So here we are again, really late as usual.

The new Serie A season kicks-off (read: kicked-off) amongst the default atmosphere of doom and gloom. As an added bonus this time around, after Italy’s abysmal showing in the World Cup in the summer, the Italian FA drew their conclusions and didn’t quite push but smashed the panic button with their collective fist and ruled, despite heavy objections from pretty much everybody, that, as of immediately, no Italian club can sign more than one non-EU player. The reason for this action is that they try to enhance the chances of Italian youngsters to break into the Serie A teams. The cause for concern is understandable but the means of achieving the objective is not without controversy, if you ask me.

But since no one is asking me, let’s just get on with the business, shall we. The Italian clubs might have been a bit rubbish in Europe for the last couple of season (Inter’s triumph last May being the exception to prove the rule) but Serie A still remains perhaps the most competitive league in Europe. Granted, Inter have won the title five times in a row but this season all this might change. Juventus and AC Milan look like different teams after some interesting, if totally contrary, raids in the transfer market and are really looking to smash and grab what they think is rightfully theirs from Inter’s cupboard. Behind the goliaths, AS Roma must still have a sour taste in the mouth after coming so close last Spring, only to botch it up on the finishing line.

And if someone thinks that there is no life behind these four Italian giants, think again. The European hopefuls are the teams that really make Serie A perhaps the most exiting league in Europe. Mind that last season Sampdoria surprised everybody by finishing fourth behind Inter, Roma and Milan. This season Genoa, who really disappointed last term, look like a strong bet to challenge for a Champions League spot. And also Palermo, Napoli, Fiorentina and why not Sampdoria again are all genuine contenders for a top four finish. From the rest, Bari and Parma should continue building on their success from last season.

 

Bari

2009-2010: 10th

Coach: Giampiero Ventura

Captain: Jean Francois Gillet

According to many experts, the promoted Bari were supposed to go straight down last season. The southern club though otherwise and finished tenth. Ventura instilled a tight regime, making Bari’s home form the cornerstone of their success. Bari are a textbook example of a small club making big on the slim resources they have: hard-working, tight at the back and tactically intelligent. Bari made smart investments for last season bringing in Massimo Donati and Serio Almiron (both experienced journeymen with a lot to prove) and Edgar Alvarez, who all remain important cogs in Ventura’s machine.

Bari play a highly organised counter-attacking game with a stubborn defence, an industrious midfield and pace up-front. The midfield is highly underrated with Donati and Almiron patrolling the centre.

The most pressing question is whether Bari can maintain their fine defensive form after loosing both of their starting centre-backs, Leonardo Bonnucci (Juventus) and Andrea Ranocchia (Genoa). They have, however, retained the Masiello brothers and signed Andrea Raggi and Marco Rossi Bologna and Sampdoria respectively. Beyond these transfers, little has changed at Bari. And this is can only be good news for a small club like Bari.

Expect them to…be one of the better home teams in the league but struggle away. In all likelihood, Bari won’t retain their tenth spot but can build for the future without having to worry about relegation. Mid-table security.

Key player: Paulo Barreto

Unsung hero: Sergio Almiron

One to watch: Marco D’Alessandro

The signing: Marco Rossi

Bologna

2009-2010: 17th

Coach: Alberto Malesani

Captain: Marco Di Vaio

Bologna finished two points above the relegation line last season which was a maximum effort from the promoted side destined to go down. This season won’t be any easier though.

Any success Bologna might get (in other words safety) depends on the form of the aged, but ever effective, Marco Di Vaio and the Italy keeper Emiliano Viviano. Bologna have been able to strengthen their midfield with a few smart and shrewd signings. Somehow they managed to bring in Diego Perez, the best central midfielder in the World Cup 2010, from Monaco as well as the highly talented Rene Krhin (Inter) and Albin Ekdal (Juventus).

Expect them to…spend most of the season teetering on the relegation line but end the season above it.

