the Zuculini brothers, Franco and Bruno, both midfielders. What can we say, the ties that bind are what make family and football a thing on this planet. The other Argentine to watch is forward Juanito Gomez who happens to have 37 goals in 187 league appearances for the club since 2008 and is therefore a longtime servant. Defender Thomas Heurtaux join the side on loan from Udinese while forward Daniele Verde joins the squad on loan from Roma. Forward Giampaolo Pazzini is the captain.
20. Benevento Calcio
Remember our talk about promotion playoffs? This is the team that survived the series of tests that was the Serie B playoffs after the Serie A race was long decided: Benevento Calcio, under the direction of Marco Baroni, a longtime player in Serie A and elsewhere. As a defender, Baroni scored 27 goals in 455 league appearance in a career spanning two decades. Now, he gets to lead the witches on hunt to leave an impression against the heavyweights of Serie A. Uruguayan defender Walter Lopez is a player to watch on this side as he has longtime experience playing in Argentina and England. Romanian forward George Puscas joins the Witches on loan from Inter. Defender Fabio Lucioni is the club’s captain.