Serie A is here again and with it, what has already become something of a tradition, another I Went for the Ball! guide to the season arrives really, really, quite frankly, ridiculously late.

The first weeks of calcio have seen no shortage of drama and intriguing plot developments. First of all, for anyone harbouring the belief that Serie A is a league littered with 0-0 results, drab matches and overtly defensive football, the first round of the 2011-2012 season should’ve offered a sobering experience.  A whopping total of 35 goals were scored during an opening weekend that kicked-off with an entertaining 2-2 draw between title holders Milan and Lazio and ended with an end-to-end 4-3 blockbuster between Palermo and Inter. The Sicily trip was the start of a four game run without a win in all competitions for Inter which was enough to settle the faith of new coach Gian Piero Gasperini. The former Genoa tactician, therefore, became the first, but definitely not the last, managerial casualty of the season.

Inter, however, are by no means the only big team making an underwhelming start as rivals Milan and Roma have been struggling at the beginning of the campaign. While the big guns are still biding their time stretching their muscles, last season’s surprise packages Napoli and Udinese  have hit the ground running with some sparkling performances. Napoli particularly have put the title favourites in Serie A on red alert by beating Milan 3-1 at home and, sensationally, Inter 3-0 away. Despite Napoli’s and Udinese’s good form however, no team have yet shown signs of domination, which can only be a good thing for the league.

While La Liga, the Premier League and Bundesliga are effectively ran by Barca and Real Madrid, ManU and Bayern Munich respectively, Serie A remains the most competitive of the big European leagues. Milan may still be the biggest scudetto candidates, but Napoli and the rejuvenated Juventus (undefeated after five games) are seriously looking to tip the power-balance this season.

 

Title candidates

 

Inter

2010-2011: 2nd; Coach: Claudio Ranieri

Inter’s rebuilding process hit the rocks before it even got properly started as new coach Gasperini was dismissed already after three league matches into the season. This came as no surprise, though, as Inter’s worst start in decades was not only represented by dreadful results (one point from a possible nine) but also by unbalanced performances. As a result, Claudio Ranieri took over and straight away they recorded their first victory of the season. Despite there appearing a shy ray of light at the end of the dark tunnel that is the post-Mourinho era, ’the Tinkerman’ has his hands full if he is to remedy Inter’s numerous ills.

For one thing, Inter have an ageing squad desperately in need of rejuvenation. Looking from a tactical perspective, there’s an imbalanced in the wide areas both in midfield and defence which results in the continuous use of a narrow, defensive-minded midfield formation. This would not necessarily be that big of a problem if Inter had good attacking full-backs. Maicon is definitely top-class on the right, but the left flank looks really light in quality. Inter should be able to negotiate this deficiency in the domestic league where the narrow three-man midfield is more or less the norm, but this may prove to be the stumbling block in the Champions League yet again. The attack, on the other hand, looks lethal despite the departure of Samuel Eto’o. Diego Forlan should become an exceptional addition due to his link-up ability which will add an extra dimension to Inter’s attacking play.

The 2009 Champions League winners have to start learning new tactical tricks soon in order to achieve a Champions League spot as competition will be increasingly tough this season after Serie A lost one place to Bundesliga.

Key player: Wesley Sneijder; One to watch: Giampaolo Pazzini; The signing: Diego Forlan

IN: Castaignos (Feyenoord), Viviano (Bologna), Muntari (Sunderland), Alvarez (Velez), Jonathan (Santos), Forlan (Inter), Zarate (Lazio); OUT: Materazzi, Kharja (Genoa), Mariga (Real Sociedad), Eto’o (Anzhi), Pandev (Napoli), Santon (Newcastle)

Juventus

2010-11: 7th; Coach: Antonio Conte

After a move to the new self-owned Juventus Stadium, with the former midfield maestro Antonio Conte on the coaching bench, and after another flurry of new signings, it’s a fresh start for the Turin giants. And this time Juventus actually look like the real deal.