Key player: Marco Di Vaio

Unsung hero: Emiliano Viviano

One to watch: Rene Krhin

The signing: Diego Perez

 

Brescia

2009-2010: Promoted

Coach: Giuseppe Iachini

Captain:

Brescia are perhaps the best of the promoted sides this season. The signing of Alessandro Diamanti from West Ham instils a vital dose of quality to their midfield that boasted industry but lacked cutting edge quality before.

With Diamanti providing the penetration, Andrea Caracciolo should be able to score double figures which will go a long way in the fight against relegation Brescia will most likely have on their hands. Also, the acquisition of Matteo Sereni (Torino) in goal was a catch since even if Sereni is prone to the odd mistake, he does have the ability to win points for his team.

Expect them to…have it all to do to stay clear of relegation but manage to pull off an escape in the end.

Key player: Alessandro Diamanti

Unsung hero: Matteo Sereni

One to watch: Perparim Hetemaj

The signing: Alessandro Diamanti

Cagliari

2009-2010: 16th

Coach: Pierpaolo Bisoni

Captain: Daniele Conti

Massimiliano Allegri made Cagliari an attractive mid-table side during his two seasons in Sardinia. Last campaign was no big success, however, and therefore it probably was a good arrangement for both parties to go their separate ways. The new coach Pierpaolo Bisoni earned his spurs at Cesena last season as he guided the unfancied side to promotion. This is the first attempt at the big time for the 43-year-old and where would be a better place to do it than at the club where the former midfielder spent the best part of his playing career.

And the squad doesn’t look half bad. Especially the midfield and attack are strong. The captain Daniele Conti is a neat deep-lying playmaker, Andrea Cossu and Andrea Lazzari offer the penetration into the final third and Alessandro Matri and Robert Acuafresca (after a highly frustrating last season at Atalanta and Genoa) should provide the goals.

Expect them to…play successful, attacking football at home but to turn the entertainment level down a notch when playing away. A top ten finish but not yet ready for Europe.

Key player: Alessandro Matri

Unsung hero: Davide Biondini

One to watch: Robert Acuafresca

The signing: Andrea Lazzari

 

Catania

2009-2010: 13th

Coach: Marco Giampaolo

Captain: Giuseppe Mascara

The Sicilians made their biggest signing for the season by appointing Marco Giampaolo as coach. The former Siena tactician is one of the most fancied young Italian managers who, despite being sacked last season, succeeded brilliantly at lowly Siean with meagre resources.

Despite Giampaolo’s talent, the direction for Catania is downwards after their successful last season. Catania have made no notable signings but have been able to keep hold of Maxi Lopez (who scored 11 goals in 17 matches last term). Once again Catania will rely on making their home ground a fortress to avoid relegation.

Expect them to…be a bit more attractive this season and to beat any side at home. Lower half of the table.

Key player: Giuseppe Mascara

Unsung hero: Marco Biagianti

One to watch: Maxi Lopez

The signing: Pablo Barrientos

 

Cesena

2009-2010: promoted

Coach: Massimo Ficcandenti

Captain: Giuseppe Colucci

No one expects anything from Cesena but don’t write them off just yet. Back-to-back promotions is no mean feat after all. Cesena might have one of the poorest squads in Serie A on paper but the small club thrive on their die-hard attitude, hard-work and team effort.

The squad itself has gone through a huge rebuilding process as new coach Massimo Ficcandenti brought in nineteen new players. The team is still short of quality but the experience of midfielders Giuseppe Colucci and Stephen Appiah and goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli, as well as the attacking potential of Ezequiel Schelotto and Emmanuele Giaccherini will be key. If any of them get injured, it’s slim pickings after that.

Expect them to…head fearlessly into Serie A with the aim of surprising everybody. They might just do that, well for a while at least, but with a slim squad the season might prove out to be to long for the Seahorses. Relegation.

