Serie A 2012-13 season preview
With the 2012-13 Serie A season about to kick off, it's time to take a look at the changes made by Italian football's top 20 clubs and round up the new faces among the players and coaches. As we remind ourselves where they finished last term, Adam Digby turns the spotlight on each club, looking at the men who matter and what have been the biggest stories in this club-by-club guide.
Atalanta (Last season finish - 12th)
The Bergamo were one of the division's top performers last time, overcoming a six-point penalty for their involvement in the betting scandal that has continued to rage all summer, and coach Stefano Colantuono will hope he can again draw the best from a squad laced with quality. Atalanta have done well - at least at the time of writing - to hold on to players such as influential midfielders Maxi Moralez and Ezequiel Schelotto, while the continued presence of fellow Argentine Germen Denis is a huge boost. The striker netted 16 goals last season, and a repeat should see the Orobici comfortably safe once again.
Bologna (Last Season - 9th)
Whereas Atalanta have held on to their top performers, Bologna must look to overcome the loss of talismanic skipper Marco Di Vaio after the 35-year-old left the Dall'Ara for Montreal Impact. Stefano Pioli can, however, count upon the creative talents of Alessandro Diamanti and, even if they do eventually lose Gaston Ramirez - whose future remains in doubt - the club have added Marco Motta, Gianluca Curci, Cesare Natali and talented young winger Cristian Pasquato to the squad. A top-half finish may be beyond them, but relegation should not be an issue.
Cagliari (Last Season - 15th)
The biggest move at Cagliari has been the switch to the 16,200 seater Stadio Is Arenas in Quartu Sant'Elena after the ongoing issues with the Stadio Sant'Elia which ridiculously saw them play their last few 2011-12 home games in Trieste. Massimo Ficcadenti will hope he can remain in charge of the club for longer than the two months he managed last season before president Massimo Cellino sacked him. He was brought back in March after both Roberto Donadoni and Davide Ballardini failed to improve the Sardinian outfit.
Catania (Last Season - 11th)
The Sicilian club were another to catch the eye in 2011-12, largely due to the impressive coaching of Vincenzo Montella, who has since moved to Fiorentina. Rolando Maran will guide the team in the new campaign after impressively taking Varese to the Serie B play-off final - but, with no top flight experience, the new man will find it tough to match last season's 48 points, a tally that represented Catania's highest ever total in Serie A. Much will depend on the performances of their stand-out midfielder Francesco Lodi, who many would have expected to leave the Stadio Massimino before the new term began.
Chievo (Last Season - 10th) in Serie A
The Verona club have lost a number of players who helped them to a top-half finish last season, with midfielder Michael Bradley moving to Roma and Francesco Acerbi going to Milan, and very few new players have arrived to replace them at the Stadio Bentegodi. Mimmo Di Carlo will no doubt look to once again frustrate opponents with what may well be the dullest, most functional squad in Serie A.
Fiorentina (Last Season - 13th)
While carefully trying to avoid the word renaissance, the Viola are undoubtedly one of the most altered clubs in Serie A after changing sporting director, coach, captain and numerous players following their disappointing 13th-placed finish. Arriving to lead the club are a former Roma trio: director Daniele Prade, coach Vincenzo Montella and the well-travelled Alberto Aquilani. The departure of Riccardo Montolivo and Alessandro Gamberini, formerly the leaders of the team, will give Fiorentina a very different look, with Borja Valero and David Pizarro joining Aquilani to make a very exciting midfield. If Montella can get the players to gel quickly, a European place should be theirs for the taking.
Genoa (Last Season - 17th)
Narrowly avoiding relegation, then appointing Pietro Lo Monaco as sporting director only to see him leave before the season even began is hardly the best preparation for Genoa. When factoring in the huge player turnover now commonplace with the Grifone, things look bleak for their Serie A future and much will depend on an exciting blend of young talent gathered from across the peninsula on a range of co-ownership and loan deals. Supplementing veteran stars Alberto Gilardino and Sebastian Frey will be Ciro Immobile, top scorer in Serie B with 28 goals last term, giving them an exciting-looking front line, while Alexander Merkel and Luca Antonelli are also names worth watching out for.
Inter (Last Season - 6th)
Andrea Stramaccioni may have been a surprise choice as permanent coach but is now in charge of a squad that has been overhauled following the club's failure to secure Champions League football. Diego Forlan, Giampaolo Pazzini and Lucio have all departed, with quality players such as Samir Handanovic, Matias Silvestre, Walter Gargano and Rodrigo Palacio arriving to replace them. They are joined by Antonio Cassano, who may well provide the spark that could see the Nerazzurri pose a more promising title challenge than cross-city rivals Milan.
Juventus (Last Season - 1st)
The reigning champions may have had a tumultuous summer but, by adding Sebastian Giovinco, Mauricio Isla, Kwadwo Asamoah and Lucio to their squad, the Bianconeri will approach the new campaign with more than just the Scudetto badge on their shirts boosting their confidence. Now with depth in almost every position, even Antonio Conte's touchline ban might not be enough to slow them down, although their return to Champions League competition means they will face a more difficult challenge than last term. The squad may be lacking a top-notch centre forward, but given the increased quality - and upheaval at rival clubs - it will take something special to prevent a repeat for Turin's Old Lady.
Lazio (Last Season - 4th)
Bosnian Coach Vladimir Petković has arrived at the Stadio Olimpico from Swiss club FC Sion and will be charged with helping Lazio bridge the gap to the top three after they missed out on Champions League qualification by just two points last term. To do so, he will lean heavily on the attacking talents of Miroslav Klose and brilliant playmaker Hernanes as most of their transfer business has been in securing deals for the myriad players who were at the club on loan in 2011-12.