After a few seasons of bizarre transfer dealings, there now seems to be a more systematic transfer policy in place. First of all, Juve have shed most of the deadwood from the squad (Hasan Salihamidzic, Felipe Melo, Zdenek Grygera and Jorge Martinez) and this way eased the wage-burden considerably. Secondly, they have addressed the problematic positions in the squad: the chronic right-back predicament has been tackled by the signing of Stephan Lichsteiner (with a hugely inflated price of roughly 10 million, though) and there are now plenty more different types of options in centre midfield (Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Michele Pazienza) and in the wide areas (Emanuele Giaccherini and Eljero Elia). And should Pirlo find his majestic former self again, Juve have made one of the captures of the season.

Getting into the Champions League is the ultimate goal for Juventus, but if things finally click in Turin, they may even challenge for the title. Whatever happens, Juve are sure to better from last season.

Key player: Andrea Pirlo; One to watch: Arturo Vidal; The signing: Mirko Vucinic

IN: Pirlo (Milan), Ziegler (Sampdoria), Lichtsteiner (Lazio), Pazienza (Napoli), Amauri (Parma), Vidal (Bayer Leverkusen), Vucinic (Roma), Giaccherini (Cesena), Estigarribia (Deportivo Maldonado), Elia (Hamburg); OUT: Aquilani (Liverpool), Felipe Melo (Galatasaray), Sissoko (PSG), Martinez (Cesena), Grygera (Fulham)

Milan

2010-2011: champions; Coach: Massimiliano Allegri

With one of the best attacking arrays in Europe and now, with the signing of fresh legs in defence (Philippe Mexes and Tom Taiwo), Milan are the biggest favourites to win the Scudetto.

Alberto Aquilani (season-long loan) and Alberto Nocerino are good signings (the latter being one of the best price-quality purchases in the transfer window with a measly price-tag of 500k), but the question still remains whether or not Massimiliano Allegri can create a more fluid and mobile system to erase the nagging weaknesses of this Milan side that often struggle against teams playing with width and pace.

Milan’s pedigree should be enough to guarantee a Champions League finish, but further steps need to be taken towards reinventing both the squad and strategy to retain the title.

Key player: Alexander Pato; One to watch: Ignazio Abate; The signing: Phillippe Mexes

IN: Mexes (Roma), Taiwo (Marseille), El Shaarawy, Paloschi (Genoa), Aquilani (Liverpool), Nocerino (Milan); OUT: Pirlo (Juventus), Jankulovski (retired), Papastathopoulos (Genoa), Legrottaglie, Paloschi (Chievo), Oddo (Lecce).

Napoli

2010-11: 3rd; Coach: Walter Mazzarri

Last season’s heroics are still fresh in the memory in Naples as Napoli go into to the season with not only Champions League football to look forward to, but also with great expectations to challenge the Milanese duo’s dominance in Serie A.

Napoli have made some smart signings to add much-needed depth into the squad (Inler, Pandev , Santana, Rosati, Donadel, Dzemaili, Fernandez and Britos) in order to be able to compete in all competitions. Despite having a stronger squad than last season, the key players (namely Edison Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Morgan De Sanctis Christian Maggio) must remain injury-free for Napoli to have a chance to reach another top-three finish.

Whether they can actually manage another vintage seasons is one of the most interesting questions for the new campaign. Whatever the case, at least Napoli’s take-no-prisoners counter-attacking style will be a joy to behold once more.

Key player: Edison Cavani; One to watch: Blerim Dzemaili; The signing: Gökhan Inler

IN: Fernandez (Estudiantes), Donadel (Fiorentina), Dzemaili (Parma), Rosati (Lecce), Mannini (Sampdoria), Inler (Udinese), Britos (Bologna), Santana (Fiorentina), Pandev (Inter), Chavez (San Lorenzo), Fideleff (Newell’s); OUT: Pazienza (Juventus), Blasi and Santacroce (Parma), Yebda (Benfica), Cribari (Cruzeiro), Sosa (Metalist),  Mannini (Siena), Ruiz (Valencia), Cigarini (Atalanta)

 

European hopefuls

 

Fiorentina

2010-11: 9th; Coach: Sinisa Mihajlovic

There are no shortage of question marks hanging over Viola this season. Can the squad under reconstruction start afresh or will they just continue to disappoint like last term? Is Sinisa Mihajlovic actually up to the task of coaching an illustrious club like Fiorentina? Are the want-away key players Riccardo Montolivo, Alberto Gilardino and Juan Vargas committed to the cause or just eyeing a January move away from Florence? Will Stevan Jovetic regain form after his lengthy injury?