Key player: Francesco Antonioli

Unsung hero: Giuseppe Colucci

One to watch: Ezequiel Schelotto

The signing: Stephen Appiah

 

Chievo

2009-2010: 14th

Coach: Stefano Pioli

Captain: Sergio Pellissier

The masters of relegation dogfights are in for a rough season, again. Each year Chievo are seemingly doomed for the drop, but almost every time they somehow manage to pull off a great escape (and if for some reason they don’t, they’ll be back before you even realised they were gone).

How do they do it? For a start, it helps that they have made smart coaching appointments in recent years (for example, Luigi Delneri and Domenico Di Carlo). And also to have a fine keeper in Stefano Sorrentino and a proven scorer of double-figures in Sergio Pellissier goes a long way.

With little creativity in the team, Chievo rely on making them an unpleasant side to play against.

Expect them to…position themselves on the lower half of the table for most of the season, enjoy the odd victory over one of the big teams and have it all to play for in the final rounds. There the experience will shine through and they will beat the drop once again.

Key player: Sergio Pellissier

Unsung hero: Stefano Sorrentino

One to watch: Simone Bentivoglio

The signing: Gelson Fernandes

 

Fiorentina

2009-2010: 11th

Coach: Sinisa Mihajlovic

Captain: Riccardo Montolivo

It doesn’t look good for the Viola this season. Having been in the top five for three seasons running, last term, largely because of the added burden of playing in the Champions League, Fiorentina crashed to eleventh. Cesare Prandelli, the architect of their success, is gone and been replaced with Sinisa Mihajlovic. The former Lazio/Inter man has always been a controversial figure and will be a contrast to the pragmatic and amicable Prandelli. The jury’s still out on the coach Mihajlovic even if he lead Catania to a respectable 13th spot last season.

The squad remains largely unchanged, with the useful additions of Gaetano D’Agostino (Udinese) and Alessio Cerci (Roma), but there are signs of deterioration. The key players such as Alberto Gilardino, Riccardo Montolivo and Alessandro Gamberini will need to step up their game to stop to decline of the Florence club. Especially Gilardino looks far from his best and it’s difficult to see him reach the tally of fifteen goals he scored last season. If Gila does not find his venom you have to wonder where the goals will come from. Stevan Jovetic is out for the season and his stand-in Adem Ljajic is still a bit raw at this level.

Furthermore, even if Prandelli’s Fiorentina were known for their sophisticated attacking tactics, the root to their success was a dependable defence. Last season the defensive barricade crumbled down as Viola conceded 47 goals (nine more than in 08-09).

As the pact in hunt for European spots grows ever larger in Serie A, Fiorentina will find it all the more difficult to find their former mojo.

Expect them to…better their league position from last season. However, they need to do more than simply find their usual form to reach Europe.

Key player: Riccardo Montolivo

Unsung hero: Marco Donadel

One to watch: Adem Ljajic

The signing: Gaetano D’Agostino

 

Genoa

2009-2010: 9th

Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini

Captain: Marco Rossi

After finishing fifth in 08-09, Genoa were hugely disappointing last season, finishing ninth when Europe should have been their destination. There were plenty of reasons for the downturn of form. For one thing, they lost Diego Milito and Thiago Motta to Inter. For another, pretty much none of their signings lived up to their reputations. They also had a Europa League football calendar to deal with. But these are only excuses for a club with a successful, if distant, history and huge aspirations to break into the top four.

Not to repeat the mistakes from last season, Genoa have invested big on every department: Luca Toni to provide the missing goals (their best scorer, Rodrigo Palacio, only managed seven last term); Portuguese internationals Miguel Veloso to add strength and skill in midfield and Eduardo to provide a pair of safe hands in goal; and Andrea Ranocchia (on loan from Inter), who had an outstanding year at Bari, in defence.

At their best, Genoa have the ability to play the most entertaining football in Serie A but they also have a nagging tendency to drop too many “easy” points. The coach Gian Piero Gasperini has made Genoa play fast-paced attacking football but he completely failed to organise his defence last season. The team shipped in goals like the Genoa harbour hauled in cargo at it’s prime (a staggering total of 61 goals), with only the relegated Siena conceding more. Gasperini, as much as the whole team, has much to prove this time around and it will be a make or break season for him and his team.

