Fiorentina this season, more than just a purple patch? (Page 1-‐3) Don’t judge his Inter reign, Rafa Benitez can succeed with Napoli (Page 4-‐7) Promoted to Serie A, an insight into the 3 teams (Page 8-‐11) A tribute to Walter Mazzarri (Page 12-‐17) Javier Zanetti -‐ The man, the footballer (Page 19-‐22) Marek Hamsik – La Bandiera di Napoli (Waving the flag for Napoli) Page 23-‐25 With Balotelli, Milan can challenge Juventus for the Scudetto (Page 26-‐28)
By Jack Beresford
A fourth place finish in Serie A under Vincenzo Montella was a step forward for the Viola but will it be undermined by the loss of Stevan Jovetic? As the final whistle blew on another season in the English Premier League, fans and journalists alike turned to the 21st century transfer gossip merry-‐go-‐round otherwise known as Twitter for the latest rumours. Social media has emerged as a driving force behind much of today’s football news, so when word got out of an impending announcement from Arsenal, the online chatter moved into overdrive. Rather than focusing the acquisition of the latest unheard of youngster from the lower reaches of France, the stories circulating focused on potential news of a different purchase: Stevan Jovetic.
The Gunners were linked with a 30 million euro swoop for the Montenegrin, with reports suggesting Chelsea were also interested in landing the star with Jovetic’s agent rumoured to be in London to finalise a deal. But a week on, and with no deal forthcoming, the 23-‐ year-‐old was then linked with a move to Juventus – another long-‐term admirer of the ex-‐Partizan Belgrade prodigy.
This latest twist had many a Viola fan fearing the worst – the loss of a key player to that most hated of national institutions, the Old Lady of Turin -‐ in a move that was all-‐ too-‐reminiscent of Roberto Baggio’s famous exit from Florence in 1990 for the Bianconeri. But while that move prompted rioting in and around Florence, fans of the Viola would be wise to hold off such uproar given the current footballing climate surrounding both the club and Serie A. After all, the club had just completed an impressive season marked by a return to the upper echelons of Serie A – albeit one that did not end with the reward of Champions League football next term. Indeed, the failure to land a place at Europe’s top table may one day be looked back on as a blessing in disguise, with manager Vincenzo Montella evidently keen to build steadily at the Artemio Franchi.
Early in May, when asked about a potential challenge to AC Milan for the aforementioned Champions League spot, the former Roma star remained focused on his primary goal. “Let us consolidate our place in the Europa League,” he told reporters. “After that we’ll then see about the rest.” In truth, it was a shrewd assessment from the ex-‐ Catania coach, who was brought in from the Sicilian side to steady the club following a year of turmoil under Sinisa Mihaljovic and then Delio Rossi – a manager who was sacked after attacking Viola midfielder Adem Ljajic. The Serbian attacker has emerged, as a key man under Montella is testament to his ability as a coach and motivator – with the new boss even bringing the best out of veteran striker Luca Toni, who came to the club from the Middle East and netted eight times from the bench.
With the focus on stability rather than over-‐extension, Fiorentina would be wise to look at the example set by fellow non-‐big four outsiders Napoli and focus on a Europa League assault and further developing a coherent attacking style of play before moving up a gear in the seasons to come. The likelihood is that Stevan Jovetic will depart Fiorentina this summer, but with the club getting a handsome sum for his departure, Montella can be trusted to use the money shrewdly – a quality he demonstrated in spades prior to this season’s kick-‐off. Aside from Toni, he has also recruited Premier League cast-‐offs Alberto Aquilani and Stefan Savic to good effect while relegated Villarreal were raided for defender Gonzalo Rodriguez and midfielder Borja Valero.