Despite Fiorentina making some decent signings, the squad is pretty much what it was last season in terms of actual quality.  Mihajlovic can count himself fortunate that Alessio Cerci resisted the lure of Manchester City in the autumn transfer market; whether this will be the case in January is far from certain. The Florence club do look relatively strong on paper and should better from last season, but it may just as well go all wrong once again.

Key player: Alberto Gilardino; One to watch: Alessio Cerci; The signing: Andrea Lazzarri

IN: Nastasic (Partizan Belgrade), Lazzari (Cagliari), Kharja (Genoa), Santiago Silva (Velez), Cassani (Palermo); OUT: Mutu (Cesena), Donadel (Napoli), D’Agostino (Siena), Avramov (Cagliari), Comotto (Cesena), Santana (Napoli), Frey (Genoa)

Lazio

2010-2011: 5th; Coach: Edy Reja

Lazio went close to nicking the Champions League spot last season, only to bottle it in the spring as the quality gap in the squad finally took its toll. Europa League football was still a fine achievement for a club that have been wandering in the mid-table wilderness after their early 2000 heyday.

This season the Rome club will definitely aim to do a Napoli and push for the top three. After keeping their key players (all except Mauro Zarate, one of the most overrated player in the league, whose departure may actually be more of a blessing) and making some shrewd signings (Djibril Cisse, Miroslav Klose, Lorik Cana and Federico Marchetti), Lazio may be the team to watch out for this season.

Key player: Stefano Mauri; One to watch: Hernanes; The signing: Miroslav Klose

IN: Klose (Bayern Munich), Lulic (Young Boys), Konko (Genoa), Marchetti (Cagliari), Stankevicius (Valencia), Cissè (Panathinaikos), Cana (Galatasaray); OUT: Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Muslera (Galatasaray), Bresciano (Al-Nasr), Foggia (Sampdoria), Zarate (Inter), Floccari (Parma).

Palermo

2010-2011: 8th; Coach: Devis Mangia

Palermo were hit hard on the transfer market by the nouveau rich PSG who signed Italy keeper Salvatore Sirigu and playmaker Javier Pastore. Then again, the Sicily club did receive an indecent amount of cash for the duo, so at least eccentric president Maurizio Zamperini should be pretty happy with the summer activities.

Despite of the sales, Palermo do have a team with potential to surprise. Especially the attack looks interesting: Fabrizio Miccoli returns after an injury-plagued season, Abel Fernandez should finally start pushing his weight and delivering on his promise and Maurizio Pinilla could be one of the strikers to watch this term. It’ll also be interesting to see whether Josip Ilicic is able to build on from last season and step into the shoes of Pastore.

Palermo should be able to beat anyone at home but will continue to struggle away. If Zamperini resists the temptation of selling in the January market and instead signs a couple of new players to add to the slim squad, Palermo may challenge for a Europa League finish.

Key player: Fabrizio Miccoli; One to watch: Josip Ilicic; The signing: Sebastian Silvestre

IN: Pisano (Varese), Mantovani (Chievo), Silvestre (Catania), Tzorvas (Panathinaikos), Alvarez (Bari), Barreto (Atalanta), Della Rocca (Bologna); OUT: Munari (Fiorentina), Guana (Cesena), Goian (Glasgow Rangers), Kasami (Fulham), Sirigu and Pastore (PSG), Raggi (Bologna), Bovo (Genoa), Cassani (Fiorentina), Liverani (Lugano), Nocerino (Milan).

Roma

2010-2011: 6th; Coach: Luis Enrique

After months of trying to find a new buyer for the club, the Sensi family finally found one in the American businessman Thomas Di Benedetto. The new owner wasted no time overhauling the old structures as he appointed Luis Enrique as coach from the Barcelona B team and gave the Spaniard a mandate to change the whole setup of the club (including the youth development system) into Barca’s mould.

This is a very respectable action, but it is risky business to both to try to import a whole new system from another football culture and to put trust in such an inexperienced coach. But fortune often favours the brave, as the American owner will definitely believe, and new ideas are exactly what Roma, and Italian football for that matter, desperately need in order to retain their competiveness and vigour.