Expect them to…play with a bit more caution this season but still be able to thrill at times. Europa League bound.

Key player: Luca Toni

Unsung hero: Giuseppe Sculli

One to watch: Mattia Destro

The signing: Miguel Veloso

 

Inter

2009-2010: Champions

Coach: Rafael Benitez

Captain: Javier Zanetti

Five titles on the trot; with or without Jose Mourinho Inter are the only favourite to win the scudetto. However, with a new coach and a possible treble hangover, it’s the time for other title hopefuls to strike back.

The change of coaches might unsettle the atmosphere at Inter. Rafael Benitez undoubtedly is a fine coach but he is also exactly the opposite to Mourinho with respect to his coaching style. Mourinho thrives on his man-management skills and on the ability to make players his followers; Benitez gives the impression of being overtly pragmatic and distant in terms of man-management.

Inter have the best squad in the league by any standard and they have the pedigree and a winning mentality. Unless others start pushing their weight, Inter will retain the title without really even trying. It won’t be another vintage year for Inter, it might even be the first year of Inter’s decline, but it’s still probably too soon for a new champion in Italy.

Expect them to…underwhelm at times but go about their business and squeeze victories by force. Champions, once more.

Key player: Wesley Sneijder

Unsung hero: Esteban Cambiasso

One to watch: Davide Santon

The signing: Jonathan Biabiany

 

Juventus

2009-2010: 7th

Coach: Luigi Delneri

Captain: Alessandro Del Piero

After a disastrous last season, Juventus should be able to get their act together and be the front-runners to challenge Inter. With a new coach and a truck-load of new signings, it’s imperative for Juventus to gel from day one in order not to give Inter too much of a head start.

Former Sampdoria coach Luigi Delneri has had his ups and downs as a coach but this is his time to shine. Delneri favours an attacking 4-4-2 system with dynamic wing play and almost all the new signings have the imprint of such a strategy on them: Simone Pepe (Udinese), Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow), Marco Motta (Roma) and Jorge Martinez (Catania). But are the new signings good enough to be Juve players? They will cut it against the lesser Serie A sides but do they have enough quality to take on Inter and compete in Europe.

Delneri’s Juventus should be the exact opposite of Ciro Ferrera’s boring, static and timid Juve side. One of Delneri’s biggest achievements already has been to ship off most of the deadwood in the squad (Mauro Camoranesi (Stuttgart), David Trezeguet (Hercules), Jonathan Zebina (Brescia) and Cristian Poulsen (Liverpool)) and bring in players that fit exactly into his strategy. Krasic should be an exiting addition to the squad. The young Leonardo Bonnucci (Bari) is a fine signing and should form a solid back-bone with Giorgio Chiellini. Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool), once match-fit and if stays injury-free, brings penetration and playmaking ability in midfield. Also, signing Marco Storari (Sampdoria) as a number two behind the injured Gianluigi Buffon was an excellent move. And don’t forget Alessandro Del Piero who once again looks to be in top shape after a slow-burning last season.

With such an array of attacking-minded wingers and full-backs, Delneri’a most important task is to find a balance between attack and defence. After all, the most important guarantee of domestic success is a solid defence.

Expect them to…play attractive football and score a nice bundle of goals on several occasions, but perhaps come short against top sides unless defensive tactics are fine-tuned.

Key player: Alessandro Del Piero

Unsung hero: Zdenek Grygera

One to watch: Milos Krasic

The signing: Leonardo Bonnucci

 

Lazio

Coach: Edy Reja

Captain: Tommaso Rocchi

Will Lazio’s decline come to a halt this season? After two below-par campaigns marred by financial and cabinet turmoil, Lazio should better their twelfth position form last season. This doesn’t mean, however, that the troubles have subsided but at least it’s expected that key players are not frozen out of the team this term.

