Archive for the ‘Serie A’ Category

Serie A Preview: Strikes, The Scudetto & El-Shaarawy

Eric Giardini unleashes his Serie A Preview

Will Milan secure another trophy in its case?

We’ve finally arrived.

After missing the opening weekend due to a strike between the 20 Serie A clubs and the players’ association, a new contract was agreed to on Monday allowing Serie A to begin this weekend. The curtain-raising match sees defending champions AC Milan host Lazio at the San Siro. The new agreement, which expires in June 2012, does not address the main sticking points between the two sides. The players’ union remains unhappy with the fact that clubs are able to force players into transfers in their contract’s final year, thus not allowing them to move for free once their contract expires. The players are also unhappy with the practice of coaches forcing unwanted players to train away from the first team. On the other side, clubs want players to pay the new solidarity tax imposed by the Italian government on high earners. The players, obviously, are not too keen on this idea.

But all of that, now, is neither here nor there and this isn’t about the strike.

This is about the passion, the flair, the stereotypical defensive struggles and the well-documented histrionics. The Italian top flight is full of history and tradition and the 2011-12 season, by all indications, will be more of the same.

It has been a long summer so I’m here to catch you up on the latest from the peninsula and give you a little preview on what to look for this campaign.

Summer Storylines

Doni, mug shot

• Another scandal? What else is new?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. On June 16 current and former players were arrested for alleged match fixing across all three professional leagues in Italy. Overall, 18 matches were under investigation – including the Serie A match between Inter and Lecce (which Inter won 1-0) and a number of matches involving newly promoted Atalanta. A number of clubs, mostly in the lower leagues, received point deductions and fines to begin the new season. Atalanta was perhaps the hardest hit receiving a six-point deduction and their captain, Cristiano Doni, has been suspended from all soccer activities for 3.5 years for his role in the scandal. What was already going to be a difficult road to remain in the top flight just became an almost impossible task.

• Loss of Champions League Spot

The loss of Italy’s fourth Champions League spot to the Bundesliga means that now only the top three will qualify for the competition and the fourth and fifth place clubs will qualify for the Europa League. In a league where the top seven or eight clubs are all strong sides capable qualifying and doing well in Europe, the fact that a club like Inter, Napoli, Juventus, or Roma will miss out on Europe all together is troubling. Expect the battles for spots 3-5 to be more competitive than the race for the scudetto.

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Serie A: On Michael Bradley At Chievo Verona

Eric Giardini on Michael Bradley’s southbound move

Six years later, Bradley will try to break into Serie A, not MLS...

Six years later, Bradley attempts to break into Serie A, not MLS...

“It’s fine.”

That was my initial reaction to reading that Michael Bradley was joining Chievo Verona in Italy in an undisclosed move that was announced today. (The deal is rumored to be for two years).

Not the place I was predicting when hearing that Bradley was angling for a move to England with, preferably, the chance to play on those European nights that everyone dreams of. Instead, what he got is neither and I’m left scratching my head.

Bradley has his cake and can eat some too. Chievo, owned by the Paluani Cake Co.

The move makes a great deal of sense for the Chievo. For the relatively low price of 2m Euros, they get a young, internationally-experienced midfielder that can slot in almost immediately and play loads of minutes – especially with midfield stalwart Kévin Constant and his 32 appearances last season moving on to Genoa.

In Bradley, Chievo also gets a player that won’t necessarily need a long time to fit into their style of play. Chievo, under manager Domenico Di Carlo, tend to line up in a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond. With the departures of Constant and Gelson Fernandes (to Leicester City) there are minutes that need to be filled and Bradley can do that either from the defense midfield position or the trequarista - a role similar to the one he played during his time in Holland.

I see it more being the former because he doesn’t fit the role as used in Italy (think Totti, del Piero, etc. someone who can create on their own) and it has been so long since he’s played it consistently that he’d be better used in a more familiar deep-lying, holding position.

On the other hand, this is a lateral move, if that, for Bradley. He moves to a provincial club in the north of Italy in a suburb of Verona with a population of about 4,500. I only mention this as a positive for him.

Had he moved to Napoli as was rumored at the beginning of summer, he’d be in a city with close to one million residents, a large percentage of them argent supporters. He would also be dealing with a club with Scudetto aspirations as well as participation in Champions League. While I have no doubt that is exactly what he wants, I think it just isn’t in the cards for him yet as he hasn’t been exposed to that sort of scrutiny in either of his previous stops.

In Chievo, things will be less pressurized for his first stop in Serie A.

The 11th place finish that the club had last season is about what supporters expect. Anything higher is considered great. Anything lower…well, just don’t make it too low.

Tactically, Bradley’s positioning and awareness should also benefit from playing in Italy as Chievo will be underdogs in a good number of their matches which will put added emphasis on staying in position and being sound defensively – both items that will translate well to the national team.

