Devils without a cause
By David Mosse
European clubs are not in the habit of refunding season-ticket holders, but AC Milan acknowledged the possibility of doing so at one point this summer after an absurd transfer campaign, and the 1-0 opening loss to Sampdoria at the San Siro will do little to improve the mood of the fans.
Indeed, the Rossoneri could be heading for one of the worst seasons in the Silvio Berlusconi era, with the squad’s lack of quality in full evidence on Sunday. A second-half header from Mario Yepes minutes after Andrea Costa had given the Blucerchiati the lead represented the only clear-cut opportunity for the hosts until stoppage time when Milan finally piled on the pressure in a desperate attempt to salvage a point.
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s deflected shot hit the woodwork, and Mathieu Flamini had his finish cleared off the line right before the final whistle, as Ciro Ferrara’s newly-promoted side celebrated what could be the first of many “shocking” results at the San Siro, particularly if Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani remain steadfast in their refusal to spend any money before the market closes.
The Rossoneri are even unwilling to pony up the cash for Kaka whose return doesn’t make all that much sense, but most Milan fans would probably accept at this point as an alternative to doing nothing. Alexandre Pato’s inability to stay healthy and Robinho’s maddening inconsistency mean goals will be hard to come by, while the back line no longer boasts the commanding presence of Thiago Silva.
At least Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be starring many miles away in the French capital, but watching Antonio Cassano shine for Inter might prove too much for Rossoneri supporters still coping with Andrea Pirlo’s rebirth at Juventus. Cassano made a winning start to life with his new club, providing an assist for Diego Milito in the 3-0 victory at newly promoted Pescara on Sunday.
The Nerazzurri have seemingly drawn strength from the problems of their crosstown rivals, and feature a budding star on the bench in Andrea Stramaccioni. With Wesley Sneijder determined to put last season’s fitness problems behind him and Milito looking like an early Capocannoniere favorite, Inter-Milan should present the stiffest challenge to Juventus.
Both Sneijder and Milito found the back of the net against the Biancazzurri, while Philippe Coutinho added the third, providing further evidence that Inter received a different player back from Espanyol than the one they loaned out. Samir Handanovic missed the opener due to injury, but his arrival should amount to a massive upgrade over the Julio Cesar of the past couple of seasons, while Walter Gargano and Rodrigo Palacio were both solid summer additions.
Juventus does remain the team to beat in Serie A, and the Old Lady also represents Italy’s best hope for any Champions League success this season. Newcomer Kwadwo Asamoah showed off his strength with a powerful run down the left flank to set up Stephan Lichtsteiner’s opener in Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Parma, while Andrea Pirlo, sporting a beard for the new campaign, benefited from the first of what promises to be many curious refereeing decisions in a league incapable of escaping controversy.
The introduction of goal-line referees in every Serie A match was meant to signal progress, but Gialloblu supporters will feel differently after the decision to award Pirlo a goal for his free kick early in the second half. Numerous replays failed to prove conclusively whether the shot crossed the line, and the involvement of Juventus only serves to heighten the tension throughout the country.
But the trump card for Juventus is still a rock-solid back line, even with Giorgio Chiellini struggling to shake off the muscular problems that dogged him in the late stages of Euro2012, and Lucio beginning the campaign on the sidelines with torn ligaments in his ankle.
Sebastian Giovinco returns from a sensational season on loan with Parma to add more sizzle to the attack, while the acquisitions of Asamoah and Mauricio Isla bring much-needed depth to the midfield. The big question is whether technical director Massimo Carrera can prove an effective matchday stand-in for Antonio Conte, restricted to watching games from the stands for the next 10 months as punishment for failing to report two incidents of match-fixing in his time at Siena.
Elsewhere on opening weekend, Udinese paid the price for its midweek exertions with a 2-1 defeat at Fiorentina. Brazilian midfielder Maicosuel did find the back of the net in his Serie A debut, but Francesco Guidolin’s back line was unable to cope with Stevan Jovetic who scored both goals for the hosts.
Zdenek Zeman’s second spell in charge of Roma began in thrilling fashion with a 2-2 home draw against Catania, as Pablo Osvaldo and 18-year old Uruguayan striker Nico Lopez supplied probably the two best goals of the weekend for the Giallorossi. Roma already trails Lazio in the standings, however, as the Biancocelesti picked up a 1-0 victory over Atalanta with Hernanes bagging the winner.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Napoli was criticized in many quarters for a transfer campaign that included shipping out two key players from recent seasons in Ezequiel Lavezzi and Walter Gargano, but Walter Mazarri’s side made an impressive start to the campaign with a 3-0 demolition of Palermo at the Renzo Barbera Stadium. And the scoreline should have been worse with Edinson Cavani producing an incredible first-half miss.
*Miroslav Klose failed to find the back of the net in Lazio’s 1-0 win over Atlanta, but the veteran German striker lasted all 90 minutes, which is certainly positive news. Klose missed 11 games last season, and needs to maintain his form over the next couple of years in order to secure a place in Germany’s 2014 squad and have a chance of eclipsing Ronaldo’s World Cup scoring record.
*Genoa played the first match in front of its home crowd since the bizarre incident last April when fans stormed the pitch during a 4-1 defeat to Siena and demanded the players hand over their jerseys as they were unfit to wear them. The scenes were much calmer this time around, as the Grifone picked up a 2-0 victory over Cagliari with Alexander Merkel and Ciro Immobile supplying the goals.