By Michael Ottolenghi
The return of the city of Milan, controversy over video technology and speculation over yet more new signings in the league.
Those are the main talking points from the first round of games in Serie A, as the introduction of video technology inevitably led to more problems than had been anticipated, including the comical booking of Udinese player Stipe Perica for asking for a video replay. But while video technology in Italian football was always destined to become another talking point rather than a solution to controversies, the focus on the field has been on the winning starts by all traditionally “big teams”, and one particularly big clash this coming Saturday in Rome as Roma host Inter.
Whether the Milanese teams are back in contention for the title or even Champions League qualification remains to be seen, but both Inter and Milan recorded impressive victories that showcased some of their new talent last Sunday. Milan won 3-0 away to Crotone, although they did benefit from playing nearly all the game against 10 men after video technology led the referee to give Milan a penalty and Crotone centre back Federico Ceccherini a red card after just 4 minutes. New signing Frank Kessie scored the penalty, and it was all downhill from there for Vincenzo Montella’s men, with first Patrick Cutrone and then Suso adding to the scoreline.
Inter’s 3-0 home victory against Fiorentina was more impressive and will give them confidence going into what will be a traditional grudge match with added intrigue. Former Roma manager Luciano Spalletti has clearly managed to instil his style of play on his new Inter side, with new signings Borja Valero and Vecino, in particular, adding both steel and guile in midfield. The new midfielders bossed the game against their former club Fiorentina last Sunday night, which saw Mauro Icardi score twice and Manchester United target Ivan Perisic add the third, while new central defender Milan Skriniar also impressed in a composed performance.
Roma will be a very different proposition for Inter, at least by last year’s standards. Those standards were of course set by none other that Spalletti himself, and the new Inter manager is likely to receive a very frosty reception from his former fans, many of whom have never forgiven him for his perceived mistreatment of club legend Francesco Totti last season. But beyond the acrimony, Roma fans clearly recognise the impressive performances the tuscan manager managed to get out of his players in his two stints in the capital, particularly as they start to wonder whether his successor, Eusebio Di Francesco, will be capable of emulating him, let alone surpassing him.
Roma’s summer was quiet by their usual standards. The arrival of a new manager and a much sought after sporting director, Sevilla’s Monchi, have so far proven to be the main news, with the additions of Gregoire Defrel and former Lazio and Manchester City defender Aleksandar Kolariv hardly getting the fans excited. Added to the departures of Totti and Mohammed Salah, Di Francesco has quite a task on his hands. His reign started with a 1-0 win in Bergamo last Sunday, thanks to a free kick from Kolarov on his debut. The team did not flow, and a big performance against the former manager on Saturday night would go a long way towards establishing the new team as big game contenders.
Away from Saturday’s game big game, Milan will play Cagliari in their first game of the season at San Siro, with their squad likely to include new signing Nikola Kalinic, who arrived from Fiorentina on Tuesday. Juve will face Genoa and Napoli will recover from their Champions League playoff win against Nice with a tricky home tie against Atalanta. And then the clubs will all have a week off for the international break, when they can concentrate on making those often crucial last minute additions to their squads before returning for more in September. Who else will have joined the ranks of Serie A by then?