Di Benedetto not only started reconstruction in the background, but also dipped his hand deep in his pocket as Bojan Krkic, Pablo Osvaldo, Simon Kjaer, Fernando Gago and Miralem Pjanic (among others) arrived during the summer.  This bunch will definitely add quality into the side but it’s keeper Marten Stekelenburg who may actually be the most important new signing. This being Roma, however, so nothing should be taken for granted and the new coach already endured a real baptism of fire as he failed to take Roma to the Europa League. He also didn’t have to wait long for a taste of what it is like trying to work in the court of Francesco Totti as the pair clashed during the Europa League qualifiers.

If Enrique can ride the first turbulent months and find a balance between the short-term results and his ambitious long-term plan, the former Spain international may succeed in building a platform for sustainable development for Roma and make them a benchmark club in Serie A.

Key player: Daniele De Rossi; One to watch: Miralem Pjanic; The signing: Marten Stekelenburg

IN: Cicinho (Villarreal), Okaka (Bari), Curci and Guberti (Sampdoria), Bojan (Barcelona), Lamela (River Plate), Heinze (Marseille), Stekelenburg (Ajax), Osvaldo (Espanyol), Kjaer (Wolfsburg), Pjanic (Lyon), Gago (Real Madrid), Borini (Parma), José Angel (Sporting Gijon); OUT: Mexes (Milan), Riise (Fulham), Guberti (Torino), Doni (Liverpool), Menez (Paris Saint Germain), Julio Sergio (Lecce), Vucinic (Roma), Brighi (Atalanta).

Udinese

2010-2011: 4th; Coach: Francesco Guidolin

If there is one team in Italy that abide the most fundamental lesson of economics to the letter – buy cheaply, sell expensively –  it’s Udinese. With one of the best and most extensive scouting networks in the world, the Udine club have made themselves the byword for unearthing raw talent and harnessing it into a finalised product. The latest example and perhaps their masterpiece is Alexis Sanchez who transferred to Barcelona in the summer for a fee of around 25 million (they also sold commanding centre-midfielder Gokhan Inler to Napoli and Cristian Zapata to Villareal for a hefty profit). The big name departures are bound to have an effect but no dramatic dip should be expected since, at the end of the day, this is just business as usual for Udinese.

Udinese are looking to reach a Champions League finish again this season, but will probably have to settle for a Europa league spot, at the most. The team is balanced and still able to play Guidolin’s brand of attacking football, but new players must step onto the fore quickly to assist the ever impressive Antonio Di Natale to make it happen upfront. Expect Udinese to be among the most entertaining teams in Serie A, but not reach the dizzy heights of last season.

Key player: Antonio Di Natale; One to watch: Diego Fabbrini; The signing: Gabriel Torje

IN: Danilo (Palmeiras), Fabbrini (Empoli), Barreto (Bari), Torje (Dinamo Bucarest), Pereyra (River); OUT: D’Agostino (Siena), Zapata (Villarreal), Inler (Napoli), Sanchez (Barcelona), Denis (Atalanta)

 

Mid-table security

 

Atalanta

2010-11: Serie B champions; Coach: Stefano Colontuano

The Serie B champions were slapped with a six point deduction as a result of a match-fixing scandal during the summer that also effectively ended the career of Atalanta icon and captain Christiaon Doni, who was given a 42-month ban due to his alleged involvement in the fix.

Apart from this bit of dirty business, things are looking up for the Bergamo club. They have made some interesting signings to add to an already talented squad: Stefano Lucchini and Andrea Masiello strengthen the defence, Luca Cigarini and Mathias Schelotto provide ball-playing quality in midfield and Argentineans German Denis and Maximiliano Moralez bring craft in attack. Cigarini, an Atalanta youth product and one-time Azzurri prospect, should be hungry to find his former form after underwhelming stints at Napoli and Sevilla. There are also plenty of young, home-grown players in the team (earmark creator Giacomo Bonaventura), which makes Atalanta a welcome addition to Serie A and Italian football that is marred by a prevailing notion of mistrust in youth.

Despite the point penalty, Atalanta should look forward to consolidating themselves as a Serie A club after a season spent out of the limelight.