Lazio made a couple of good signings by retaining Sergio Floccari (Genoa), who almost single-handedly kept Lazio up with his eight goals last spring, and bringing in Hernanes (Sao Paolo), a sought-after Brazilian playmaker. If Floccari continues scoring, Hernanes succeeds in settling in in the easily unsettling atmosphere at Lazio and Mauro Zarate ends his holidaying in the Lazio shirt, Lazio should have a relatively carefree year. Providing, of course, that they win the Rome derby.

Expect them to…reach a mid-table finish, have a good run in the cup but not reach Europe.

Key player: Sergio Floccari

Unsung hero: Mark Bresciano

One to watch: Hernanes

The signing: Sergio Floccari

 

Lecce

2009-2010: Promoted

Coach: Gigi De Canio

Captain: Guillermo Giacomazzi

Lecce have perhaps the least quality of all Serie A team on paper but this, obviously, doesn’t mean that they are the worst team. Gigi De Canio is a shrewd coach with plenty of experience from situations like this and the knack to get the best out of his players. So Lecce definitely won’t go down without a fight.

Especially the lack of double-figure goal scorers is worrying and Lecce will need to do double-shifts for each goal. Experienced players like David Di Michele, Javier Chevanton, Guillermo Giacomazzi and Ruben Olivera must to be at their best and the young players need to step up in order for Lecce to even have a prayer. Fat chance. The only direction is downwards.

Expect them to…play defensive football and score very few goals. Going down.

Key player: David Di Michele

Unsung hero: Guillermo Giacomazzi

One to watch: Davide Brivio

The signing: David Di Michele

 

AC Milan

2009-2010: 3rd

Coach: Massimiliano Allegri

Captain: Massimo Ambrosini

How about it lads, one more season? Nothing really stirred in the old-folks retirement castle at the Milanello during the summer. Some people left and others arrived but no one seemed to pay any heed to them, just going about their business like they always have. The squad looked the same, only a year older (and slower). The coach had changed but promising as he undoubtedly is the former Cagliari boss Massimiliano Allegri hardly sent any pulses racing among the Milan faithful. But all this abruptly changed as ego-warriors Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho burst through the front door and gave the place a new makeover. Over-night, Milan became true title challengers.

Or did they? Milan might have one of the best attacks in Europe on paper but it will be extremely difficult for Allegri to find a balanced strategy with an aged squad while accommodating the two aforementioned show-boaters. In defence Alessandro Nesta isn’t getting any younger but forms a fine partnership with Thiago Silva, the full-back department, however, looks a bit stale. Gianluca Zambrotta, Marek Jankulovski and Massimo Oddo simply do not have the lungs any more to cavalier the flanks and Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini, as decent as they are going forward, often fail to deceive on the defensive third. Neither does the aged midfield look quite good enough any more. Pirlo is still an excellent passer of the ball but he moves like in slow-motion. Gennaro Gattuso huffs and puffs but too often only succeeds in confusing their own midfiled play. Massimo Ambrosini is not getting any younger but will have to carry the main defensive duties in midfiled. Would it finally be time for Mathieu Flamini to show his former Arsenal form in the Milan shirt? And then there is also the matter of Silvio Berlusconi who is doing everything in his infinite power to make the coach’s job even more difficult by giving out his tactical “advice”.

Nevertheless, if Allegri is able to find a solution to instil a successful, balanced strategy that gets the best out of his attacking players without jeopardising the defensive tactics, as well as to keep both his star players and Berlusconi happy, Milan will challenge their city rivals for the scudetto.

Expect them to…make it look all too easy at times but also drop too many unnecessary points. Another top three finish.

Key player: Alessandro Nesta

Unsung hero: Massimo Ambrosini

One to watch: Kevin Prince-Boateng

The signing: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

 

Napoli

2009-2010: 6th

Coach: Walter Mazzarri

Captain: Paolo Cannavaro

Napoli are, with Genoa perhaps, leading the pack scavenging for a place in the top four. But with Europa League football splashed on Napoli’s calendar, it’s difficult to see them make the push for a Champions League finish.