Emiliano Vivano arrived from Palermo on loan with Udinese also lending them highly rated Colombian full-‐back Juan Cuadrado. Bolstering the squad again this summer is evidently a priority with Fiorentina moving to bring in highly-‐rated Uruguayan midfielder Matias Vecino from Nacional and Ukrainian striker Oleksandr Yakovenko from Anderlecht. This unheard of pairing are likely to be only the start too, with former Spain and Malaga star Joaquin and defender Marcos Alonso heavily-‐linked with moves to the club alongside Galatasaray’s Buruk Yilmaz. And when it comes to replacing Jovetic, Montella may already be one step ahead with the purchase of Giuseppe Rossi earlier this year. Bought for ten million euros the American-‐born star is back playing after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in La Liga that kept him out for the best part of 18 months. “After a year and a half of suffering I have finally come back to play a game with the team,” he told Sky Italia. “It’s the end of a nightmare.”
Let’s hope it’s the beginning of dream partnership with Montella and the Viola.
It seems that Rafael Benitez can never catch a break, can he? After making a name for himself winning the Liga twice with Valencia (the last time a team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona won the league) as well as the UEFA Cup. Then he moved to Liverpool where he was given the thankless task of trying to bring Liverpool back into its glory days with owners that refused to give him any sort of serious budget with which he can legitimately challenge in the Premier League, though he was still able to win the FA Cup, Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup along with the Champion’s League in the most dramatic of fashions and even made it as high as a second-‐place finish, Liverpool’s highest in almost 20 years.
He then had the monumental task of taking a aging squad that had just won a historic treble under Real Madrid-‐bound Jose Mourinho with President Moratti refusing to bring in any reinforcements, and so could only must the Italian Super Cup and a Club World Cup before he was fired six months in. And this season he was hired as an interim manager by Chelsea and was constantly booed by a fan base that didn’t forgive or forget his strong ties to rivals Liverpool, despite the fact that he won the Europa League and was able to achieve third place in the Premier League after their disastrous start under Di Matteo. Rafa has had to constantly answer accusations of being too defensive while a closer look will show that his Liverpool team were among the top scorers in the Premier League, in fact finishing the highest in one year. Along with this, his teams always have had a strong defence leading Liverpool to be among the top every year in terms of least goals conceded.
Now he will come to Napoli where he will be left to build on the success of Inter-‐bound coach Walter Mazzarri. He will inherit a team that has an excellent starting line-‐up with Hugo Campagnaro, Marek Hamsik, and Edinson Cavani. His first task will be to convince star striker Edinson Cavani not to leave for greener pastures, or if he fails to do this, then use the 60 million-‐plus euros in his buyout clause to bring new faces and build a squad with more depth and strength. This Napoli team is not short of quality, they did after all finish in second place, win the Coppa Italia last year and were within one goal from defeating Chelsea and reaching the quarterfinals in the Champion’s League.
The only question would be what tactics and philosophy that Benitez would use and whether he would be sufficiently backed in the transfer window. He’s had his fair share of flops in the transfer market, something critics always use against him, but its actually unfair criticism considering the results. He brought in Dirk Kuyt who proved to be an admirable worker on the wing and a scorer of important goals, while it was he who brought in Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Lucas, and Fernando Torres. These all proved to be inspired purchases and most were sold for significant profit, with the exception of Kuyt. In fact Benitez allegedly asked Inter to sign Alexis Sanchez on the cheap, one year before he was sold for more than 30 million to Barcelona.
He also got it tactically wrong at Inter, but some blame can be laid at the feet of the players who were disinterested in fighting for the coach after the loss of Jose Mourinho. He attempted to turn the team from a counterattacking one into one that held possession. These all backfired on him later and he will be getting a Napoli team that is also similarly built on a counterattack. The most significant change that is most likely to be brought with Benitez is the move away from the three-‐man defence that Mazzarri was famous for. Benitez wanted a project, and in Napoli he certainly has a project that already possesses many key pieces and requires only some tinkering and that coach to bring them to that next level. So long as the team and the owner back him, Benitez can be that man.
