England has had its day but this weekend top-flight club calcio returns to Italy!
Unfortunately, very few of you will see it.
Al Jazeera has the TV rights to Serie A. beIN Sport, the awkwardly-named sports station run by the Qatar based company is currently available only to Dish Network and DirecTV customers. Comcast seems to have made a deal for the network to appear as part of its Xfinity Sports Entertainment Package (an additional fee) but the station is so far scheduled to show just 2 Serie A matches per week.
I am not sure what is going on with the digital rights, but I know that ESPN3 currently does not have Serie A in its lineup.
Exactly what this means for me, a blogger who has regularly tried to convince people to do exactly what it is now going to be harder to do (watch Serie A, legally) and my Serie A table predictions and punditry after the jump.
Rather than my standard previews from last year, this season instead of giving the ins and outs of every Serie A match from every round, I am going to try to highlight only the most interesting matches, personalities, topics, and trends going on in Italian football each week.
This will save me some precious time, and hopefully allow you to more selectively choose the calcio you consume since you will have a bit more work to do to enjoy it.
Hopefully this is something more appealing to the casual viewer without leaving the small smattering of serious Serie A fans feeling unsatisfied.
This week I’ll start with my 2012/2013 Serie A Table Predictions:
1 – Juventus – Champions League
2 – AC Milan – Champions League
3 – Internazionale – Champions League qualifying
4 – Roma – Europa League
5 – Napoli – Europa League
6 – Lazio
7 – Udinese
8 – Fiorentina
9 – Catania
10 – Genoa
11 – Chievo Verona
12 – Bologna
13 – Atalanta
14 – Cagliari
15 – Palermo
16 – Sampdora
17 – Parma
18 – Pescara – Relegation to Serie B
19 – Siena – Relegation to Serie B
20 – Torino – Relegation to Serie B
Unless you are fairly new here you know that I am a Milan fan. Putting them in second is as optimistic as I could make myself. Juventus’ side got stronger and Milan’s got weaker. They’ll have to really scrap to be in the top 3 all season amongst a rejuvenated Inter, exciting Roma side, Lazio who have been knocking at the door the last few seasons, and even Napoli if they can manage to hang onto their stars.
But it looks like the Old Lady of Italian football will be hoisting the Serie A trophy again this season. Keep an eye on Fiorentina as a dark horse to make some of the top clubs very uncomfortable for stretches of this season.
Of the newly promoted sides (Pescara, Torina, and Sampdoria) I like Sampdoria to stay up the most. They play solid defense and should be ably coached by Ciro Ferrara, formerly the manager of Italy’s National U21 side. This despite being docked a point for the club’s role in the current match-fixing scandal in Italy.
Siena will start 6 back and won’t have the strength to survive it like Atalanta did last year (Atalanta only has to overcome being docked 2 points this year, piece of cake!). Torino, also starting in the red, should be the first to bow out. And Pescara will put on some shows and field some nice Italian talent, but losing their manager and best two players from last years Serie B championship side will be difficult to overcome.
What to Keep an Eye on This Season
Zdeněk Zeman – Now the coach of AS Roma, after being the architect of Pescara’s promotion last season, the Czech maestro is a legend of Italian football. He is well known for leading a Foggia team of unknowns from Serie C to Serie A in successive years and then to the cusp of European qualification for 3 straight seasons. He is endlessly quotable, plays an entertaining, high risk/high reward style of calcio, and has a fantastic eye for young talent. It is a crime that Zeman is not well-known by many who don’t watch Italian football because he is a fantastic personality and I am eagerly anticipating what he’ll be up to with a strong Roma squad this season. I suspect a lot of people who have fallen off the Napoli bandwagon of the past 2 years might be hitching onto the Giallorossiversion pretty soon.
USMNT supporters will also want to watch new Roma man Michael Bradley’s development as well. His offensive skills should continue to improve under Zeman but he will also need to learn to read the game better to provide the type of anchor Roma will need from his position.
Continued Effects of Match Fixing – Really no use complaining. It’s a fact of life these days in Serie A that some kind of scandal be grabbing attention away from the product on the pitch. Four Serie A teams (Sampdoria, Torino, Siena, Atalanta) start in the hole for the their roles in the current Calcioscommesse scandal. Many players have been implicated, with some cases still not totally unresolved.
The most notable effect to speak of is Juventus Manager Antonio Conte’s 10 month ban, essentially keeping him off the sidelines for the whole season. Juventus fans cry conspiracy of course while others are unsatisfied because the punishment does not keep Conte from training the team. Conte has called the ban “absurd” and to be quite honest the whole scenario has been convoluted and arbitrary. It’s things like this that either turn you off from Italian football, or simply add to the drama. Rest assured this won’t be the last you hear on the topic this campaign.
With Torino and Sampdoria returning to the top flight there are 5 major city derbies in Serie A this year. This obviously not include the other historical rivalry matches, some of which are also referred to as derbies (Cagliari v. Palermo: Derby della Isole, Inter v. Juve: Derby d’Italia).
Sampdoria/Genoa, Roma/Lazio, Torino/Juve, Milan/Inter, and Catania/Palermo are all extremely heated affairs in which anything can happen regardless of league position.
Getting more acquainted with the deep histories of these clubs and rivalries will seriously enhance the experience of following Serie A for the casual fan.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the opening weekend of Serie A and please share your thoughts for the season or any suggestions for things you’d like to see in this space each Friday.