After a busy transfer summer, the squad is as good as it was last season, the attack might even be slightly better: Luca Gigarini (Sevilla), Fabio Quagliarella (Juventus) and German Denis (Udinese) left and in came Edison Cavani (Palermo), Cristiano Luccarelli (Livorno) and Jose Ernesto Sosa (Bayern Munich). So, pretty much like-for-like transfers. Especially the arrival of Cavani is a huge lift for the club, considering the Uruguayan had no trouble finding suitors around Europe.

Also, retaining one of the best attacking players in Serie A in Marek Hamsik (possibly due to his underwhelming World Cup) and having the Argentinian live-wire Ezequiel Lavezzi on their books, Napoli have no shortage of quality in the attacking third. The defence, though, is a different matter. The full-backs are decent going forward but overall Napoli’s defence is not good enough to challenge the likes of Inter and Juventus.

Expect them to…challenge anyone on their own turf and start the season brightly, but gradually, due to a busy fixture list, start conceding more points. Not to worry, though. Napoli should safely retain a Europa League spot.

Key player: Marek Hamsik

Unsung hero: Paolo Cannavaro

One to watch: Edison Cavani

The signing: Edison Cavani

 

Palermo

2009-2010: 5th

Coach: Delio Rossi

Captain: Fabrizio Miccoli

Palermo had an excellent last season, finishing only two points behind Sampdoria. Unbeaten at home all season, the Sicilians are looking to build on their heroics from last term.

It will be easier said than done, however. They have lost key players in Simon Kjaer (Wolfburg), Edison Cavani (Napoli) and Fabio Simplicio (Roma) and even though the arrivals are of good standard they lose in comparison. Massimo Maccarone (Siena) is no world-beater but a steady goal-scorer. Mauricio Pinilla was a sensation in Serie B side Grossetto (finding the net 24 times in as many matches last season) but is untried against Serie A defences. As is defender Ezequiel Munoz arriving from Boca Juniors.

Similarily like fellow Southern Italians Napoli, Palermo have an excellent attack (with inspirational pair Fabrizio Miccoli and Javier Pastore remaining at the club) and a good first eleven but because of the departure of Kjaer the central defence remains a concern. The potential heir to the throne of Gigi Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu needs to be even more impressive this season for Palermo to challenge for the top four.

Expect them to…play entertaining attacking football and collect a handsome bounty at home but have a tough time in away matches.

Key player: Fabrizio Miccoli

Unsung hero: Antonio Nocerino

One to watch: Javier Pastore

The signing: Massimo Maccarone

 

Parma

2009-2010: 8th

Coach: Pasquale Marino

Captain: Stefano Morrone

The promoted Parma surprised everyone by finishing eight last season. That league finish is out of their reach this term but they can look forward to have a chance to safely build for the future.

Parma have one of the most exciting and youngest sides in Serie A. Especially their attacking third is bursting with young potential: Daniele Galloppa, Sebastian Giovinco, Antonio Candreva, Alberto Paloschi and Valeri Bojinov. Bojinov was signed permanently from Man City after a successful loan season. Giovinco is on loan from Juve where the diminutive, highly talented winger never really got his chance. Galloppa and Candreva have already had a run-around in the national team. And Paloschi, although still only twenty, should start harvesting on that massive potential of his.

Parma’s defence, however, pales is comparison. First-choice keeper Antoni Mirante is a fine keeper, the starting full-backs are Serie A quality (Cristian Zaccardo has a wealth of experience and young Luca Antonelli has already been part of Prandelli’s new Italy side) but the centre is a grew area. Much is expected from former Liverpool flop Gabriel Palletta.

A firm believer in attacking football, Pasquale Marino should be the right coach to nurture this pool of talent. He has to find the right balance between attack and defence in order to compensate for their defensive frailties though.

Expect them to…play attractive football but strive to improve on the defensive front from last season. Mid-table league finish and a good run in the cup would suffice.