This past season it was Sampdoria, Pescara, and Torino. Sampdoria and Torino succeeded in sustaining top flight Italian football. Sadly enough for Pescara, they will return to Serie B, and reload for another run at the top. This year, there are three new challengers for a lasting spot in the Serie A; Sassuolo, Hellas Verona, and Livorno, have bested the rest of the second division and are ready for a shot to prove they have what it takes to remain in the Serie A. Question is, who are these teams? Where are they from? And finally, do they have what it takes to keep their place?
U.S. Sassuolo Calcio Founded: 1922 Colours: Black and Green Located: Province of Modena in the Emilia-‐Romagna Region (Location of Parma, Bologna, Cesena, and Modena) Stadium: Modena's Stadio Alberto Braglia Scudetti: 0 Owner: Giorgio Squinzi Coach: Eusebio Di Francesco Top Players: Domenico Berardi, Richmond Bokaye, Yussif Chibsah
Hailing from the Emilia-‐Romagna region, Sassuolo Calcio has a long history of floundering in the lower leagues of Calcio, however a breakout season has seen them top Serie B and earn them their first ever promotion to the Serie A in squad history. They did so playing an exciting brand of attacking football, very much in vogue throughout the peninsula. While this does not guarantee success in the top flight, there are signs that certainly point towards at least maintaining their spot. Unlike Pescara last year, Sassuolo look set to keep the core of the squad together. Berardi, joint leading scorer with 11 goals, will either remain a Sassuolo player, or stay on for at least one more year if he is sold. Meanwhile, Juventus and Genoa have already entered negotiations to renew their co-‐ownership of Boakye (also 11 goals) which would see him stay at the club for at least another season. Ultimately, I see this side finishing somewhere between the 16th and 19th spots. While they were a force to be reckoned with in the first half of the season, they dwindled in the second half and captured the league largely in thanks to their massive lead. Depending on which side shows up, and how quickly they adapt, they could perform like Torino of this past season, or plummet like Pescara.
Hellas Verona Founded: 1903 Colours: Yellow and Blue Located: Province of Verona in the Veneto Region (Home to Chievo Verona, Vicenza Calcio, Calcio Padova, and Treviso) Stadium: Stadio Marc' Antonio Bentegodi Scudetti: 1 President: Maurizio Setti Coach: Andrea Mandorlini Top Players: Daniele Cacia, Jorginho, Domenico Maietta
Verona, one of the bigger clubs which spent this past year in the Serie B has earned a long awaited return to the Serie A following their relegation in 2002. They, alongside Sassuolo, did so with ease finishing on 82 points. However, unlike Sassuolo, this is a club with a history of Serie A success, and should have a much larger fan base behind them (playing in a bigger stadio will undoubtedly help as well). Ever since signing Mandorlini on as coach, the team has been on the up and up, going from Serie C (now Serie Lega Pro) in 2010-‐ 2011 to Serie A promotion by the end of the 2012-‐2013 season. Another bonus could be the possible addition of one Luca Toni, who has been heard to say that he would be open to signing for the team seeing how his time in Florence has come to a close. While Toni is old, he would add much desired top flight experience, and be an excellent tutor to younger players, namely Serie B Capocannoniere Daniele Cacia. If they can hold onto Cacia, as well as young midfield sensation Jorginho who has been linked with Milan, they will at the least have a good competitive core. As with all things it is far too early to tell; however, be that as it may, don't be surprised to see Hellas Verona experience moderate success and finish outside the relegation zone.
