In Italian football, an “allenamento di rifinitura” is the final training before a match: In the Cult of Calcio’s Rifinitura column, we take a look at what the weekly Serie A menu has to offer, and in what condition teams get there.
Feature Photo: Gokcen Eke ©caricaturella
The day has come, but it’s going to be a bittersweet one. The hype surrounding Serie A 2018-2019 has been unprecedented in recent seasons of the Italian top flight, but not many fans will have the will to celebrate a goal scored on a football pitch this weekend, as the whole of Italy is still shocked at the tragedy that struck the city of Genova, where last Monday a motorway bridge collapsed taking 41 lives.
The two local clubs, Genoa and Sampdoria, asked for their games to be cancelled as a sign of respect towards the victims. Milan-Genoa and Sampdoria-Fiorentina will thus not take place this weekend, reducing the match program of the inaugural round to eight games only. Still, the football show will go on.
This was supposed to be a day of joy, the match fixtures having strategically placed the debut of the Alien, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, in the same stadium where 34 years ago Diego Maradona introduced himself to the world of calcio. Juventus will face Chievo this afternoon at their home Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Stadium for the opening match of Serie A, with the Clivensi out of a troubled summer where they narrowly escaped the accusation of having inflated the value of their transfers to gain accounting advantage.
Chievo risked a relegation to Serie B (…God forbid! The roster of the upcoming second division season has already been altered enough – with Bari, Cesena, and Avellino all disappearing from the map of professional football), yet they are still there. Just like their goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino, now 39 years old and ready to start his 20th professional season.
But if fate was merciful with the Gialloblu, not so accommodating were the seeding pots for the match fixtures, which delivered them Juventus and CR7 as their first campionato opponents. Difficult to imagine coach Lorenzo D’Anna’s boys doing much against the white-and-black dreadnought: The Bianconeri will come to Verona to showcase not only their brand-new global star, but also their comeback kid Leonardo Bonucci. Former Inter defender Joao Cancelo will claim his place as starting right back, whereas new joiner Emre Can will probably start on the bench. That’s enough to call it a mismatch.
The first round will ramp-up later at 8.30 PM with the battle between Lazio and Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The Partenopei supporters are on the warpath, disappointed at President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ unpretentious transfer market campaign: A classic in Napoli’s summers. Not even the arrival of Carletto Ancelotti on the bench could appease the passionate Neapolitan fans, who were hoping for the comeback of Edinson Cavani, but should be happy enough if Arkadiusz Milik – expect to be in the starting eleven tonight – manages to complete a season without any serious injury this time.
Speaking of fan bases clashing with their presidents, Lazio’s Claudio Lotito too is not exactly somebody renowned for his lavish summer purchases. Lotito engaged free agent Milan Badelj from Fiorentina, and that’s going to be the only change in Simone Inzaghi’s lineup versus last season. The Biancocelesti managed to keep Sergej Milinkovic Savic with them, despite Milan’s insistent courtship, and that, as of now, is their best hit in Lazio’s summer market.
An intriguing Torino-Roma match kicks off at 6.00 PM on Sunday, the first of the remaining Serie A games of the day. The home side Granata placed a last-minute hit bringing back Simone Zaza to Italy from Valencia, but the Nazionale striker won’t be at the match tomorrow. Walter Mazzarri will thus resort to his experienced striking forces, Iago Falque and Andrea Belotti. Roma, one of the most active clubs this summer, will also leave most of their newcomers – Byran Cristante, Justin Kluivert, Steven Nzonzi – on the bench, with the exceptions of Swedish goalie Robin Olsen and midfielder Javier Pastore.