Professionally, I can’t see him getting much from this move. He will not be battling for a European spot and, to be honest, will be closer to the relegation zone. Playing against Milan or Inter at the San Siro in the Sunday night fixture with the eyes of the nation, and world, on you is what makes playing in Serie A special. Playing a Saturday noontime fixture on a mud-covered pitch in Lecce in January isn’t. The only question I have remaining is what the other clubs from Germany, England, Spain, Russia, Belgium, and Greece that were interested in Bradley, according to his agent.

Silly Serie A: Sampdoria “Funeral”

Sampdoria loses Cassano and gets relegated this year…

…and archrivals Genoa decide to hold a funeral to mourn celebrate their relegation

Welcome Back, Coppa Italia. We’ve Missed You

Eric Giardini covers Italian soccer for TSG.

Welcome Back, Coppa Italia. We’ve Missed You

A strange thing happened this year in soccer – the domestic cups actually carried importance. From England to Spain to Italy, these cups, which were usually marginalized by the major clubs as an inconvenience, became key fixtures on a congested club calendar.

One team's Italian dreams will be realized May 29th at the Olimpico

In England, the Carling Cup saw more regular first team players than I can recall – especially from Arsenal. Having Arsenal trot out youngsters to gain experience was the norm until the cries for silverware grew too loud for manager Arsène Wenger to ignore and the Gunners first team squad was seen more in the cup fixtures. Ultimately, Arsenal lost in the final to Birmingham on a late winner from Obefemi Martins, which has Arsenal still in search for silverware.

A rebirth of the domestic cup also occurred in Spain where the Copa del Rey received a shot in the arm with these words from The Special One:  “I think the Copa del Rey is an important competition. I know that many people don’t value domestic cup tournaments, but I do value them.” Mourinho kept his word, took each round seriously, and fielded a strong lineup (Cristiano Ronaldo played in eight of Madrid’s nine cup matches after having played in zero the previous year) all the way to defeating Barcelona in the final – Madrid’s first Copa title in 17 years.

Our cup renaissance tour concludes in Italy with the Coppa Italia. The Coppa, the last of these newly “important” competitions to crown a winner, is currently midway through its semifinal stage with four clubs in the top eight of the league vying to meet on May 29 at the Stadio Olimipco in Rome to hoist the trophy. Inter and Roma are meeting in one semifinal while Milan and Palermo are in the second. After the first leg, Inter holds a 1-0 away advantage over Roma and Milan and Palermo are tied 2-2. The second legs are being played in Milan and Sicily, respectively.

(Very Brief) Coppa Background

The prize...

Although the Coppa Italia has been around since 1922 (with the second tournament being held in 1935), it has only been continuously played each year since 1958. Prior to the invasion of Italy in 1943 during World War II, the Coppa had been played from 1935-1943; however, it wasn’t until 1958 that the tournament was around to stay. Juventus and Roma are tied with the most Coppa titles with nine. There has been a recent dominance over the past six tournaments of Roma and Inter. These two clubs have met in five of the past six finals – including last year’s 1-0 Inter victory. Inter leads the head-to-head 3-2 in these recent finals.

Over the past few decades, with the rise of larger European competitions, the Coppa has been in decline in popularity. One reason for this is the lack of emphasis that the clubs themselves put on the competition. When the clubs do not put a premium on the matches, why should the supporters? Compared to other domestic cups, England in particular, the financial reward for doing well in the Coppa Italia is not there. The money made from television rights, or from sponsorship or FIGC, was not seen as incentive enough for clubs to risk their players in these midweek matches. The lack of money available domestically, coupled with the exponential rise in money available in European Cup matches, led Italy’s big clubs to put an emphasis on qualifying for Europe and, once there, doing well.

Why 2010-2011?

Something changed in this season’s Coppa. The big clubs began taking the competition seriously and, although maybe not to the same degree as Serie A and European matches, managers and players were fully engaged in the Coppa.

Rossoneri head honcho Massimiliano Allegri...

Prior to the first leg against Palermo, Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri came out and said how important the cup was to him and his squad. “We want to honor this cup. We have the chance to try and win the Scudetto and at least make the Coppa Italia final…It’s a very important semi-final for us and we want to try and reach the final…There is enthusiasm and it’s important we use it to get to an important objective like the cup final.” While this may very well have been “coach speak,” I think Allegri actually means what he said, and his cross town rivals are playing a major role in this.

Inter’s recent league and, to a lesser extent, cup domination has irritated many around the peninsula. By winning the past five Scudettos and three of the past seven Coppa Italias, other clubs, understandably, are fed up with Inter’s winning ways in Italy. While their run of league championships is about to end, they are favorites to advance to their sixth final in the past seven years. Conversely, Milan has not won any domestic silverware since 2004 and the chance to take two titles away from Inter this year is just too sweet to pass up.