Key player: Antoni Mirante

Unsung hero: Stefano Morrone

One to watch: Sebastian Giovinco

The signing: Sebastian Giovinco

 

AS Roma

2009-2010: Runners-up

Coach: Claudio Ranieri

Captain: Francesco Totti

Roma completely turned around their awful start to the season after Claudio Ranieri took over from Luciano Spalletti. Roma went on a 24 match unbeaten run in the spring and almost snatched the title from Inter’s grasp, only to fall short on the finishing line. Therefore, the hunger should be there but question marks still remain.

With the inclusion of Marco Borriello (Milan), Adriano (Flamengo) and Fabio Simplicion (Palermo) Roma should be stronger than they have been in years. Especially the signing of Borriello is important since now Roma finally have a natural centre-forward.

Ranieri deserves full credit from last season as he not only succeeded in providing the results but also to instil a sense of balance and harmony to Roma’s gung-ho playing. But the fact remains that “the Tinkerman” hasn’t won anything for years and has had the tendency to implode. At Juve three years ago, he started off well but got the sack during a disappointing second season. The same may happen again.

Roma should not be reliant on Francesco Totti, who hardly ever is 100% fit, any more and the team looks balanced on the team sheet. The same cannot be said about the club as a whole; owner Rosella Sensi is still looking for a buyer for the club.

Expect them to…have a difficult season ahead of them but finish in the top four.

Key player: Daniele De Rossi

Unsung hero: David Pizarro

One to watch: Jeremy Menez

The signing: Marco Borriello

 

Sampdoria

2009-2010: 4th

Coach: Domenico Di Carlo

Captain: Angelo Palombo

Sampdoria started the season brilliantly last term, ran out of steam mid-season and then somehow crept back up without anyone really noticing to finish fourth. This season, however, a Champions League finish seems unlikely.

Samp lost Luigi Delneri to Juventus which was a huge blow but hired former Chievo coach Domenico Di Carlo. Di Carlo will most likely continue playing with a fast-paced counter-attacking system and should be the right man to keep Samp up there in the top half of the table.

It was imperative for Samp to retain the services of key trio Antoni Cassano, Giampaolo Pazzini and Angelo Palombo. However, at least with the first two, this will only be a temporary solution. For Sampdoria’s sake, hopefully they will stay for the whole season.

The Genoa club have a strong starting eleven, apart from the full-backs, with a nice blend of youth (Gianluca Curci, Andrea Poli, Massimo Volta, Daniele Dessena and Guido Mariluongo, though, not all will be starters) and experience but injuries to key players would be costly.

Expect them to…be consistent and difficult to beat, but in for a possible spring slump if players are sold in January.

Key player: Antoni Cassano

Unsung hero: Angelo Palombo

One to watch: Andrea Poli

The signing: Gianluca Curci

 

Udinese

2009-2010:

Coach: Francesco Guidolin

Captain: Antonio Di Natale

If it hadn’t been for Antonio Di Natale’s scintillating form (29 goals), Udinese would be starting their season in Serie B.

There are quality players at Udinese (Samir Handanovic, Cristian Zapata, Gokhan Inler, Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Di Natale) but still there is a sensation that the team lacks something. Is it a first rate striker to partner Di Natale up front (Antonio Floro Flores, German Denis or Bernardo Corradi are hardly top class)? Is it numbers in reserve? Are they overtly reliant on the ageing Di Natale?

Although last season’s disaster will probably not happen again, it won’t be an easy season for Udinese. Udinese have actually weakened during the summer. They lost two key players Gaetano D’Agostiono (Fiorentina) and Simone Pepe (Juventus) and it is hardly likely that Di Natale will score as many goals this term. Udinese might find themselves in a spot of bother again.

Expect them to…be more consistent under the guidance of Guidolin but not reach nowhere near a European finish.

Key player: Antonio Di Natale

Unsung hero: Samir Handanovic

One to watch: Alexis Sanchez

The signing: German Denis