At 8.30 PM, the remaining four matches will take place. The Sunday night lineup features the first regional derby of the season, with Bologna hosting SPAL at Renato Dall’Ara Stadium. There’s much curiosity among the Rossoblu lines for the debut of their new manager Filippo Inzaghi: Super Pippo will sit back on a Serie A bench three years after the stormy ending of his experience with Milan, creating the chance of an unprecedented derby with his brother Simone when his Bologna side face Lazio…
The Rossoblu exchanged striker Federico Di Francesco with Diego Falcinelli from Sassuolo: Only time will tell who has made a better deal here. Their new goalkeeper is Lukas Skorupski from Roma, part of a deal which sent their former stopper Antonio Mirante to the capital city. The Biancoblu from Ferrara will open the season in a sign of continuity, the only major change in their starting squad being forward Davide Petagna from Atalanta. Leonardo Semplici was confirmed as head coach having led the Ferraresi to safety last year.
As premature as this may sound, Empoli-Cagliari looks like a key match in maintaining a slot in the top flight. The Tuscan side, back to Serie A after a one-year absence, feature one of the least impressive squads on paper, and are just coming from a shocking 0-3 setback to Serie B club Cittadella in a Coppa Italia match. Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli already has quite a few problems to solve, whereas the Sardinians – whose new trainer is Rolando Maran – hasn’t changed much since the last campionato. Where they didn’t impress much, if truth be told. Veteran defender Dario Srna may be the added value for the Islanders, but he is still serving a one-year ban due to a doping issue, and won’t be available until next week.
The Ennio Tardini Stadium will welcome back Parma to Serie A, three years after their former management were declared bankrupt. The Crociati made their way back to the elite tier of football with three straight promotions, but risked seeing everything vanish in the air due to an alleged match fixing attempt by player Emanuele Calaiò. Calaiò was banned, but Parma managed to retain their Serie A status, and so here they are, playing host to Udinese to test their renewed hopes.
Parma reinforced with seasoned Ivorian forward Gervinho, who may start from the bench tomorrow. More probable to see playing will be Alberto Grassi and Roberto Inglese from Napoli, while between the posts Luigi Sepe will get a new chance as starting goalkeeper at a Serie A club having amassed no appearances since 2015. Udinese’s main bet is their new trainer Julio Velàzquez, a 36-year-old little-known Spanish coach coming from Segunda Divisiòn club Alcorcòn (!). Juventus home-grown midfielder Rolando Mandragora, formerly with Crotone, looks like the more interesting news in the Bianconeri’s lineup. New-joiners Darwin Machis and Ignacio Pussetto will battle for a right wing spot behind lone striker Kevin Lasagna.
Sassuolo will have the grueling task of testing ambitious Luciano Spalletti Inter’s skills. When the Nerazzurri visit the Mapei Stadium, it seldom ends well for the home Neroverdi, which conceded seven goals on two occasions in the previous five seasons. New coach Roberto De Zerbi did well in Benevento last year, and will have a new striker in Federico Di Francesco to count on, as well as a solid and experienced midfielder in Kevin Boateng. Oh, and yes: Will this finally be the year of Domenico Berardi’s breakthrough?
Let’s make it clear: Inter are scary. Newcomer Lautaro Martinez from Racing Avellaneda presented himself with a spectacular goal in a friendly match against Atlético Madrid. Matteo Politano is a solid reinforcement, and so is Kwadwo Asamoah. The three will make for a granitic support line to Mauro Icardi – who remained in Milan despite rumors of a possible transfer to Real Madrid.
Luka Modric – long rumored to be close to a deal to join the Nerazzurri – did not come in the end, but – hey, Inter still have two vice-World Champions in their squad, and could even allow themselves the luxury of keeping one on the bench (Ivan Perisic, probably replaced by Matias Vecino for the campionato debut).
The Monday night posticipo to close the first round will be an interesting lineup between Atalanta and Frosinone. Gian Piero Gasperini’s Bergamaschi are running steadily towards their second Europa League participation in a row, and already have two preliminary rounds in their legs. However, they will are forced to go without injured Josip Ilicic, who may miss the full first month of the season. The Ciociari are still a work in progress, their starting squad revolutionized by a very active transfer market, especially in its final hours. Confirmed coach Moreno Longo will have a complicated puzzle to work on.