The season kicked-off a couple of weeks ago but since the end of the transfer window was just around the corner, I went for the Ball! wanted to wait (or cheat, however you want to look at it) until September to release the season guide.

Despite the doom-mongers lamenting the end of Italian football as we know it, the 2009-2010 Serie A campaign looks to be an even more thrilling competition than it was in 2008-2009. Serie A will obviously miss Paolo Maldini, Kaka and Zlatan but there is plenty to look forward to this season. Now there will be a true Scudetto race; Milan’s and Roma’s seemingly fixed places on the top-four podium are there for the taking; and there are many teams that are fancying a piece of the European cake (big words have been voiced at least in Napoli and Palermo). Without further ado, here it is.

Atalanta

2008-2009: 11th

Coach: Angelo Gregucci

Captain: Cristiano Doni

Stadium: Stadio Atleti Azzurri D’Italia

Trophy cabinet: 1 Italian Cup (1963)

www.atalanta.it

Atalanta have consolidated themselves as a regular mid-table fixture in Serie A after years of travelling between the two top divisions. They are, again, one of the teams that have the genuine desire to push for Europe. However, despite having quality on all departments, they lack the real cutting edge to take the step upwards in the food chain.

Were one of the losers in the transfer market. Sold their last season’s top scorer Sergio Floccari to Genoa but got a better player in Robert Acquafresca. The former U21 hit-man scored double figures in two consecutive seasons at Cagliari (including scoring in both matches against Inter last season) but the 22-year-old was still rejected by Mourinho at Inter. The departure of Luca Cigarini, however, leaves a gaping creative hole in Atalanta’s midfield.

Key player: Cristiano Doni

One to watch: Robert Acquafresca

Estimation:  Atalanta have to settle being an entertaining mid-table club. And there’s nothing wrong with that, not all clubs need to be obsessing about the Champions League. Mid-table security.

Bari

2008-2009: 1st in Serie B

Coach: Gianpiero Ventura

Captain: Jean-Francois Gillet

Stadium: Stadio San Nicola

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.asbari.it

All was set for a comfortable and festive return to Serie A (well as comfortable as it gets anyway). Then everything went up-side-down as the coach Antonio Conte left the club after disputes with President Vincenzo Matarresse over the club’s future.

Unless someone (hopes have been put in Paulo Barreto) proves to be a scorer of double figure, the club carrying the light of Southern Italy will have extreme trouble staying up. Bari did, however, make useful signings in Massimo Donati (Celtic), Sergio Almiron (Juventus), Matteo Paro (Genoa), Antonio Langella (Chievo) and Edgar Alvarez (Pisa) of whom especially the much travelled midfielder Donati will add quality.

Key player: Jean-Francois Gillet

One to watch: Massimo Donati

Estimation: It will be a long season in Bari but they might just pull it off. Will escape relegation, just.

Bologna

2008-2009: 17th

Coach: Giuseppe Papadopulo

Captain: Marco Di Vaio

Stadium: Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

Trophy cabinet: 7 Champioships (latest 1964); 2 Italian Cups (1974)

www.bolognafc.it

Survived on the final day of the season but now everything points towards Serie B; not even Marco Di Vaio’s goals (remarkable 24 strikes last season) will keep the Rossoblu up. Bologna is known as the city with the oldest university in the Western world but unfortunately the creative spirit has evaded their football in recent decades. Tough and hard-working with players like Gaby Mudingayi (saw two reds and thirteen yellows last season), the figurative champagne seldom flows when Bologna play.

The squad would need heavy investment since Bologna are missing quality on all areas. The signing of the former U21 international Emiliano Viviano (Brescia) in goal was a good catch and Pablo Osvaldo (Fiorentina) was brought in to provide support for Di Vaio, but that’s pretty much it.

Key player: Marco Di Vaio

One to watch: Emiliano Viviano

Estimation: There will be no salvation this time. Sure relegation.