AS Livorno Calcio Founded: 1915 Colours: Dark Red or Maroon and White Located: Province of Livorno in the Region of Toscana (Tuscany) Stadium: Stadio Armando Picchi Scudetti: 0 Chairman: Aldo Spinelli Coach: Davide Nicola Top Players: Paulinho, Federico Dionisi, Luca Belingheri
Founded in 1915, Livorno are another squad who have spent much time in the lower levels of calcio, and because of this have no scudetti to their name. A short stint in Serie A during the mid-‐ 2000s would not change this, and they would find themselves quickly back down in Serie B. After finishing 3rd this past year, and much closer to the top 2 sides than the those in the 4-‐6 positions, Livorno were sad to see they had to go through the promotion playoffs. After dispatching Novara, they had the tough task of beating Empoli who had been playing very well of late. This however posed no problem for the Tuscan club as they won 2-‐1 on aggregate earning the final top flight spot they had battled for. The team did not lack for goals, as forward Paulinho led the side with 20, but recieved help from Dionisi, Belingheri, and Siligardi who all contributed 14. Belingheri also proved to be the creative force in midfield that powered the forward line of Paulinho, Dionisi, and Siligardi. The thing that may hurt this team however, is the number of starters that were loaned players from other clubs, and the fact that Paulinho has been consistently linked with a move away from the club. Again, while everything is still up for grabs next season, do not be surprised to see Livorno's glory short lived.
By Anthony Cooper
By Richard Postin
As the Serie A manager merry-‐go-‐round kicks into action, one of the more successful managers Walter Mazzarri has called time on his spell in charge of Napoli. He leaves the club in a strong position. They have the strongest attack in the land and have proven to be the only consistent challengers to Antonio Conte’s Juventus over the past two years, indeed overcoming them to lift the Coppa Italia last year. Following on from his success at Reggina and Sampdoria, Mazzarri was appointed Napoli manager in 2009 in what was to be his biggest challenge to date. Indeed managing the expectations of the notoriously passionate Partenopei fans can be a daunting task in itself! Mazzarri inherited a mid-‐table side that were still settling into Serie A following their return from the lower divisions. Mazarri transformed the clubs fortunes with immediate effect, leading them to a sixth place finish and qualification for Europe in the process.
Although he inherited a side which already had the talents of Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi, it was the addition of Edinson Cavani in his second year in charge which really pushed Napoli forwards. Although Cavani had done well at Palermo it was only at Napoli, where Mazzarri had both the faith and judgement to play him centrally, that he became one of the world’s most feared forwards.
By playing Cavani centrally alongside Lavezzi and Hamisk, Mazzarri harnessed the talents of all three as they combined superbly to become one of the most successful trios in modern football and a threat to any defence. The on-‐field relationship of this triumvirate was second to none, as time and time again they would break from defence with breathtaking speed, quick incisive passing and, in the form of Cavani, deadly accuracy in front of goal. Mazzarri deserves much credit as not only did he provide the right settings for this attacking football to flow but he also got the most out of these players defensively too. Indeed it is hard to imagine an attacking trio of talents who have worked so hard for the cause!
Mazzarri’s reign saw consistent progress as the league position improved year on year bar one, when they tasted Champions League football. And to bring Champions League football to Napoli for the first time since their rebirth and just five years after their spell in Serie C was a stunning achievement and something all Neapolitans took to their hearts! The players likewise as they put in performances of the highest quality against the best in Europe.
This culminated with the decisive victory over multi-‐billionaires Manchester City to all but seal qualification from the group stage. They put in another incredible performance to defeat Chelsea at the Stadio San Paolo (accordingly nicknamed ‘Dante’s inferno with an athletics track’ by the English press) before bowing out to the eventual champions.
Mazzarri leaves a side which will once again face Champions League football, but arguably his finest achievement was in returning silverware to the club’s cabinet. Under Mazzarri’s stewardship Napoli lifted the Coppa Italia for just the fourth time in their history, and brought silverware back to the city for the first time since the days of their God: Diego Maradona. Inconsistent performances against the best sides in the league are the one black spot against Mazzarri and were the reason Napoli failed to push Juventus to the wire this past season. Yet further marking this cup final success out, was that the fact that it came against bitter rivals Juventus. The Bianconeri had gone the season undefeated but were finally put to the sword by a Napoli side rising to the occasion to send their supporters into delirium and confirm Mazzarri’s reign as a success!
