Mark O’Haire’s European Footy Tips – Serie A Outright
Juventus are hunting a fourth successive Serie A title but the Old Lady look far too short to entertain at 4/7.
The defending champions are the shortest pre-season price they’ve been since returning to the top table of Italian football and that just doesn’t sit comfortably having lost three important cogs over the summer.
Carlos Tevez’s goals, Andrea Pirlo’s panache and Arturo Vidal’s control have all moved on to pastures new and although the spine remains strong, Juve represent poor value despite being the team to beat.
The Bianconeri won the Scudetto by almost 20 points but their Serie A rivals have strengthened and the league now looks to be one of the most competitive renewals since the late 90’s. We’re highly unlikely to see another runaway champion.
The cash has been flowing on the peninsula with Italian football splurging the most money in the transfer market since the lavish days of 2001. Both Milan clubs have invested heavily, Roma have forked out significantly and Napoli are recharged.
Juve were 5/6 to do the business during Antonio Conte’s pomp against reasonably weak opposition in 2013/14 so can we really approach the 4/7 with any serious confidence? I don’t think so.
The Case For The Capital Club
Boylesports have made Roma 13/2 second favourites and the capital club are well worth an each-way interest with a third of the odds being paid out on a top-two place.
Giallorossi supporters and owners have made it clear – they expect a battle for top honours in 2015/16 – and the appointment of renowned fitness coach Darcy Norman should enable Rudi Garcia’s troops to compete for the full nine months.
Fans are begging for the exciting pressing style of Garcia’s first campaign to be brought back and early indications suggest the current crop have addressed last year’s weaknesses.
The return of the injured Leandro Castan, Maicon and Kevin Strootman will feel like new signings for the French boss but headline additions Edin Dzeko and Mo Salah give Roma a serious edge in the attacking stakes.
Not since Gabriel Batistuta’s days have the Giallorossi owned a more potent centre forward and Dzeko will burden the goalscoring hopes of a club looking to win their first Scudetto in 14 years.
Roma finished 17 points adrift of Juventus last season but a dysfunctioning attack let them down.
I fully expect Garcia’s charges to rack up plenty more goals than their 2014/15 tally of 54 and give Juventus a serious run for their money.
A Revival In Milan?
Both Milan (11/1) and Inter (14/1) have been busy overhauling their squads in the summer with Champions League qualification in mind. The duo will claim a championship challenge is their aim but behind closed doors it’s all about a top-three finish.
Milan appointed Siniša Mihajlović as their new man and have flexed their muscles in the transfer market following the investment from Thai billionaire Bee Taechaubol.
The new head coach impressed in charge at Sampdoria, bringing the squad from relegation candidates to European qualifiers, and his no-nonsense, hard working approach could well pay dividends.
Question marks remain over defensive personnel despite the addition of highly-rated centre half Andrea Bertolacci. But Milan have made serious steps in upgrading their offense. Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano have the potential to strike up one of the most feared partnerships in Europe.
Early indications show the Rossoneri are playing with more intensity and moving the ball quicker in Mihajlović’s preferred 4-3-2-1 system and without the added of European competition, a new era may well be dawning for the red side of the San Siro. The 18-times champions look a decent bet to return to Champions League action next season.
Inter have also undergone a marked rebuilding process. Powerhouse midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia was their most expensive purchase since 1999 and South American centre-halves Joao Miranda and Jeison Murillo should help to solidify Roberto Mancini’s spine.
The former Manchester City boss won three Serie A titles in his first spell at Inter but has since admitted he underestimated the size of the task awaiting him on his return to the hot-seat.
The Nerazzurri are still lacking width to fully utilise Mancini’s favoured 4-3-1-2 formation and question marks remain over a lack of a plan B. Inter should make strides but I’d be surprised if they pierced the top-three.
Don’t Discount Napoli
Napoli ditched Rafa Benitez in the summer following a disastrous fifth-placed finish but the appointment of Empoli head coach Maurizio Sarri has captured the imagination. Working as a bank manager as recently as 2002, Sarri was arguably coach of the year last season having consolidated a penniless Empoli side in the top tier.
If Sarri can bring the same defensive solidity and wonderful aesthetic attacking approach to Naples, the Partenopei could well justify their 7/1 pre-season quotes as serious contenders.
Sarri’s brought with him inspirational midfielder Mirko Valdifior and Elseid Hysaj as well as keeping hold of Gonzalo Higuain. Ultimately though, I expect the new look Napoli to take time to find their feet and are best left alone for the time being.
Relegation May Loom For Empoli
Empoli are the side I worry about most in the Relegation stakes. Chalked up by Boylesports at 9/4, the Azzurri have lost the aforementioned instrumental boss Sarri and star Valdifiori during the summer.
A repeat or improvement on their highly respectable 15th-placed finish in 2014/15 would be a huge surprise and a more likely scenario is a bite on the backside from second season syndrome.
Alongside the exit of Valdifiori, Empoli have also seen on-loan Daniele Rugani depart as well as Elseid Hysaj, robbing the minnows of three top performing players.
Marco Giampaolo is the new man in charge and it’s a major step up for a coach that’s spent last season in the Lega Pro with the Grigiorossi. It’s his seventh role on the bench in just 11 years and the Tuscans now look decidedly weaker than 12 months ago.