Milan (Last Season - 2nd)
In what has undoubtedly been a crazy summer of transfer deals in Italy, no club has suffered greater losses than last season's runners-up Milan, who have seen Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Antonio Cassano all leave. This season will see a very different Rossoneri as they look to remain competitive while attempting to drag themselves in line with UEFA's Financial Fair Play Regulations. Replacements have been of markedly lesser quality than those no longer at San Siro, with Giampaolo Pazzini, Kevin Constant, Cristián Zapata, Francesco Acerbi and Riccardo Montolivo the best of the new signings. All will need to be on top form to keep Milan in contention, and the fitness of the already injured Alex Pato may well be the most vital detail of their season.
Napoli (Last Season - 5th)
After struggling to balance the demands of Champions League football with domestic duty, the southern side have, like Milan, endured a transfer campaign that has seen the overall quality of the squad somewhat diminished. While the sale of Ezequiel Lavezzi was undoubtedly necessary given the Argentine's continued unhappiness, the exit of Walter Gargano is much more difficult to understand, because the midfielder was vital to the success of Walter Mazzarri's 3-4-2-1 formation. The return of starlet Lorenzo Insigne may well excite the fans and, if he can show the same form he displayed on loan at Pescara, tanother good season could be on the cards for the Partenopei.
Palermo (Last Season - 16th)
After years of upheaval and seemingly incoherent planning from temperamental president Maurizio Zamparini, Palermo have had what looks - from the outside at least - a superb summer, with Giorgio Perinetti arriving to take charge of transfer business and impressive coach Giuseppe Sannino taking over on the Rosanero bench. Talented players like Emiliano Viviano, Matías Silvestre and Federico Balzaretti may have left the Renzo Barbera, but the squad appears to have more than enough quality to finish much higher than last term.
Parma (Last Season - 8th)
The Tardini club have retained Roberto Donadoni as coach but have lost a number of key players - most notably striker Sebastian Giovinco, who was undoubtedly Parma's leading light over the past two seasons. Brazilian frontman Amauri has returned after his Juventus contract expired and he will be joined by impressive midfielder Marco Parolo, formerly of Cesena, and Colombian striker Dorlan Pabón as they chase another top half finish.
Pescara (Last Season - Serie B Champions)
Perhaps the most exciting team on the peninsula last term, Pescara appear to have lost all the components that previously made them so good to watch. Thrilling coach Zdenek Zeman has moved to Roma, and new boss Giovanni Stroppa will also be without the key attacking duo of Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile as well as surprising PSG signing Marco Verratti. The former Milan youth team coach will need to get the best from new signings such as Vladimir Weiss, Alessandro Crescenzi, Gastón Brugman, Uroš Ćosić and Birkir Bjarnason if they are to avoid an immediate return to the second tier.
Roma (Last Season - 7th)
This summer at Roma is difficult to judge, with many drawing parallels with the one enjoyed by Juventus 12 months ago. Like the Bianconeri, the capital club's new owners have changed coaches - Zdenek Zeman coming in to replace the doomed Luis Enrique - and a raft of new players arriving to help the Czech implement his all-out attacking style. They have bought wisely, picking up the likes of Mattia Destro and Federico Balzaretti while, like Juve last term, they also are without the distraction of Champions League football. Following the incredible season the eventual champions had under Antonio Conte may be too big an ask but, with the drop in quality suffered by the likes of Milan and Napoli, the Giallorossi could be Serie A's biggest surprise in 2012-13.
Sampdoria (Last Season - Serie B play-off winners)
The second of the newly-promoted sides, the Genoa club have turned to Italy Under-21 coach Ciro Ferrara to guide them on their latest return to Serie A. They recorded a surprising Gamper Trophy win over a makeshift Barcelona and may well have the quality needed to avoid relegation as Marcelo Estigarribia and Maxi Lopez join a side already boasting talented midfielders Andrea Poli and Angelo Palombo as well as Argentina's first-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Siena (Last Season - 14th)
Siena have not only been handed a six-point penalty for the club's role in the on-going match fixing investigation but have also lost both their first-choice goalkeeper and top goalscorer over the summer, making survival a daunting prospect. They never fell into the relegation spots last term and have appointed the fiery Serse Cosmi as coach, but new signings have been few and far between, meaning a tough season lies ahead.
Torino (Last Season - Serie B runners-up)
The last of the newly-promoted sides, Toro's difficulty on their top flight return is that while the squad - and coach Giampiero Ventura - were the perfect choices to secure Serie A football, they will quickly discover that it will take more than being well-organised and stubborn to succeed in the higher league. They will look to cause some upsets, with the two derbies against city cousins Juventus drawing particular attention, as will highly talented defender Angelo Ogbonna who was part of the Italian squad at Euro 2012. Torino have also added Mario Santana, Matteo Brighi and one-time Manchester City target Alessio Cerci to the squad, which will need more than just the goals of captain Rolando Bianchi if the club are to remain in Serie A.
Udinese (Last Season - 3rd)
The more things change, the more they stay the same for Udinese who, while losing Mauricio Isla, Kwadwo Asamoah and Samir Handanovic, will rely on another raft of exciting youngsters and the talent of captain Antonio Di Natale and coach Francesco Guidolin to follow up two consecutive Champions League berths. Few would bet against them repeating those feats, but it would mark yet another excellent 12 months for the Friuli outfit.