By Michael Ottolenghi
After a hectic end to the transfer market and a busy international break for Serie A’s main players, the league returns this weekend with the third round of games.
After two games, Milan, Inter, Juventus, Napoli and Sampdoria have six points, while of the other likely title contenders Lazio have four points and Roma are on three. The main fixture of the weekend will be a test for Milan, the team the Italian press have hailed as the “winners” of the transfer market, as the rossoneri travel to Rome to face Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio on Sunday afternoon.
Milan have started the season with two wins against “smaller” teams, but there remain huge question marks about manager Vincenzo Montella’s ability to get his team to gel, given that he has up to 8 new players in his starting 11. It wasn’t so long ago that a full scale restructure over a transfer window would be cause for concern, both in footballing terms and from a financial perspective. And there are certainly questions about whether Milan’s new Chinese owners know what they are doing, with the club’s debt at levels that could yet incur the wrath of UEFA’s financial fair play police. But the Italian press, principally the influential Gazzetta dello Sport, seem to be enabling Milan’s spending without raising any questions, hailing them as the canniest operators in the market. Certainly, they have signed an impressive list of new players, not least former Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci, but regardless of how they perform on the football pitch, doubts will persist over whether all this spending is within the rules.
But all Montella can do is make his players into the team many hope they can be, and there is no better way to prove that he is on the right track than a statement win away from home. The former Roma striker will have tough choices to make in his team selection on his return to the capital, with new arrivals Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic vying for a starting spot with teenage flavour of the summer Patrick Cutrone (left). The game will also have a particular resonance for Milan’s Argentinean midfielder Lucas Biglia, who left Lazio this summer not without some acrimony.
But Lazio will not be too worried about their rivals, having had a pretty successful transfer market of their own, if one still considers boring factors such as financial stability a measure of success. Club owner Claudio Lotito drove characteristically hard bargains in the sales of Biglia and, more significantly, Keita Balde to Monaco, and was able to reinvest those funds into the squad. The most notable high profile arrival has been Portugal international winger Nani, whose decisions to take the number 7 shirt has produced no end of amusement online given that his name translates as “dwarf” in Italian. On the field, Inzaghi will have the tools to trouble Milan’s new defence.
Elsewhere, the international break and the conclusion of the transfer market have had an odd effect on momentum in Serie A. Roma should be licking their wounds after their shock 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Inter, but instead will travel to Genoa to face Sampdoria full of confidence, based mainly on their acquisition of young Czech forward Patrick Schick (right) from Samp. Combined with the impressive (albeit futile) display of their midfield against Inter, Roma fans seem willing to allow new managed Eusebio Di Francesco a little leeway in his first season in charge. But Sampdoria will not roll over for the giallorossi, even without Schick.
Because it is Marco Giampaolo’s team who enter the game on 6 points, while Roma only have 3. Giampaolo has built his team around a strong defence, pacy forwards and the experience of veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella, who has scored 3 goals in two league games this season. The addition of former Premier League misfit Gaston Ramirez to the team has added genuine quality, and so Roma should be wary of losing more ground from the top of the table. Particularly because Juventus will host Chievo at the Juventus Stadium and Napoli will travel to Bologna – both games that should result in relatively straightforward wins for the likely title contenders.