With the new Italian championship ready to kick off this weekend, Goal.com Singapore takes a look at the players who will begin lighting up proceedings to come
By Jeremy Lim
If last time around was anything to go by, fans anticipating the new Serie A season are surely going to be in for a treat. Best remembered for Juventus ending their title drought by clinching their first Scudetto in six years, the league showcased remarkable levels of competitveness, thrills, spills, and just plain, good-old drama, all trademark aspects of Calcio that have captured the imagination of fans the world over.
Unfortunately, that breath of fresh air has recently been fouled up by the losses of AC Milan's talismanic duo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, for the cash-rich overtures of Paris Saint-Germain. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Serie A fans need not fall into despair over these departures, for the remnants of other illustrious Serie A luminaries in the forms of Andrea Pirlo, Wesley Sneijder, Antonio Nocerino, Diego Milito and Edinson Cavani et al. will continue guaranteeing Serie A's entertainment and sporting value remains intact.
Indeed, following the Azzurri's remarkable Euro 2012 exploits, Italian football is rife with promising talent waiting to seize their opportunities to impress next season, ensuring supporters ought to be gearing up that much closer to their screens in an effort to soak up all the action possible. With that in mind, Goal.com has identified the top few candidates worthy of being kept an eye on in the nearing campaign; stars who are looking to further stamp their mark on Calcio's footballing revival in the coming season.
Arriving at Inter following treble-winning coach Jose Mourinho's departure for Real Madrid in 2010, Coutinho initially struggled for minutes in spite of his enormous potential, and was loaned out earlier this year to Primera Division outfit Espanyol, in a move to secure regular football. Now returning as a wholly different player and man following his experience abroad, the 20-year-old will be aiming to deliver on the promise so many recognised in him when he first set foot in Serie A.
Pacy and skillful with a penchant for the spectacular, Coutinho is an archetype of the modern Brazilian attacking midfielder. Blessed with technique and vision both in creating and scoring goals, he achieves either task with remarkable ease. Rekindling fond memories in Milan of their city rivals' former playmaker Kaka, expect the Nerazzurri to relish the prospect of eventually building her team around their soon-to-be club idol.
Tales of kindred spirits returning home do not get any more heartfelt than La Formica Atomica gearing up in the Juventus kit again. Having left the newly-crowned league champions for Parma in August 2010 after failing to break into the Turin giant's first team, Giovinco returns to the club eager to prove his worth in the big time again, after convincing coach Antonio Conte of his talent following his 15 goals at the Stadio Tardini last term.
Arriving home in the wake of Alessandro Del Piero's departure, the Old Lady's revered captain he had long been tipped to replace from an early age, tip Giovinco to slot straight back into the Bianconeri's second striker position. Juventus' other forwards had previously struggled to record much success upfront for much of the previous campaign, but expect that all to change rapidly as the 25-year-old's invention and fantasy unlocks many a defence both in Serie A and the Champions League next season.
The former Internacional starlet will be eager to make up for lost time in the upcoming season. Most painfully remembered for his lengthy spell on the injury sidelines as Milan capitulated to Juventus in their race for the Serie A title last term, many have forgotten the 22-year-old's devastating true ability when fully fit. It is a circumstance that can only serve to help 'The Duck' strive for the pinnacle further, upon his return.
What Milan's opponents need in the months to follow is a sharp reminder of Pato's instinctive goalscoring hunger. Now freed from his weighty injury shackles, the €24 million signing at Milanello back in 2007 displayed his full range of uninhibited acceleration, close control, and knack for the finish during Brazil's charge to a silver medal in the men's football finals at the 2012 Olympics. Coach Massimiliano Allegri will be certainly be itching to deploy his man as the team's focal point in attack, as the Rossoneri fight to escape the shadow of Ibrahimovic.
Breakout seasons rarely occur more spectacularly than in former Inter youth product Mattia Destro's case. Recording an impressive 12 goals in mid-table outfit Siena's latest campaign, what was to follow happened as one of this summer's most protracted transfer deals that finally landed the 21-year-old in a €16 million move to Roma.
Under the guidance of Czech maestro Zdenek Zeman, Destro can remain confident of further advancing his massive potential. A powerful, strongly-built striker armed with a deceptively quick turn of pace and a keen eye for goal, the new no. 22 will find himself being regularly called upon by the Giallorossi to repeat the destructive goalscoring bursts that have typified his short career thus far, as they prepare to deliver on the early optimism that has been surrounding their pre-season lately.
Surprised to see Marchisio here in place of his more celebrated counterpart, Pirlo? It turns out that if Juventus are serious about continuing their winning cycle, they are going to have to turn to their own Il Principino to begin delivering the goods from midfield, in the light that Pirlo's brilliant but aging legs - brain included - are eventually going to see their levels of influence on how the Bianconeri play wane.
Marchisio's desire for constant self-improvement has helped him grow into a crucial component of the Bianconeri's star-studded midfield, while goals have added to the midfielder's existing repertoire of battling skills. To further build on the back of a stellar Euro 2012 showing however, the 26-year-old must soon discover a level of consistency in his game as he enters his prime, taking on the onus of leadership within the squad as one of the club's beloved youth products. Can the Marco Tardelli-esque Turin native match up to the challenge? Most certainly.
Diego Maradona, Gianfranco Zola, Ezequiel Lavezzi. Napoli certainly have a rich heritage of fantasistas, and they appear ready to add to that collection with the return of their youth prospect from loan at Pescara. With Lavezzi having lately swapped the dingy alleys that run below the shadow of Vesuvius for the bright lights and wide streets of Paris, the stage is now set for the 21-year-old Insigne to transform the Stadio San Paolo into his own backyard.
More than just that extraordinary burst of speed and devastating dribbling ability laying waste to opponents' rearguards has gotten the former market boy to where he currently is; the 1.63 metre forward happens to sport a most refreshing, down-to-earth demeanour rarely discernible amongst modern footballers. Long acknowledging that trait as the key to helping him focus exclusively on letting his feet do the talking on the pitch, there will come no better time than now for Insigne to employ it, as he seeks to help his hometown Napoli tip the balance of power within Serie A back in their favour once more.
There is not much you can count on at Fiorentina these days except that, sooner or later, star player Stevan Jovetic is eventually going to fly the roost. How the Viola are going to address that when it does happen lies with one name that particularly stands out from the mass influx of new players arriving at coach Vincenzo Montella's disposal this summer: former Villarreal man Borja Valero.
The €7 million signing is exactly the type of midfield general Fiorentina need to offer balance to her line-up, both in attack and in defence. While the 27-year-old's only experience abroad lay with a disappointing spell with Premier League outfit West Bromwich, Valero has since matured upon his subsequent return to Spain with the Yellow Submarines, and now arrives in Florence packing quality and quantity together in a tidy midfield bundle. Tip the once-capped Spain international to grow into a valuable asset his teammates and the club's fans will soon discover they can bet their last dollar on, when confronted by a tight situation.