Cagliari

2008-2009: 9th

Coach: Massimiliano Allegri

Captain: Daniele Conti

Stadium: Stadio Sant’Elia

Trophy cabinet: 1 Champioship (1970)

www.cagliaricalcio.net

A ninth place finish last season surprised everyone. Despite the lack of big names in the squad, Cagliari are positive and well organised and, thus, hard to beat for anyone (for instance, beat Juventus 3-2 in Turin last term).

Loosing key striker Robert Acquafresca was a huge blow but have made a couple of decent signings in Simone Barone (Torino) and Daniele Dessena (Sampdoria). Nevertheless, the shortage of goalscorers will be a problem.

Key player: Daniele Conti

One to watch: Federico Marchetti

Estimation: Lower mid-table but will beat the drop.

Catania

2008-2009: 15th

Coach: Gianluca Atzori

Captain: Giuseppe Mascara

Stadium: Stadio Angelo Massimino

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.calciocatania.net

Were destined for relegation last season until Walter Zenga took over and saved the Rossoblu with style. In the summer Zenga jumped ship to Catania’s biggest rivals Palermo, so expect the Sicilian derby to be even more heated than usual.

Catania have been busy in the transfer market but it’s hard to tell whether they simply bought players in bulk. Gennaro Delvecchio arrived from Sampdoria and will bring experience and consistency and Pablo Barrientos (straight away given the number ten shirt), one of the new Argentinians, may turn out the be a good signing. From the old players, Giuseppe Mascara is still there to provide the spectacular.

Key player: Giuseppe Mascara

One to watch: Takayuki Morimoto

Estimation: Might be anything between mid-table security and relegation battle. More likely closer to the former option.

Chievo

2008-2009: 16th

Coach: Mimmo Di Carlo

Captain: Sergio Pellissier

Stadium: Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.chievoverona.it

Chievo had such a dismal autumn last season that hardly anyone believed they will stay up. Di Carlo was appointed as coach before Christmas and somehow he managed to work out a complete turnaround of fortunes. The joy might become short-lived though, as they have it all to do to keep clear of relegation. Sergio Pellissier (13 goals and a call-up in the Italy squad) and the few other quality players in Chievo’s books (Simone Bentivoglio, Andrea Mantovani, Luciano, Mario Yepes and Stefano Sorrentino) need to produce their very best again this season.

Key player: Sergio Pellissier

One to watch: Simone Bentivoglio

Estimation: Looks bad for Chievo but they have done it before. Will hang on tooth and nail until the very end, but this time it may not be enough. Relegation.

Fiorentina

2008-2009: 4th

Coach: Cesare Prandelli

Captain: Dario Dainelli

Stadium: Stadio Artemio Franchi

Trophy cabinet: 2 Championships (1969); 6 Italian Cups (latest 2001); 1 Italian Super Cup (1996); 1 European Cup Winners Cup (1961)

http://it.violachannel.tv/

Often talked about as the most entertaining and attacking team in Serie A, but almost as often Viola fail to deceive. However, that is beside the point. Despite an unconvincing season, Fiorentina managed to pull themselves to fourth place past Genoa last spring. This season will be harder. They need to be looking continuously over their shoulder as more teams have real ambitions for a Champions League finish.

The ‘fourth force’ in Italy have a real chance of pushing past AC Milan and Roma who are in a state of disarray. There is quality on every position and despite selling Felipe Melo to Juventus, the team have strengthened. Made sensible, if unspectacular, signings by bringing in Cristiano Zanetti and Marco Marchionni from Juventus and Cesare Natali from Torino. With Stevan Jovetic a year older, Sebastian Frey being ever reliable in goal and if Riccardo Montolivo finally manages to fulfil his enormous potential, Fiorentina might be a real threat to the big teams.

Key player: Sebastian Frey

One to watch: Stevan Jovetic

Estimation: The stage is set for Viola to fulfil themselves but somehow they do not convince. Might reach fourth place again, but more likely it is Europa League qualification for Fiorentina.