Key player: Luca Cigarini; One to watch: Matias Schelotto; The signing: Luca Cigarini

IN: Schelotto (Catania), Caserta (Cesena), Lucchini (Sampdoria), A.Masiello (Bari), Moralez (Velez), Brighi (Roma), Cigarini (Napoli).; OUT: Barretto (Palermo)

Chievo

2010-2011: 11th; Coach: Mimmo Di Carlo

The Verona club are by no means among the most illustrious teams in Italy, but the current Chievo bunch are definitely one of the most balanced ones. Chievo are built around a solid defence, their midfield is packed with industry and the attack is reliable without being spectacular.

Overall, Chievo may have been weakened from last season but they did manage to make some shrewd signings, namely Perparim Hetemaj and Michael Bradley in midfield and Alberto Paloschi in attack. Paloschi, dubbed ‘the new Pippo Inzaghi’, should be a perfect foil to the more rugged Sergio Pellissier.

Key player: Sergio Pellissier; One to watch: Alberto Paloschi; The signing: Perparim Hetemaj

IN: Acerbi (Reggina), Hetemaj (Brescia), Paloschi (Milan), Sammarco (Cesena), Vacek (Sparta Prague), Bradley (Borussia M.), Grandolfo (Bari); OUT: Constant (Genoa), Bogliacino (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Saint Etienne), Mantovani (Palermo), Guana (Cesena), Bentivoglio (Sampdoria)

Genoa

2010-2011: 10th; Coach: Alberto Malesani

The Grifoni could (and perhaps should) be regular features in Europe if it wasn’t for the impatience of the club President Enzio Preziosi. Laying their skin pretty much every season (if not every transfer window), Genoa have little hope of achieving sustainable success with such instability. True to his colours, Preziosi again brought a host of new players into the squad in the summer.

Despite active transfer dealings though, the squad has undeniably weakened. Without little true quality up-front (Andrea Caracciolo hardly represents an answer), it’s difficult to see Genoa improving dramatically from last season. It’s strange why Genoa didn’t bother to sign the one player they definitely should have signed, the Udinese striker Antonio Floro Flores who had an inspiring loan-spell last spring at Genoa, during which he scored 10 goals in 18 matches.

Well, at least they seem to have solved their chronic keeper crisis by snapping up Sebastian Frey from Fiorentina. This move could be the first step toward stability at Genoa, but let’s just wait for the January transfer window for Preziosi to prove us wrong.

Key player: Sebastian Frey; One to watch: Juraj Kucka; The signing: Kevin Constant

IN: Birsa (Auxerre), Constant (Chievo), Granqvist (Groningen), Lupatelli (Bologna), Ze Eduardo (Santos), Kharja (Inter), Merkel (Milan), Frey (Fiorentina), Pratto (Universidad Catolica), William (Corinthians), Bovo (Palermo), Caracciolo (Brescia); OUT: Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg), El Shaarawy and Paloschi (Milan), Rafinha (Bayern Munich), Floro Flores (Udinese), Konko (Lazio), Destro (Siena), Acquafresca (Bologna), Eduardo (Benfica), Chico (Mallorca), Milanetto (Padova),  Kharja (Fiorentina)

Parma

2010-2011: 12th; Coach: Franco Colomba

Perhaps aiming at tad high after the heyday of late 90s and early 2000, Parma have gone through an identity-crisis during the last couple of seasons. Last season they were destined for the drop until Franco Colomba took over in the spring and guided the 1999 UEFA Cup winners to safety. A strict pragmatist rather than an adventurer, Columba will look at the defence to be the platform for success.

Despite a defensive-minded strategy, there is also flair in the team. Sebastian Giovinco is the key piece in the attacking puzzle and it’s about time that the diminutive attacker makes a real claim in Serie A. After an injury-plagued last season, Daniele Galloppa also looks to remind people of the potential that earned him two call-ups to the national team a couple of years ago. All in all, Parma have a collection of decent players with a lot to prove (Giovinco, Galloppa, Floccari, Biabiany, Pelle, Blasi and Zaccardo), so If Colomba is able to keep his golden touch and reignite the players that have fallen off the radar in the last couple of years, Parma may just surprise a few people.

