Friday, August 31, 2007

Draws, draws everywhere

The magic urns have been out in force and, on the Champions League front anyway, they proved quite benign for Italian teams - on paper at least.

As a third seed, Lazio were always likely to face a tricky group but their fate in Group C is acceptable. Real Madrid could be anything under new management but it will be against Werder Bremen and Olympiakos that their qualification chances will be decided. I think Delio Rossi would have settled for that after the heroics in the preliminary round.

For Roma, it is a chance for revenge or, at least, to set the record straight at Old Trafford. This time around though, just points at stake so even a 7-1 hammering would not compromise their progress in a group with Manchester United. Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kiev are two big names but whether they are up to past glories remains to be seen.

It is the same again for Milan as they land Celtic once more along with Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk. It sets up the intriguing prospect of Cristiano Lucarelli and Massimo Donati coming back to Italy to show Serie A what it is missing. The Rossoneri must fancy their qualification chances although all their opponents will be particulary tough on their home grounds.

Finally, the fates smiled most kindly on Inter. They really have no excuses if they don't progress against PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce. Mind you, how many times have I said that before?

The UEFA Cup draw saw Fiorentina land Dutch side Groningen (certainly not the easiest team in their respective pot), Empoli make the short trip across the border to Zurich, Samp play the snappily named AaB of Denmark (I think) and Palermo land the exotic sounding Mlada Boleslav. On first impression, Empoli may have the toughest time but it is good to have four teams in there all with outstanding chances of getting to the ridiculous group stages.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Can I kick it?

I meant to post this earlier in the week but forgot all about it. There has been a lot of pompous stuff written about how it is a bad example to fans, etc, when we are trying to address violence in stadiums.

That may be true but, what they all seem to have ignored, is just how funny it is!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A stirring start

We kept harping on about how good Serie A was going to be with the big boys back but there was always a nagging doubt. On the evidence of week one's games, we needn't have worried.

First up was Lazio v Torino which was made the more interesting by Torino going ahead through a delightful Rosina chip and Lazio's defence being in a state of emergency. Still, we were treated to a decent match with the usual Pandev and Rocchi goals for the Laziali before the very interesting Vailatti grabbed an equaliser.

Then up stepped the Vecchia Signora to demolish Livorno. The result was maybe a bit harsh on the Tuscans (5-1) but nobody was going to deny the Bianconeri on their return. With Trezeguet grabbing three and Iaquinta a couple there was plenty for the home fans to cheer.

On Sunday, I watched Fiorentina huff and puff for a half before finally knocking down stuffy Empoli while Julio Cesar was committing hari-kari for Inter and getting sent off to let Udinese snatch a draw late in the game. By that stage, Milan had already slapped three past Genoa to ensure a strong start to the campaign for them. Elsewhere, important away wins for Cagliari and Sampdoria caught the eye.

The night game was probably the best of the lot. Roma went to Sicily and put on a scintillating show for the first 45 minutes. They were 2-0 up but could have been further clear. Then Palermo swapped things about and came out all guns blazing. They were unlucky not to get at least one goal but the Giallorossi stood firm. It was a fine way to end my first weekend back on Serie A watch - may they all be this entertaining.

The best thing of all, to my mind, was that young Italian players were among the stand-outs. First Alessandro Rosina scored a lovely lob for Torino, then Riccardo Montolivo outdid him for Fiorentina and finally Alberto Aquilani scored a screamer against Palermo. All in all, the future looks good for the Azzurri.

Friday, August 24, 2007

We are off!

Well, after all the anticipation we can finally get under way this weekend. Across Saturday and Sunday two nicely-packed days of ten cracking games. Channel 5 kicks off its coverage with Inter v Udinese on Sunday afternoon but Palermo v Roma on Sunday night is probably the standout fixture.

Plenty of other interest with Juve v Livorno, a Tuscan derby and Genoa v Milan (sad that the death of a fan so many years ago means no Rossoneri will be allowed into the game). As always, full reaction here as soon as I can.

A brief final preview on the teams not already studied.

Udinese: I like the Quagliarella signing and after under-achieving last year they could come back with a bang. Rinaldi's forecast: 6th.

Palermo: I would hope they can build on their great start to the previous campaign but I fear their batty president will not allow it. Rinaldi's forecast: 8th.

Sampdoria: They may well confound me as I drew up my predictions before they signed Cassano but I will stick to my guns. Rinaldi's forecast: 9th.

Torino: Really the Granata should be top half of the table easily but their signings don't impress me much. Rinaldi's forecast: 12th.

Atalanta: I don't believe they will scale the heights of last season, however I would be happy to be proved wrong. Rinaldi's forecast: 13th.

Parma: They could be an exciting, young revelation but it will be hard work for them. Rinaldi's forecast: 14th.

Catania: It was sad the way the whole violence issue overshadowed their great start to last season. Still, it looks like more hard graft this term. Rinaldi's forecast: 17th.

Cagliari: Sunk without Suazo. Rinaldi's forecast: 18th.

