Serie A preview: What do four Italian heavyweights need during summer of change?Published on: June 26, 2019Author: Jamie Clark
Managerial turnover is nothing new in Italy. Before and during last season there were 17 changes of coach in Serie A.
Only two of the eventual top six teams parted company with bosses. Napoli let Maurizio Sarri go long before a ball was kicked and Roma sacked Eusebio Di Francesco in March.
Now it’s almost all-change at the top of Italian football. This summer both Milan clubs, the Giallorossi and dominant force Juventus have new men in the dugout.
With fresh and familiar faces tackling some of the toughest jobs in European football, this Serie A preview for 2019-20 looks at what awaits incoming bosses.
Sarri inherits proven but ageing Old Lady
Juve have enjoyed a period of unequalled dominance in Italy for the vast majority of the last decade. The Turin titans are eight-time defending champions – a record streak with the Scudetto.
In that time the Old Lady also won four consecutive Coppa Italia crowns and reached the Champions League final twice. Their squad are proven winners time and again. Oh, and they have Cristiano Ronaldo.
That all sounds pretty rosy for incoming boss Sarri, who inspired very little love among Chelsea fans despite lifting the Europa League. That was a first managerial honour in his maiden job outside Italy.
Sarri’s predecessor Max Allegri built on solid foundations left to him by Antonio Conte. Now it falls to the former Blues and Napoli boss to do likewise in Turin.
If anything, Juventus look stronger than ever and remain the team to beat. Sarri joins a side whose players are a year older, however, and even in Italy age catches up with you eventually.
Old Lady captain Giorgio Chiellini is 35 this season and part of an ageing spine. Addressing this is on the agenda with coveted Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt a top Juve target.
Ramsey move adds more to midfield
The free transfer of Aaron Ramsey from Arsenal to Turin also spices up midfield where Uruguay international Rodrigo Bentancur is also pressing claims.
It falls to these newer names now wearing the famous black and white stripes to do the running. Wales star Ramsey, in particular, is an eye-catching addition for him box-to-box abilities and dynamism.
The Old Lady engine room has a real mixture of talent from Bosnia playmaker Miralem Pjanic through to genuine holders like German pair Emre Can and Sami Khedira.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, is 34 and although adjusting to a new league after nine years in Spain with Real Madrid, his goal tally last term was the lowest for a decade. His second Serie A season could well yield more.
While attack also features the returning Gonzalo Higuain – who played for Sarri on loan at Stamford Bridge last term – and Mario Mandzukic, some of the older faces need phasing out.
This is part and parcel of maintaining Juventus’ place as top dogs. All Sarri has to figure out is which elder statesmen can still go a full season and those who need managing carefully.
He has younger players at his disposal, such as Bentancur and Moise Kean, who can learn from senior pros.
What remains a relative strength of the Old Lady versus the field is that sense of competition for places – particularly in midfield, out wide and up front.
Some fringe players may move on of course, and it’ll be fascinating to see how Sarri-ball works without Jorginho.
Conte comeback adds interest at Inter
Luciano Spalletti seemed to be doing just fine with Inter Milan after recording consecutive top four finishes, but the Nerazzurri hierarchy decided to get rid.
Conte coming in at the San Siro when he’s synonymous with Juventus has the makings of a sound if divisive appointment.
Although a coaching coup, fans will take some convincing. Conte can come across as high maintenance, is synonymous with Juventus and his management style has led to clashes. Just ask Diego Costa.
If playing his favoured 3-5-2 system, then Inter don’t really have the strength-in-depth at centre back or on the flanks in the squad Conte inherited.
Croatia winger Ivan Perisic, for instance, looks like a square peg in round holes if pushed up front or operating at wingback.
Cover is needed up front and in defence. Four first-team central defenders when Conte usually goes with a back three leaves very little room for injuries.
Diego Godin, who leaves Atletico Madrid this summer, may end up confirming widespread rumours he is joining Inter after playing at the Copa America for Uruguay.
A free transfer to Inter would see him reprise an old partnership with Miranda that proved highly successful in Spain. Conte’s bedrock at Juventus was a settled defence and proven unit.
If Godin and Miranda were good enough for former Nerazzurri playing favourite Diego Simeone at Atleti, then this looks shrewd business.
Midfield is a strong area for Conte, so the real test of his coaching credentials comes with how to handle star striker Mauro Icardi.
For all his ability, clashes with fans and the club mean getting the best out of this controversial talisman is key.
Giampaolo must get Milan makeover right
Crossing the Milan divide, Marco Giampaolo has to make a big step up on his work at Sampdoria with the Rossoneri.
Veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella fired the Genoese outfit under his leadership to a top half finish last season, scoring 43 per cent of their 60 Serie A goals.
The job at AC Milan isn’t about getting the best out of old stagers but bringing the club back into the top four. Gennaro Gattuso failed by a single point and got the sack.
There has been a real ruthlessness in the way that the Rossoneri have treated its former playing favourites prepared to risk their reputation in the dugout.
What chance does Giampaolo have? Sorting out an imbalanced squad left by Gattuso and several midfielders departing at the same time is an immediate priority.
Many Milan fans will tell you Riccardo Montolivo wasn’t the same player after breaking his leg, or Andrea Bertolacci failed to replicate his Genoa form at the San Siro.
That for all his promise when coming through the ranks, Manuel Locatelli couldn’t cut it. Recruitment just hasn’t been right with the Rossoneri for some time.
With three genuine left backs on their books, keeping Diego Laxalt, Ricardo Rodriguez and Ivan Strinic all happy is a headache.
At least the January signing of Krzysztof Piatek is working out so far after a plethora of disappointing strikers. The Poland frontman has carried his Genoa form with him since moving to Milan.
With Giampaolo now in charge, and Milan accepting a European ban for failing to meet Financial Fair Play requirements, there’s no Europa League campaign to distract him.
Fonseca ready to revive Roma?
And finally, from Milan to the Eternal City. Roma go into the new Serie A season without Daniele De Rossi, who like Giallorossi icon Francesco Totti, was that rare breed of loyal footballer who stayed at the club for many years.
They have had to watch city rivals Lazio lift the Coppa Italia again and now welcome a new boss in Paulo Fonseca to the Stadio Olimpico.
The Portuguese coach won domestic doubles in three consecutive seasons in Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Last year’s sixth place finish was well below par for a squad as deep and talented as that which Fonseca inherits. More often than often in recent years, Roma have been one of Juventus’ main challengers.
There is strength-in-depth here as promising youngsters Cengiz Under and Nicolo Zaniolo rub shoulders with veterans like Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov. Despite that, they have always come up short under previous management.
Fonseca is an unknown quantity. This is his first top job in a major European league but he has also bided his time at Shakhtar for what he felt was the next opportunity on the career ladder.
Roma’s squad is large and sorting the wheat from the chaff is the first task for Fonseca. It’s only the Europa League for them this season and that may mean a few on the fringes get sold.
Reviving Giallorossi fortunes comes at the beginning of a new era with ties to their past cut. How will the progressive Portuguse fare in his endeavour? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will a challenge from Roma.