Key player: Sebastian Giovinco; One to watch: Daniele Galloppa; The signing: Sergio Floccari

IN: Pellè (AZ Alkmaar), Borini (Chelsea), Brandao (Siena), Blasi and Santacroce (Napoli), Biabiany (Sampdoria), Rubin (Torino), Floccari (Lazio); OUT: Amauri (Juventus), Dzemaili (Napoli), Bojinov (Sporting Lisbon), Borini (Roma).

Siena

2010-11: promoted; Coach: Giuseppe Sannino

Siena are a tough nut to crack. The tiny club may get relegated every now and again, but they always seem to be destined to rise right back up. Last season Siena were promoted to Serie A after just a season spent in B and this term they look fairly good value for their money.

Siena could still do with a steady Serie A scorer (Emanuele Calaio, despite his decent scroring record, has never really lit up Serie A) but with the addition of some ambitious signings, Gaetano D’Agostini and Mattia Destro in particular, Siena should have enough quality to survive the drop.

Key player: Gaetano D’Agostini; One to watch: Mattia Destro; The signing: Gaetano D’Agostini

IN: Angelo (Parma), Tziolis (Racing), Belmonte and Codrea (Bari), Destro (Genoa), D’Agostino (Udinese), Angella (Udinese), Brkic (Udinese), Mannini (Napoli), Contini (Saragozza), Gazzi (Bari), Acosta (Boca Juniors), Gonzalez (Palermo), Milanovic (Palermo); OUT: Brandao (Parma), Marrone (Juventus), Coulibaly Tziolis (Racing Santander)

 

Relegation candidates

 

Bologna

2010-11: 16th; Coach: Pierpaolo Bisoli

Last season Bologna were topping my list of relegation candidates, but despite of all the financial turmoil (players went unpaid for a period, for instance) they somehow managed to stay up.

Bologna have a hard-as-nails midfield duo to fall back on when the going gets tough in Diego Perez and Gaby Mundingay and they have strengthened their attack with inspirational but often inconsistent creator Alessandro Diamanti and striker Roberto Aquafresca. The duo should provide mush needed cover for veteran striker Marco Di Vaio, whose 19 goals played a key role in Bologna’s survival last season. The defence, however, looks really weak as Bologna have sold most of the starting defenders from last season. With little, if any, resources to add to a slim squad, Bologna are definitely in for a relegation scrap this time around.

Key player: Marco Di Vaio; One to watch: Roberto Aquafresca; The signing: Alessandro Diamanti

IN: Gillet (Bari), Vantaggiato (Padova), Antonsson (Copenhagen), Rodriguez (Genoa), Vitale (Napoli), Agliardi (Padova), Acquafresca (Genoa), Diamanti (Brescia), Raggi (Palermo); OUT: Viviano (Inter), Lupatelli (Genoa), Ekdal (Juventus), Meggiorini (Novara), Britos (Napoli), Della Rocca (Palermo)

Cagliari

2010-11: 14th; Coach: Roberto Donadoni

Cagliari are clear losers in the transfer market as Andrea Lazzarri and Roberto Aquafresca left Sardinia. Despite neither being a world-beater, the likes of Albin Ekdal do nothing more than paper over the cracks in a slim squad.

Nevertheless, it would be surprising to see Cagliari get relegated while the backbone of the team is still made of reliable veterans like Daniele Conti, Andrea Cossu and Davide Biondini. They just have to find the goals from somewhere.

Key player: Daniele Conti; One to watch: Davide Astori; The signing: Albin Ekdal

IN: Ibarbo (Atletico Nacional), Avramov (Fiorentina), Ekdal (Juventus), Eriksson (IFK Gothenburg); OUT: Marchetti (Lazio), Acquafresca (Bologna), Lazzari (Fiorentina)

Catania

 2010-11: 13th; Coach: Vincenzo Montella

With inexperienced Vincenso Montella as coach, Catania are a complete unknown. On the one hand, it’d be strange to see them fall from grace after consolidating themselves as a proven Serie A outfit. But on the other hand, with little investment in the team the Sicily side do look about ready for a serious relegation struggle.

