The Serie A began on Saturday with the defending champions Juventus opening the season. Finally, fans got to see the new and improved Milan sides, the supposedly ‘weakened’ Juventus, the same exciting Napoli and the slightly stripped-down Roma.
How did these sides do and what did we learn about the title race from the first round of fixtures?
Main Title Contenders Show Their Credentials
According to most bookies, Juventus and Napoli are the favourites to win the Scudetto this season. This won’t have changed from the opening games.
Many rival fans have been excited at Juve’s perceived weakening, having lost the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves, who were key players last season. The hope was, and still is, that the Bianconeri’s grip on the title has been somewhat weakened. Well, Juventus went some way to ruin this hope.
It was a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Cagliari, with key players Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro particularly impressing. New signings Blaise Matuidi and Douglas Costa played a part, with both looking very settled in the side.
They were slightly lucky, with Cagliari missing a penalty at 1-0, but that does not take away from a very solid performance from the Turin side to start the season.
Napoli, who did magnificently to keep their key players this summer, dominated against newly-promoted Hellas Verona, with the usual suspects Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik controlling the game. The 3-1 win was made even more impressive when considering that Sarri rested Dries Mertens for the midweek Champions League game.
Mertens’ replacement Arkadiusz Milik deserves a mention, with the Napoli forward getting his first goal since he ruptured his cruciate ligament in October. If Milik stays fit, he will offer much-needed competition to the front line and Napoli fans can look forward to serious title-challenge this season.
Roma Fans Breathe Sigh of Relief
Roma fans would have been very nervous coming into the first game of the Serie A season. There were the usual nerves that come with a new manager appointment, and having lost key players in Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger and Leandro Paredes, but add to that a disastrous pre-season and fans were genuinely fearful for their side.
I Giallorossi lost all, bar one, of their games in the International Champions Cup in USA. They then returned to Europe to lose to Sevilla and, worst of all, to Celta Vigo in a 4-1 loss, just a week before the start of the season. Hopes were not very high.
Which is why fans will be delighted with the 1-0 win at Atalanta, a team they have not beaten since 2014. It was not straight-forward, with Roma being at times lucky not to concede and requiring a moment of genius from new signing Aleksandar Kolarov, but it is a win that stops the pre-season rot and will give much-needed confidence to the players, the manager and the fans.
Icardi Anger All but Forgotten
Less than a year has passed since Inter Milan ultras held banners stating that Icardi “is not our captain and never will be”. The feud between the captain and the fans threatened to see the Argentinian striker forced out of the club. He eventually made peace and, judging by the reception he received against Fiorentina, all is well once more.
Icardi scored twice to put the Nerazzuri firmly in the driving seat against their rivals. Inter impressed all round, especially in the first half where they dominated proceedings. Icardi was eventually substituted off in the 84th minute to a standing ovation from the fans, one that was richly deserved.
A notable mention must go to the performance of Borja Valero, signed by Inter from La Viola. He dominated the midfield against his old club and was key in Inter’s 3-0 win. It seems baffling that Fiorentina could not keep him, and if the Sporting Director really did force him out of the club, serious questions must be asked of him.
AC Milan Impress Against Unimpressive Opponents
Milan have been the story of the transfer window globally. They have spent close to €200 million in an attempt to recapture their glory days, with high-quality players arriving. Expectations were high. Did they deliver? Well, sort of.
On paper, a 3-0 win against any team is highly impressive, as the Milan side dominated the game from start to finish. However, Crotone did not offer much in the way of resistance. The contest was effectively ended in the 5th minute when Federico Ceccherini gave away a penalty that saw him sent off. From then on it was all Milan.
Milan did what they had to, taking their chances well and winning comfortably. However, they will face much tougher opponents this season in their attempts to return to Champions League football. A good start, but they have not been tested yet.
VAR Revolutionary, But Not Yet Perfect
The Video Assistant Referees were busy on the opening weekend, with this the first season it will be used. It was involved in some key decisions, giving a penalty to Cagliari and a red for Crotone, among others. It is already proving to be highly important in making the game fairer, however, it still needs improvement.
The game between Inter Milan and Fiorentina showed the faults of a fledgeling technology, one that the Serie A has not gotten to grips with fully. The decisions were slow, taking three or four minutes to decide on the correct course of action. This caused confusion in the ground, as fans knew nothing of the reasons for the delay in play.
Perhaps a stadium announcer or a microphone for the referee is needed for the fans to be informed of the reason for the stoppages. These adjustments will come with time, as officials and fans become accustomed to its use, but VAR has already proven that it will revolutionise the Italian game.
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