This cup victory turned out to be the final match in Lavezzi’s Napoli career prompting the break-‐up of the famous triumvirate, and giving Mazzarri a new dilemma. The natural replacement for Lavezzi, Goran Pandev, struggled to fill the gap on a consistent basis so Mazzarri gave youth a chance in the form of Neapolitan youth product Lorenzo Insigne who has since became an important part of the team. Indeed, in the absence of Lavezzi, Mazzarri arguably created a more rounded team capable of producing goals from all over the pitch. Whereas in the 2011-‐12 season just four players went over the 4 goal mark (the famous triumvirate plus Pandev), a total of seven players topped this haul this season. Another player to benefit from this departure was Marek Hamsik. Mazzarri shuffled his position closer to the attack where he could have a greater influence in the attacking third and, with the increase of threats coming from all over pitch, Hamsik’s vision and passing ability was maximised as he became the highest assist provider in the league. Here Mazzarri demonstrated his tactical nous to overcome the loss of such a key player in Lavezzi, and the new Napoli manager will need to show the same adaptability if, as the speculation suggests, Cavani also leaves.
It also seems that Mazzarri’s tactical legacy will be continued in Serie A in the form of the 3-‐5-‐2 system which he has helped bring back to prominence. He has controversially stated that Antonio Conte’s two Scudetti as Juventus manager have only come about due to the adoption of his formation. Of course it is undeniable that a major factor behind Conte’s thinking was to accommodate space for Andrea Pirlo in a 3 man midfield. Yet it also without question that Napoli’s 3-‐ 5-‐2 formation caused all sorts of problems for Juventus, and it was only by copying this shape themselves that Juventus were able to stifle Napoli. This success promptly resulted in them adopting this tactic permanently, which has consequently led to Conte’s two Scudetti. This gives some credence to Mazzarri’s statement and certainly to his tactical ability.
Many will question Mazzarri’s motives for moving on at this stage but upon leaving he outlined his belief, based on Fabio Capello’s assertion, that it is not possible to last more than four or five years as a coach at an Italian club. And certainly when you look at the recent history of Calcio this would seem to be the case. The most successful managerial reigns have not lasted more than five years, with the likes of Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli all leaving their respective posts after such a period. Even Marcello Lippi who seemed to symbolize Juventus in the late 90’s and early 2000’s did not stay at the club for longer than five years at any one time, as his time there was split into two periods. Only Carlo Ancelotti as Milan manager has outlasted the five year cycle as he almost became a permanent feature of an Italian managerial bench, lasting a mighty eight years. However this too can be considered an anomaly, as his reign was built on his reputation for bringing success in European competition. Carlo also had the added bonus of being one of the most popular and patient men in football, something which helps when you have Silvio Berlusconi as a boss! Nonetheless one Scudetto in eight years is probably not the success rate you would expect from Milan domestically, and you could not imagine Massimiliano Allegri being afforded the same time. Mazzarri has thus followed this Italian trend, believing that he would no longer have been able to inspire the same levels of motivation in his players. Many will query this line of thought but what cannot be in doubt, however, is that Mazzarri’s four year spell was a resounding triumph. His new club Inter will thus have high hopes, whilst he also leaves some pretty big shoes to fill at Napoli. 17
– A tribute to the man, the footballer When Javier Zanetti was carried off in Sicily just 14 minutes into his 1101th game not many, if any would have given a chance to the 39 year old of making a comeback from a ruptured Achilles tendon. However, such is the will of the man and the love for the game that he wants to come back even stronger and play on for another year, at least.
Not many would have predicted the success that Zanetti has had when aged just 15 he was rejected by Independiente, for being too small to make it as a professional footballer. However he did and that too after spending his days delivering milk and laying bricks with his father and playing in shoes that his father had sewed for him.