The biggest concern is the lack of fire-power. Gaston Maxi Lopez was a sensation in 2009-10 when he struck 11 times in 17 games, but the former Barcelona striker managed only ten goals last season. To hit double-figures is obviously no mean feat, but since pretty much all the goalscoring baggage is hanging on the shoulders of the Argentinean, Catania are in dire need of another proven striker.

Playing with all the industry needed by a small team, once again Catania will rely on making their home ground a fortress (they collected 37 points at home from the total of 46 last season), and there won’t be many teams in the league that will leave Angelo Massimino with all three points. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether their home form alone will be enough for Catania to escape relegation this time around.

Key player: Gaston Maxi Lopz; One to watch: Aleandro Gomez; The signing: Sergio Almiron

IN: Barrientos (Estudiantes), Delvecchio (Atalanta), Lanzafame (Palermo), Suazo (Inter), Legrottaglie (free), Almiron (Juventus), Bergessio (Saint-Etienne); OUT: Schelotto (Atalanta), Terlizzi, Pesce (Novara), Morimoto (Novara), Silvestre (Palermo)

Cesena

 2010-11: 15th; Coach: Marco Giampaolo

Last season Cesena sensationally survived what looked like a certain drop. They had an active summer transfer window but mostly for the worse. Cesena lost few real stars, Emanuele Giaccherini being the only example, but they did lose many proven Serie A players.

Cesena aren’t completely devoid of quality and the team should be decent going forward with the likes of Andrea Mutu, Jorge Martinez and Antonio Candreva executing Marco Giampaolo’s ambitious game plan. The defence, however, looks shaky which may be enough to trigger a fatal second-season syndrome.

Key player: Adrian Mutu; One to watch: Marco Parola; The signing: Antonio Candreva

IN: Mutu (Fiorentina), M. Rossi (Bari), Comotto (Fiorentina), Eder (Brescia), Candreva (Udinese), Guana (Palermo), Martinho (Catania), Martinez (Juventus), Ghezzal (Bari); OUT: Jimenez (Al Alhi), Felipe (Fiorentina), Santon (Inter), Dellafiore (Palermo), Caserta (Atalanta), Appiah, Sammarco (Chievo), Giaccherini (Juventus).

Lecce

 2010-11: 17th; Coach: Eusebio Di Francesco

Only a miracle will prevent Lecce from slipping into Serie B this season. Although this was pretty much my estimation last year, there simply is too little quality in the team for Lecce to stay up. The fact that in the absence of proven goalscorers, Lecce rely on David Di Michele (a provider, not a finisher) to score the goals speaks volumes of their survival chances.

With little or no money in the bank, Lecce have had to scavenge leftovers from the free transfer market. Christian Obodo, Julio Sergio and Massimo Oddo are decent finds but in no way represent the calibre that would spark a revival.

Key player: David Di Michele; One to watch: Andrea Bertolacci; The signing: Julio Sergio

IN: Esposito (Bologna), Carrozzieri (Palermo), Strasser (Milan), Obodo (Udinese), Julio Sergio (Roma), Cuadrado (Udinese), Bertolacci (Roma), Oddo (Milan), Giandonato (Juventus), Pasquato (Juventus); OUT: Rosati (Napoli), Munari (Fiorentina), Chevanton (Colon), Donati (Padova) Jeda (Novara), Cacia (Padova).

Novara

2010-2011: promoted; Coach: Attilio Tesser

The impartial’s favourite for the season, Novara were never supposed to achieve promotion after having just come up from Serie C the year before. But here they are after a fifty-five year absence and will definitely make the most of their stay, no matter how brief it turns out to be.

Expect Novara to show tremendous attitude and spirit especially in front of their fanatic supporters, but they simple lack quality on every department, which makes their objective of staying up close to impossible. Then again, Cesena were ‘sure’ to go down last term and look what happened.

Key player: Filippo Porcari; One to watch: Andrea Mazzarini; The signing: Takayuki Morimoto

IN: Paci (Parma), Meggiorini (Genoa), Mazzarani (Udinese), Morimoto (Catania), Pesce (Catania), Garcia (Palermo), Granoche (Chievo), Radovanovic (Atalanta), Dellafiore (Parma), Jeda (Lecce); OUT: Bertani (Sampdoria), Gonzalez (Palermo)