Genoa

2008-2009: 5th

Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini

Captain: Marco Rossi

Stadium: Stadio Luigi Ferraris

Trophy cabinet: 7 Championships (latest 1924); 1 Italian Cup (1937)

www.genoacfc.it

Serie A’s most thrilling team which is coached by one of its best tacticians. Genoa attack with pace and fluidity and only seldom lose shape and organisation. Gasperini has not only made Genoa the beacon of attacking football in Italy but the former Juve primavera coach has also made Grifoni, once again, the number one team in the port city, beating Sampdoria on both occasions in the Derby Della Lanterna last season. The red and blue side of Geona has also become a safe-haven for Italian talent. Domenico Criscito has become an Azzurri regular during his time at Genoa, Salvatore Bochetti is in the process of doing the same and the U21 player Francesco Bolzoni (signed form Inter) could be the next in line.

Genoa lost Diego Milito and Thiago Motta to Inter but the President Enrico Preziosi wasted no time in getting replacements. With the arrival of Sergio Floccari (Atalanta), Hernan Crespo (Inter) and Rodrigo Palacio (Boca), Genoa should have enough cover for the 24 goal deficit left by Milito. The signing of Emiliano Moretti from Valencia is an excellent coup and will add steel and experience in an already impressive back-line. Also, Marco Amelia may turn out to be a good signing if the former Livorno and Palermo keeper can reach the level that once made him the heir in-waiting to Buffon.

Key player: Emiliano Moretti

One to watch: Rodrigo Palacio

Estimation: Genoa can reach new heights this season if the new players gel quickly. The Grifoni will be celebrating a Champions League finish in May.

Inter

2008-2009: Champions

Coach: Jose Mourinho

Captain: Javier Zanetti

Stadium: San Siro

Trophy cabinet: 17 Championships; 5 Italian Cups (latest 2006); 4 Italian Super Cups (2008);

2 European Cups (1965); 3 UEFA Cups (1998)

www.inter.it

Four titles in as many years have not diminished Inter’s hunger but it is no secret that the Champions League trophy is what Inter obsess about. Last season Inter was out-classed by Man United but this time around Mourinho has all the pieces with which to scheme a European raid. Even though Mourinho’s eye is fixed on Europe, he cannot lose sight of the domestic league since this season won’t be a one-horse race.

The summer has been all about Zlatan’s departure. However, with Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o Inter are more versatile and not over-dependant on a single player to provide the goods when things get tough. Eto’o will supply pace and directness upfront, something that Inter have been missing in recent years. It could, however, be Milito from the two strikers who will be even more important in terms of Inter’s attacking play. The Argentine’s aerial ability and link-up skills add fluidity in the attacking third. Mourinho also finally managed to sign a proper play maker in Wesley Sneijder (Real Madrid) who is the final, and the most important, missing piece in Inter’s game plan. With Thiago Motta (Genoa) and Lucio (Bayern Munich) also arriving, Inter have an even more competitive, physical and dynamic squad.

Key player: Wesley Sneijder

One to watch: Davide Santon

Estimation: Despite Juventus doing everything they can to ascend the throne, Inter will be celebrating their fifth consecutive Scudetto.

Juventus

2008-2009: 2nd

Coach: Ciro Ferrara

Captain: Alessandro Del Piero

Stadium: Stadio Olimpico

Trophy cabinet: 27 Championships (latest 2003); 9 Italian Cups (1995); 4 Italian Super Cups (2003); 2 European Cups (1996); 1 European Cup Winners Cup (1984); 3 UEFA Cups (1993); 2 European Super Cups (1997); 2 Inter-Continental Cups (1965)

www.juventus.com

Third in 2008. Second in 2009. Champions in 2010? The Scudetto is Juve’s only objective this season and they finally have a true chance of seizing it. With Diego arriving from Werder Bremen and Felipe Melo from Fiorentina, Ferrara will be hoping that he has found the two missing links that turn quality into greatness.

Melo will add physicality into an already combative midfield (Momo Sissoko, Christian Poulsen, Tiago) and Diego will operate behind the front two in a similar role in which he excelled last season in Bremen. If the service will be good, there will be no shortage of goals with an array of four potential 15-goal strikers: Del Piero, Amauri, Vincenzo Iaquinta and David Trezeguet.