Once he had found his first professional it was only going to matter of time before he made his mark in Argentina, as well as on the world stage. It only took him a year to progress from the second division to the first division. One instinctively knew that much better things lay ahead of him. In his 20+ years playing for Talleres, Banfield and Internazionale not only has he done great, he has been an epitome for every professional in all respects. Zanetti holds the record for the highest number of appearances for a Nerazzurri player after overtaking former club captain Giuseppe Bergomi and is only second only to Paolo Maldini terms of all time appearances in Serie A. Although primarily a right back Zanetti has played as a played at left back, center back, central midfield, central defensive midfield, left wing and right wing for the Milanese club and never has he shirked any responsibilities. This shows that the man has not only been on top of his game but has been tenacious and determined enough to do well wherever he has been deployed. Â
A lot of things have changed at the Biscione over the last 18 years including the 18 managers that have come and gone but one thing has remained the same if not gotten better than before; ever since the Club president made Zanetti his first ever signing at Inter Milan, he has been a rock for the La Beneamata in good and some turbulent times. He has played in more than 90% (845 out of 938) of the games that the club has been involved in. In fact from October 2006 to April 2010 he made 137 consecutive appearances for the club and there has not been a season in which Zanetti has played less than 34 games. As a player for Internazionale he as won everything as part of his 16 trophies at Inter (which includes the complete set of UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, Italian Super Cup and the Serie A titles). 15 out of 16 trophies that Zanetti has won have come under his captaincy which he took over in 1999; he is the only non-Italian to be the captain of a Serie A Side. The reasons behind his success are simple, i.e. training as hard as possible and practicing every day of the week with same intensity and purpose, prime example of his dedication is when he turned up for Argentina's training camp for international duty on the morning of his wedding!
Another testament to Zanetti’s abilities is his inclusion in Pelé’s ‘FIFA 100’ list of the game’s greatest living footballers.
Away from the football pitch Zanetti is a thorough family man and a devoted catholic. He along with his contemporaries is a FIFA ambassador and focuses on a venture called SOS Children’s Villages in Argentina. Zanetti along with his wife Paula have created Fundacion PUPI to help malnourished children by taking care of their food needs; providing educational opportunities and along with his team mate Esteban Cambiasso has started a charity called Leoni di Potrero, to assist young children with mental disabilities and social isolation problems. Mark of a person who is giving back to the society from which he has gotten so much love and adulation. One will struggle to find a person who has anything bad to say about Javier Zanetti or criticize him for his actions on or off the pitch. That is the kind of fine example that he has set for all the budding footballers and indeed human beings. If it is to be the end of a glittering career than I will be the first to admit that these have been 3 marvelous decades watching Zanetti. Being a fan first I hope that “El Tractor”, makes a full recovery and does a few more miles.
By Richard Postin
Marek Hamsik is coming off his best ever season at Napoli as he asserts himself as one of, if not the, best midfielders in the league. Certainly if we take assists into account he comes out on top. At the same time he has also maintained his formidable goal scoring pedigree which sees him stand out as the only midfielder in Serie A to have entered double figures six years running. Many questions were being asked at the start of the season regarding how Napoli would overcome the loss of Ezequiel Lavezzi, who along with Hamsik and Edinson Cavani, was one of the ‘three tenors’ who had tormented Italian defences over recent years. Napoli altered their style of play slightly whilst others came in to the side to take on a greater role, none more so than Hamsik.
Despite his decisiveness in previous seasons he was often on the periphery of play, whereas this season he has become much more of a focal point. He has still maintained his impressive goal scoring record but is now in a position to create more opportunities, from which numerous teammates have benefited this season.
Becoming such a focal point has also had a hugely positive influence on him and he has taken this responsibility on his shoulders to lead by example. Indeed, when Paolo Cannavaro has been absent, he has more than stepped up to the role of captain. He is a man who understands the passion of Neapolitan life and is completely devoted to the Azzurri shirt. In contrast to the highly sought after Lavezzi (who has departed) and Cavani (who looks set to depart) there has been little speculation regarding his long term future. This owes absolutely nothing to a lack of talent, but is due to the fact that Hamsik sees himself remaining at Napoli for the rest of his career. Even his agent Mino Raiola has indicated that he will be there for life. And this coming from Super Agent Raiola is significant in itself, because here is a man who specialises in moving his clients on as often as possible. But he too has had to accept that this will not be the case with Hamsik, who wishes to create a legacy at the club.