Siena: Trouble in Tuscany. Rinaldi's forecast: 19th.

Reggina: No escape this time. Rinaldi's forecast: 20th.

* Supporters of all teams please note, I am notoriously useless at predicting anything...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

That's the look...

Ok, we know not to get worried about Italy's first friendly of the season by now. The lack of motivation and preparation mean we never play well. Think Lippi against Iceland and the likes.

Just the same, there was some reason to be concerned about the display against Hungary on Wednesday night and not just the 3-1 scoreline. And I am not talking about the way some of our big name players performed.

I have tried to illustrate the problem (left) but I don't know if I have done it justice. It is not Donadoni himself but the look on his face for much of the second half. Understandably he was filled with despair but - surely - he should not transmit it to his players.

I don't think you would ever see Lippi, Capello, Ferguson or Mourinho looking so downhearted on the bench. Inside, yes, they might be dying but on the outside they would look cool and collected. Or, possibly, they would have the kind of grimace which says: "wait until I get you shower back in the dressing room!"

Instead, Donadoni looked lost, his eyes glazed over and just hoping to avoid a heavier defeat. I am not of the "Dona must go" gang but he does need to turn things around quickly to avoid embarrassment against France in a couple of weeks time...


Elsewhere, my personal countdown to the Serie A season continues with a look at the Roman and Milanese sides.

Inter: Although the pre-season signals have not been at all impressive (Man Utd game apart) I still think they set the standards to beat. The addition of Suazo gives them the power and pace Adriano was supposed to. It will take another year for the advantage they got out of Calciopoli to fully unwind. Rinaldi's forecast: 1st.

Milan: They have been quiet on the transfer market but the addition of Pato (later this year) was an eye-catching one. They also have a squad which continues to improve with age. I expect a big season from Gourcuff and, possibly, Ronaldo now that they have isolated his "tubby gland". Still, I reckon they might miss out on the top prize. Rinaldi's forecast: 2nd.

Roma: Last season they fizzled out trying to fight on both fronts but, despite the loss of Chivu, they look better this season. New boy Ludovic Giuly is perfect for their game and if they have signed Cicinho that plugs another gap in the squad. I would like to think they could make a serious Scudetto challenge but it is always hard against the boys from the north. Rinaldi's forecast: 3rd.

Lazio: I believe they over-achieved last season and have not strengthened significantly during the summer. There is no doubt Delio Rossi is brilliant at getting the best out of the resources at his disposal but - if they get through - the demands of Champions League and Serie A may be too much. Rinaldi's forecast: 7th.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

First blood to Roma

In the first "big match" of the new season, Roma won the Supercup against Inter thanks to a Daniele De Rossi penalty (yes, you read right, Totti did not take it). And the Giallorossi were well worth their win.

Roma took the game to Inter from the start with little Ludovic Giuly fitting into their style of play perfectly. Even Mirko Vucinic looked pretty lively, giving Burdisso a very hard time - so much so he was swapped flanks with Cordoba. Still, for all their exciting play, Spalletti's men could not take the lead and you always felt Inter might be more clinical if they got a chance.

As the game wore on, Inter came into it a bit but never with the power of reigning champs. Too many of their key players (Stankovic, Vieira and the likes) looked a bit short of match-sharpness. You couldn't say that of Marco Materazzi who was, by far, their man of the match.

Just when it looked like extra time might be on the cards, Totti duped the hapless Burdisso into sticking out a leg and got a penalty. De Rossi thumped it home with Julio Cesar getting close to it but not close enough. That strike with about 12 minutes to go was enough to give Roma a deserved win.

Two points to be made. Firstly, the Giallorossi must get more deadly in front of goal or they risk falling into the trap of last season - thrilling build-up but not enough punch. Inter, for their part, must be worried at how comprehensively they were outplayed at times. There looks to be a lot of fitness work to be done with just a week to go before their title defence begins.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Countdown to the new season - Part Two

Tuscany has never had it so good with four teams in Serie A again this season. They all have different hopes and expectations, having pretty much flourished last term. Here is my forecast for what lies in store. Remember, just over a week to go now!

Siena: It was a long, hard battle last season to survive by the skin of their teeth. I fear, however, that this time around the competition looks too strong. I like the strike force of Maccarone and Chiesa but I believe the support behind them may not be enough. I think the dreams of the Palio town are over. Rinaldi's forecast: 19th.

Livorno: A real surprise package of recent times, I believe the bubble will burst this season. The loss of Lucarelli is a big one both in terms of goals and influence. And, ultimately, the volatile nature of their president must take its toll. Hopefully the Tavano/Tristan partnership can gel nicely but, if not, their drop could be rapid. Rinaldi's forecast: 16th.

Empoli: They have already over-achieved by getting into European competition and that might be a hard burden to take. Just the same, they have shown in recent times they know how to get the best out of their resources. Maybe not the revelation of last year but still solid. Rinaldi's forecast: 10th.

