Friday, 24 August 2007

Serie A Week 1: Weekend Preview

After all the chaos of last year's pre-season in Italy, the 2007-08 Serie A season begins this weekend with all the usual suspects staking their claims for lifting the Scudetto and the emotions are already running high ahead of the big kick-off.

Defending champions Internazionale and European champions AC Milan are the two major threats from the north, while Roma will offer them the biggest threat from further south.

The capital team finished second last season and have a tough opening when they travel to Palermo on Sunday evening.

But they will be in confident mood after a major psychological win over the Nerazzurri last weekend when they captured the SuperCoppa title 1-0 - the traditional Serie A curtain-raiser - at the San Siro.

Speaking after that win, the Giallorossi coach Luciano Spalletti said that his team were the team to beat. "The wind has changed," he said. "Now Roma can go to the San Siro and be the number one team to beat this season."

Fabrizio Miccoli will make his debut in Palermo's attack alongside Amauri, who missed the second half of last season following a knee injury.

But there is also a new threat this season from the north, where Juventus are back and they will try to spoil the party with a win in their home game against Livorno on Saturday night.

The Old Lady return to the big time after being demoted to Serie B last season for their role in the Calciopoli saga.

They were also docked nine points but still stormed back to win by a comfortable six points as the entire build up to the 2006/07 campaign was marred by the ugly ordeal.

Now, under the leadership of Claudio Ranieri, the Turin giants are back were they belong and aim to make a big impression.

"It's not just us, there are at least another three or four teams that could get in the top four," said veteran midfielder Pavel Nedved. "It'll be a great competition and we'll have to give our best from the start and for the whole year, then we'll turn around and see how many points we were able to get.

"We better not think about any specific objectives, the Scudetto or any particular placing. We just need to think about taking all three points each Sunday."

The Bianconeri have had trouble with their new defence, and Domenico Criscito came back from Italy's Under-21 win over France this week with a muscle problem. That should leave the central defence to newly signed Jorge Andrade and Zdenek Grygera.

Livorno lost club icon Cristiano Lucarelli to Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer. They have replaced the top scorer with a new attack of Francesco Tavano and Diego Tristan.

Juve and Roma will both face a tough task in trying to topple the Milan teams.

Both have again invested heavily over the summer with Roberto Mancini bringing in Cristian Chivu and David Suazo as the Blue half's major signings, while the red half of Milan has seen the arrival of Alexandre Pato - a highly rated Brazilian - and Emerson.

Inter host Udinese in their opening game at the San Siro and Carlo Ancelotti's Milan face a trip to Serie A new-boys Genoa.

The Rossoneri will be without their fans though for the game. Authorities have barred them because of fears of violence after Genoa fan Vincenzo Spagnolo was stabbed to death during a brawl with Milan supporters outside the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in 1995. The clubs have not met since.

Former Milan forward Marco Borriello and ex-Parma striker Marco Di Vaio lead Genoa's attack.

Udinese will feature the likes of Italy forwards Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale, plus Ghana's Gyan Asamoah against the Serie A champions.

Elsewhere on the opening weekend, the third promoted team from last season, Napoli make a welcome return to the top-flight when they host Cagliari at the Stadio San Paolo. They will be counting on more input from new signing Ezequiel Lavezzi, who scored a hat trick for Napoli in the Coppa Italia last weekend.

Parma, who Ranieri saved from relegation last season, are at home to Catania, while Fiorentina will have to cope with the loss of Luca Toni when they host Empoli in a Tuscan derby. The Viola's new forward Christian Vieri is not likely to play, leaving the attack to Adrian Mutu and Gianpaolo Pazzini.

Likewise, Antonio Cassano probably won't be ready to make his Sampdoria debut against Siena.

Reggina host Atalanta at the Stadio Oreste Granillo while the Serie A season officially opens with last season's third-placed team Lazio - they entertain Torino on Saturday afternoon.

Viewers in the United Kingdom can watch the champions Inter open the new Serie A season on Sunday afternoon against Udinese live and exclusively. The action begins at 1330 on Channel Five. Viewers in the rest of the world should check local listings for further details.

Source: C4 Football Italia / UEFA / Reuters

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