The remaining three clubs in the semifinals have their own incentives for winning the cup. Inter and Roma both suffered slow starts to the league campaign which put a damper on the title aspirations both sides had heading into this season after only being separated by two points in the table last year. That, coupled with Champions League knockouts, has the Coppa Italia as the only piece of silverware that can be won by either of these clubs. While the trophy was not at the top of either’s list heading into the season, winning will be a cause for optimism heading into the summer. Palermo, similarly, has been disappointing this season. There is only so much that TSG favorite Javier Pastore can do and the Sicilian side currently sits in eighth place with no shot at qualifying for the Champions League. With only the slimmest of chances for Europa League, based on their final standings in Serie A, a Coppa Italia victory is their ticket to European soccer and the expense of the sixth place finisher in the league.

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Derby della Madonnina: Rossoneri Slam Rivals

Serie A man Eric Giardini with an account of Italy’s hottest derby.

Saturday’s Derby della Madonnina between AC Milan and cross city rivals

Kevin Prince Boateng, celebrating earlier this year, would have cause again...

Internazionale was widely tipped to be the league title decider. The matchup featured the top two clubs in Italy with the red-and-black half of Milan holding a two point lead at the top of the table. With so much on the line it was expected that the two clubs would play a hard-fought, lively, and entertaining match. Both sides spent the week exchanging jabs at each other.

Kevin-Prince Boateng claimed that although Inter seems confident, “closed in the dressing room they’re scared.” Samuel Eto’o tried to put the pressure on Milan by claiming that Milan was the favorite as they were in first and as such had more to lose than his Inter team. He also went on to state that no matter the outcome of the match, the league title was still up for grabs. Unfortunately, Inter played as though the match was as unimportant as Eto’o made it seem. Conversely, Milan played with passion and desire and, not surprisingly, they walked away from the San Siro with a 3-0 victory that extended their lead to five points with only seven matches in the season left.

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Beyond The EPL: An American At Roma

This is a follow-up guest post by our Serie A man Eric Giardini.

Unable to balance the books at Roma....

Following the death of her father Franco in 2008, Rosella Sensi was elevated to the role of president at Roma.

Under the fifteen year reign of Franco Sensi, Roma experienced a golden age which saw the club win five domestic trophies and had moderate success in Europe over that time.

However, business at Italpetroli, the oil company owned by the Sensis that had the control over Roma, has been down and Rosella has been forced to put her shares of Roma up for sale to pay of the Italpetroli debts.

For almost a year, the club’s new owner, UniCredit, has been seeking a buyer.  Five potential bids were considered and in early February a buyer was identified.  This buyer came from a somewhat unlikely location—the United States.

The American at Roma...

Thomas Di Benedetto, an American from Boston, submitted the most competitive bid, and that bid was accepted by UniCredit.

The group, Di Benedetto AS Roma LLC, includes Julian Movesian, the President and CEO of Succession Capital Alliance and Arthur Falcone, a Florida real estate developer. Di Benedetto is also a partner in Fenway Sports Group – formally known as New England Sports Ventures (NESV). This name should sound familiar to Liverpool supporters as NESV, with John W. Henry at the lead, successfully purchased the club in October 2010. All indications are, however, that Di Benedetto had distanced himself from the NESV venture (thus the creation of his own group) to allow him to purchase Roma without having any potential conflicts of interest in regards to owning two clubs. NESV has said that it is “not involved or aware” of Di Benedetto’s dealings with regards to the purchase of Roma.

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Alexi On Alexi….And Serie A

Lalas....

Editor’s Note: We’ve had a few pieces lately that involved , specifically, Alexi Lalas and his time overseas in Serie A with Padova.

This piece by Eric Beard which acknowledges Alexi’s time at Padova and the focus in training. And this piece, Eric Giardini, which discusses the challenges for Americans playing in Serie A.

Thus we decided to reach out to the now-ESPN analyst and get his perspective on playing abroad. The following by….Alexi Lalas, with questions by Eric Giardini:

Mint condition...

TSG: You joined Padova in 1994 during the height of Catenaccio that the great Milan teams of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were using so successfully to win 3 European titles and 5 Scudettos. What was it like playing this defensive style of soccer and how did it differ from your duties with the USMNT?

Alexi Lalas: The defensive tactics of Italian soccer are well documented. And if you’re a club like Padova, who’s simply looking to stay up in Serie A, your reliance on defense is only amplified.

We were not going to be possessing the ball or dictating play against most teams. So we basically played in a 5-3-2. The player in the middle of the back 5 would often fall back like a sweeper and provide additional safety and another layer of cover. The outside backs only pushed forward on the counter.

But from the first day I arrived we trained on our defensive team shape, it was as important as stretching.

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