Fiorentina: There are a lot of unknowns making the Viola hard to judge. On the one hand, their form of recent seasons suggests a top four finish but, on the other, they have lost Luca Toni. That puts extra pressure on Adrian Mutu and Giampaolo Pazzini - not to mention Bobo Vieri. Still, the rest of the team remains intact with a few interesting young additions. I think they might go close to the Champions League placings but not quite make it. Rinaldi's forecast: 5th.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Il calcio che conta...

Two pieces of good news. First of all, meaningful football returns tonight as far as Italian teams are concerned with Lazio seeking progress in the Champions League. Kind-hearted Phillipe Mexes has done his bit for capital relations by saying something along the lines of "I hope they go out!". Personally, I think it will be tough for Delio Rossi's men - I see them weaker than last season - but I hope they can sneak through.

The second piece of good news is Antonio Cassano's return to Italy - namely Sampdoria. I admit I am surprised at the club but it is great to have him back in Serie A. If they can handle his temperamental talent he could make them at least UEFA Cup contenders. If not, he will at least give us some exciting headlines when he stomps off the training ground ... again.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Countdown to the new season - Part One

With just a couple of weeks until the Serie A action starts I thought I would take a look at the season ahead and the prospects of Italy's 20 finest teams. To get the ball rolling, I have cast my eye over the newly-promoted sides. Normally, they would be expected to have a fight on their hands but when you consider the names involved, they could all make a major impact.

Juventus - The old enemy is back - bloodied but unbowed. The rump of the team which was punished for Calciopoli remains but is, of course, a couple of years older. So, Del P, Trez, Buffon, Nedved and Camo should be solid enough. Early signs are, however, that the squad is not going to be of sufficient quality to make a scrap for the Scudetto. I like the look of the Almiron-Tiago partnership in midfield but it will surely take time to bed down. And, despite signing Iaquinta, I hope they give a bit of space to Palladino - one of our best young talents. I don't like Salihamidzic - I think he is a dirty wee player - so I hope he is used sparingly, if at all. Rinaldi's forecast: 4th place.

Napoli - I admit it, I am worried for the boys from the San Paolo. From what I have seen they look ill-equipped to cope with the leap forward. Their President has promised three more signings and that is the very least they could do with. At least they can count on their great home support which should be worth a few points. However, I have a feeling that Cannavaro junior might be a busy many sorting out the defence. Shame they couldn't get their hands on Cassano, he would have been a great fit for the club and city. Rinaldi's forecast: 15th place.

Genoa - The argument above for the Napoletani probably holds true for the Grifone. However, I think they have made some more eye-catching signings. Cesare Bovo, Matteo Paro and Marco Borriello form an interesting addition to each department of the squad. It is never easy because expectation levels are set so high by the fans but if they can get off to a decent start they could do good things. A UEFA spot is probably a bit optimistic but they might scrape into the top half. Rinaldi's forecast: 11th place.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What have we learned

I tried to cast an eye over the Man Utd versus Chelsea game on Sunday afternoon with a view towards who might be the strongest in the Premiership and - later on - in the Champions League. I am not sure I learned all that much from a game which did little to raise the blood pressure until it reached the inevitable penalty kicks.

Neither side was at full strength (maybe Man Utd were closer to it) and there was little chance to judge the new signings (particularly on the red side). Nani seemed to struggle to get into the game when he came on. While Mourinho will no doubt be pleased that Florent Malouda appears to have settled in well.

It's never easy to take too much from these games but I am beginning to see Chelsea as a bit too one-dimensional to really be a great team. Sure, everybody looks in their physical prime but where is the invention and creativity? Joe Cole? Sean Wright-Phillips? Man Utd are certainly the more pleasing on the eye but they have looked shaky at the back in pre-season which will encourage their rivals. I haven't seen much of Liverpool - the supposed third force - but they will have to shake off the shackles of being even more dull than Chelsea to make a challenge. They have made some exciting signings but will the tactics remain the same?

Oh, and I thought the Special One might have got his boys to practice penalties.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Stroll for Suazo

Any doubts you might have had about David Suazo's potential impact at Inter were dispelled to a degree last night. His blistering pace put at the service of a quality team helped to rip Man Utd apart in front of their own fans.

Now, it all carries the proviso that this was just a friendly and you can't judge anything from them. Just the same the Honduran hitman looked very impressive in the first half of the game. At one point he burned past Vidic forcing him to drag him to the ground. His cool finish of his second goal was also a joy.

The same could not be said for the chubby, unhappy Brazilian who replaced him up front. What has happened to Adriano? He used to be a force of nature, brushing defenders aside and battering the ball into the net for fun. Now he shambles around the field missing sitters and generally looking fed-up if his teammates don't give him the ball.

Every time he got the ball last night, he lost it. I don't know if it is his pay packet which forces Inter to keep him but how much more patience can they have? With Cruz, Crespo, Suazo and Ibrahimovic to pick from I can't believe he will feature in anything other than the Coppa Italia. A move would surely be good for all concerned.