Despite Juventus status and ambitions, they are also a model big club in Italy. Adding to the big signings, there are three home-grown first team regulars. The classy midfielder Claudio Marchisio has already staked a claim for a World Cup spot. Sebastian Giovinco is one of the most fascinating attacking talents in Europe. And Paolo De Ceglie is a promising full-back in the Zambrotta mould.

Key player: Diego

One to watch: Claudio Marchisio

Estimation: Despite a strengthened squad, it’s still too soon for Juventus. Runners-up.

Lazio

2008-2009: 10th

Coach: Davide Ballardini

Captain: Tomasso Rocchi

Stadium: Stadio Olimpico

Trophy cabinet: 2 Championships (latest 2000); 5 Italian Cups (2009); 3 Italian Super Cups (2009); 1 European Cup Winners Cup (1999); 1 European Super Cup (1999)

www.sslazio.it

Expect the cup winners to better from last season in Serie A, and not only in terms of results.

Their striking third looks dangerous with the explosive Mauro Zarate, tricky Pasquale Foggia, Goran Pandev and, the big target men, Tomasso Rocchi and Julio Cruz. The defence and midfield, on the other hand, do not impress so it’s hard to see Lazio getting anywhere near the Champions League spot.

Key player: Tommaso Rocchi

One to watch: Mauro Zarate

Estimation: A good cup run and a possible Europa League qualification, at the very best.

Livorno

2008-2009: 3rd in Serie B

Coach: Vittorio Russo and Gennaro Rutolo

Captain: Francesco Tavano

Stadium: Stadio Armando Picchi

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.livornocalcio.it

Question marks hang over Livorno. They were the last team to be promoted in 2009 but have an air about them that suggests they might be the last one to be relegated.

Having signed the iconic Cristiano Lucarelli, the favourite of the left-wing supporters BAL Ultra group, Livorno have a goalscorer to rely on. However, the sale of Alessandro Diamanti (16 goals last season) to West Ham breaks up a trio (Lucarelli, Diamanti and Tavano) that would potentially be very destructive even against Serie A defences.

Key player: Cristiano Lucarelli

One to watch: Antonio Candreva

Estimation: Livorno will be relying on their home form as the heated Armando Picchi can be a difficult place for anyone. Will fight till the end but it may not be enough. Relegation.

Milan

2008-2009: 3rd

Coach: Leonardo

Captain: Massimo Ambrosini

Stadium: San Siro

Trophy cabinet: 17 Championships (latest 2004); 5 Italian Cups (2003); 5 Italian Super Cups (2004); 7 European Cups (2007); 2 European Cup Winners Cups (19739; 3 European Super Cups (1995); 4 Inter-Continental Cups (2008)

www.acmilan.com

An atmosphere of doom and gloom hung over San Siro before the start of the season. With Carlo Ancelotti gone (replaced by the formally unqualified and inexperienced Leonardo), Paolo Maldini retired and Kaka lured by Real Madrid, the fans had every reason to be anxious. Nevertheless, Milan still have a quality, if aged, squad that, despite their many troubles, were third last season. What the club lack in Leonardo’s coaching experience (and given time, who knows, he might become a revelation), they definitely gain in the experince of players like Alessandro Nesta, Ambrosini, Gianluca Zambrotta and Andrea Pirlo.

Too much will be expected again of the Brazilians Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato, of which at least the latter won’t disappoint (15 goals and a couple of match-winning performances last season highlighted as much). And one should never forget Pippo Inzaghi who might again take some time to warm up but usually delivers when the spring returns to his steps after the long winter.

Key player: Alexandre Pato

One to watch: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Estimation: Milan should never be written off completely but it might take a couple of seasons for the Rossoneri to build a new squad with real Scudetto potential. Despite talks of a possible full collapse, the pedigree in the squad ascertain that no such thing will happen. The Europa League is a minimum objective, and why not make a decent cup run as well.