Of course there is no doubting that Cavani too, a world class forward in his own right, is a vital player for Napoli. And in many respects, especially considering Napoli’s finances, he is irreplaceable. Yet I cannot help but feel that Hamsik, who has truly embedded himself into the team’s style, would be harder to replace. Indeed there are not many goal scoring midfielders who are also capable of contributing 10+ assists every year. Again it should be noted that replacing Cavani’s 29 goals would be no easy challenge, but if they could find a forward who could tuck away penalties that would be no bad place to start (Cavani missed a total of 5 penalties this season). We are in for an interesting summer of speculation, wild rumours and last minute transfers, but one thing we can be sure of is that come the start of the new season Marek Hamsik will be dressed in the famous blue of Napoli. And he will once again being leading from the front in search of a first Scudetto, as he establishes himself as a true symbol of this new Napoli.
With Balotelli, Milan can challenge Juventus in Serie A Such has been Juventus’s domination of Serie A since the hiring of former captain Antonio Conte that it was hard to remember that it was only two years ago that Juventus had done back-‐to-‐back 7th place finishes in the table along with a long list of expensive flops such as Diego and Amauri. In fact last year, Milan had stormed to the Serie A title so emphatically on the back of Zlatan Ibrahimovic that most predicted that they would do so again the following year, but were bested by an unbeaten Juventus, although they did hold a four point margin over the Turin side with just a few games left to go.
Then last summer Milan sold top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, more significantly, the world’s best defender in Thiago Silva in a double transfer to Paris Saint-‐Germain. Pundits from all over felt that such a loss would mean that Milan would no longer challenge for honors and it appeared in the beginning that this was true as they were unable to win six of their first eight matches in Serie A. However the astronomical rise and maturation of Stephan El Shaarawy, who scored several game-‐winning goals and appeared to carry Milan on his young shoulders, brought Milan back up the table as they became on of Serie A’s in-‐form teams, although their disastrous start meant they were never truly able to challenge for the title.
The in January Milan moved on homesick Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli who starred for Italy in the Euros, including a match-‐ winning performance against Germany in the semi-‐finals. Against Udinese, Balotelli was a last-‐minute introduction to the starting line-‐ up since he was not match fit just yet, but he scored two goals to give them a 2-‐1 win. He the proceeded to score 11 goals in his next 11 games and ended the season with 12 goals in 13 appearances with Milan achieving third place, and Champion’s League qualification, on the last day of the season. And although Juventus seemed to have won Serie A easily once again, a closer look at the last two years will tell you that their domination was merely a perception given their unbeaten campaign last year and lofty status as Italy’s historically most successful side. Let us not forget that in the 2011-‐12 Serie A campaign, that Juventus experienced dreadful finishing abilities with a seemingly endless run of draws allowing Milan to take the lead by as much as four point with a few rounds left, before Juventus were able to somehow win it in the end.
Then they barely reinforced their striker department last summer and suffered for it as they lost to Inter and twice to Sampdoria. Actually early on in the year it appeared that Inter or Lazio would challenge, only for Inter to come crashing down to earth after that historic win, while Lazio’s small team was stretched with obligations in Europe. With their second title in a row there is talk of a dynasty, but such dreams will not be so easily achievable. With Balotelli spearheading a dynamic young strikeforce that has El Shaarawy and M’Baye Niang, and his excellent finishing ability, Milan will just need to work on enforcing a defense that has not fully recovered from the loss of Thiago Silva so that they will be able to challenge for honors in Europe as well. It should not be forgotten that Milan almost defeated Barcelona over two legs, but were criminally exposed in the away tie. However with a stronger defense to and the strong, young shoulders of Balotelli leading the way, Juventus may have already lived their glory days and will seriously need to step up their game to win again.
By Mahmoud Ghellai