Napoli

2008-2009: 12th

Coach: Roberto Donadoni

Captain: Paolo Cannavaro

Stadium: Stadio San Paolo

Trophy cabinet: 2 Championships (latest 1990); 1 Italian Cup (1990); 1 Italian Super Cup (1990); UEFA Cup (1989)

www.sscnapoli.it

Napoli were the big-spenders of the summer bringing in big-money signings in Fabio Quagliarella (Udinese) and Luca Cigarini (Atalanta), among others, to an already impressive squad. The message is clear, only a Champions League spot will do in Napoli. However, it’s easily said than done to bulldoze their way into the top four from last season’s 12th spot.

Much depends on how Donadoni (who also needs to silence the doubters) will be able to consolidate their attacking play. Napoli’s seeming embarrassment of riches up-front (Quagliarella, Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi, German Deniz, Erwin Hoffer and Inacio Pia) might become their downfall unless the former Azzurri coach will find a working balance.

Key player: Marek Hamsik

One to watch: Luca Cigarini

Estimation: Money doesn’t buy Napoli happiness. There are too many more settled and balanced sides in Serie A. A Europa League place is theirs for the taking but, in the worst case, they might find themselves close to where they were in the end of 2008-2009.

Palermo

2008-2009: 8th

Coach: Walter Zenga

Captain: Fabio Liverani

Stadium: Stadio Renzo Barbera

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.ilpalermocalcio.it

Walter Zenga (who right away declared Palermo as title favourites) could be the man who will finally take Palermo to the next level and into Europe. But, as before, the president Maurizio Zamperini might stand in the way of gradual progress. Having perhaps the edgiest of trigger-fingers in Italy, and perhaps the whole of Europe, Zamperini fires first and asks questions later.

The president aside, Palermo definitely have the material to do it. There’s adequate quality on every department (Simon Kjaer, Mark Bresciano, Liverani, Antonio Nocerino, Edison Cavani and Fabrizio Miccoli) and if the new wonder kid, Javier Pastore, turns out to be a revelation, Palermo will go places.

Key player: Fabrizio Miccoli

One to watch: Javier Pastore

Estimation: If Zenga gets the time to do his job, Palermo have the potential to break into the top six. If not, well you know how it goes at Palermo…

Parma

2008-2009: 2nd in Serie B

Coach: Francesco Guidolini

Captain: Stefano Morrone

Stadium: Stadio Ennio Tardini

Trophy cabinet: 3 Italian Cups (latest 2002); 1 Italian Super Cup (1999); 2 UEFA Cups (1999); 1 European Cup Winners Cup (1993); European Super Cup (1994)

www.fcparma.it

Gone are the days of Parmalat spending and now Parma are only looking forward to a time of Serie A consolidation. It’s never easy for a newly promoted team but Parma only spent a year in Serie B so they should still remember how it is like up there. With a nice mix of experience and youth, Parma look a strong bet to survive.

Christian Panucci was a shrewd signing and prolonging Alberto Paloschi’s stay for a year was extremely important. Much will depend on the young Italian’s scoring abilities as the injury-ridden Valeri Bojinov’s (on loan from Man City) form is a mystery in the beginning of the season. But it just might be that Milan will be the ones who will regret not having had the courage to put their trust in the 19-year-old.

Key player: Alberto Paloschi

One to watch: Daniele Galloppa

Estimation: The fact that Parma remained unbeaten at home for the whole of last season won’t do any harm to their survival hopes. Survival.

Roma

2008-2009: 6th

Coach: Claudio Ranieri

Captain: Francesco Totti

Stadium: Stadio Olimpico

Trophy cabinet: 3 Championships (latest 2001); 9 Italian Cups (2008); 2 Italian Super Cups (2007)

www.asroma.it

Roma have lost their status as the Scudetto challengers. Last season started with dreadful results but the Giallorossi managed to turn it around with an excellent run (starting in November) that ran out of steam in the final phases of the campaign, leaving them just short before the finishing line to snatch a Champions League place.

This season won’t definitely be any easier. As Inter and Juve look to be in a class of their own, Roma do not even have the spending power to compete with Napoli, Genoa and Fiorentina in the transfer market. Daniele De Rossi stayed but Roma had to let go of Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool) to paper over the financial cracks. Their only signing was Stefano Guberti (Ascoli) which is indication enough where Roma are going. The first eleven is comparable to any starting line-up in Italy but there is no depth to match the muscle of the bigger teams.

The resignation of Spalletti was a massive blow, although perhaps he had already given all there was to give. Ranieri will have to outdo himself to provide the extra venom which made Roma such a entertaining and effective team during Spalletti’s era.

Key player: Francesco Totti

One to watch: Marco Motta

Estimation: If Roma have an injury-free season, they might have an outside chance for a Champions League place. Europa League is more likely and not even that is a given. Hard times ahead at Roma.

Sampdoria

2008-2009: 13th

Coach: Luigi Del Neri

Captain: Angelo Palombo

Stadium: Stadio Luigi Ferraris

Trophy cabinet: 1 Championship (latest 1991); 4 Italian Cups (1994); 1 Italian Super Cup (1991); 1 European Cup Winners Cup (1990)

www.sampdoria.it

Sampdoria’s disappointing season (including losing twice to city rivals Genoa) was salvaged from a complete failure by the pairing of Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in the spring. The duo scored 23 goals (Pazzini 11 times in 18 games) and their free-flowing partnership was as effective as it was entertaining. Therefore, Christmas came early for the fans as Sampdoria were able to hold on to their attacking pair and Angelo Palombo despite the long queue of suitors outside the Marassi. Expect to see some audacious attacking moves between the two attackers but on the whole Doria will have to do a lot more to clime back to the top half of the table, where the belong.

Key player: Antonio Cassano

One to watch: Giampaolo Pazzini

Estimation: Upper mid-table should be as much as Sampdoria can hope for, but who knows, they just might be the surprise package this season. If Cassano and Pazzini continue where they left off last term and the leaking defence is plugged up, there is an outside chance of an Europa League spot. And a Cup run would be nice.

Siena

2008-2009: 13th

Coach: Marco Giampaolo

Captain: Simone Vergassola

Stadium: Stadio Artemio Franchi

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.acsiena.it

Giampaolo did a tremendous job to lift Siena to 13th place last season. Not only did Siena survive easily but they did it with style. This season won’t be any different at Artemio Franchi as the purse strings remain tight and survival is their only objective.

Loosing Houssine Kharja to Genoa was a big blow but Siena also managed to make a couple of smart signings. Michele Paolucci’s arrival (Catania) will add to a decent attack (Massimo Maccarone and Emanuele Calaio), Reginaldo (Parma) brings dynamism on the right side of midfield/attack and the young midfielders Albin Ekdal (Juventus) and Filipe (Roma) have potential, although they are still unproven in Serie A.

Key player: Massimo Maccarone

One to watch: Gianluca Curci

Estimation: Siena were overtly dependant on their home form last season (32 points from a total of 44). There needs to be a huge improvement in their away performances in an even more competitive Serie A this season. Will struggle but probably have enough to survive.

Udinese

2008-2009: 7th

Coach: Pasquale Marino

Captain: Antonio Di Natale

Stadium: Stadio Friuli

Trophy cabinet: empty

www.udinese.it

Started last season brilliantly, leading for two weeks, until plunged into a dreadful period during winter. In the end, 7th place was a good achievement and Udinese gave a warning of what they can do when they are at their best. Udinese are members in the pack that will be looking to depose anyone who look vulnerable in the top four.

Not too much transfer action during the summer which is perhaps good new for Udinese. Fabio Quagliarella left to Napoli and Bernardo Corradi arrived from Reggina but otherwise the squad remains intact. It was highly important that the Italian international Gaetano D’Agostino remained in Udine as his planned move to Juventus fell through.

Key player: Antonio Di Natale

One to watch: Simone Pepe

Estimation: Marino has a strong squad with plenty of different tactical alternatives. The objective might even be the Champions League but that is a bit too much to ask. If key players (Di Natale, Cristian Zapata and D’Agostino) stay fit for the whole season, Udinese are battling for a Europa League place.