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What: Italian Serie A-Matchday 1
Who: AC Milan (2007/08-5th Serie A, 64 pts.) vs. Bologna (2007/08-2nd Serie B, 84 pts.)
When: Sunday 31 August 15:00 (CET)
Where: Stadio San Siro, Milan

Time For A Fresh Start

Milan begin this new season with high hopes, despite not taking part in the Champions League for the first time since 2001. The Rossoneri have added many fresh faces, with all of them expected to make a significant contribution to the club.

It was not much of a shock to see Milan miss out on the Champions League this time around. They struggled at home for most of last season, and the dependency on away points was simply too much to overcome.

For the better part of this decade, Milan have been the most consistent club in the Champions League, having advanced to the quarterfinal stage five of the last six years. Also during that time, they went to the semifinals four times, and advanced to the final thrice, winning two of those.

Now, they are faced with the prospect of not being able to fight with the big dogs of Europe, as they will compete in the Europe’s secondary club competition, the UEFA Cup. While this would be a nice trophy to win, many sides in the top three domestic leagues in Europe (Italy, England and Spain) have put out under-strength teams in order to focus on their domestic table position.

Milan claim that they will do their best in the UEFA Cup, but they have clearly stated that first and foremost, they will try to win the Serie A. City-rivals Inter Milan’s dominance of the league over the past two seasons (although, Roma did push them to the final day last season due to some poor periods of play by Inter) has not sat well with the Milan hierarchy, and they will now look to reclaim the Scudetto for the first time since 2004.

Tranfers Abound

After several years of speculation, Ronaldinho finally arrived from Barcelona. When fit, he is almost guaranteed of a first-team place, and pretty much every football fan on the planet is waiting to see how he will combine with Kakà. Ronaldinho’s Barça teammate, Gianluca Zambrotta, returns to the peninsula after his brief and unsuccessful excursion in Spain.

Possibly the most interesting transfer of the summer is that of Andriy Shevchenko, who returns to the red-and-black half of Milan following two forgettable seasons in England with Chelsea. He originally made the move to Chelsea claiming that it was a lifestyle choice and that he wanted his children to grow up learning English rather than Italian. However, many people (including yours truly) put it down to a financial venture, as it was no secret that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was willing to pay ‘Sheva’ whatever amount of money he wanted.

Whatever the true reason for his departure, Milan’s all-time second top-scorer has now returned to his old stomping grounds looking to put his regrettable move to Chelsea behind him. His time in England was blighted by both injury and poor form. He never looked to be comfortable playing in the speed of the English game, after having excelled for seven years in the more technical Italian Serie A.

The other major arrival this summer was the free transfer of Mathieu Flamini after his contract at Arsenal expired. This is arguably the biggest coup of the summer, with Flamini having been regarded as one of the best midfielders in all of Europe last season. Adding to Milan’s glee at this transfer is that at twenty-four years of age, Flamini has his best years ahead of him.

The final squad addition of note is that of Philippe Senderos, who arrives on loan from Arsenal. He will give Milan needed aerial ability in defense, as Milan have been susceptible to set pieces for some time now.

Speaking Of A Fresh Start…

Bologna have returned to Serie A after three years in the second division. A restoration of their place among the usual suspects in Italy is just what they are seeking.

Prior to their relegation following the 2004-05 season, Bologna had the reputation as the type of side that, while they wouldn’t seriously challenge for the Scudetto, they were going to be making a visit to Serie A sides’ grounds on a yearly basis. In their history, they have won seven Scudetti.

While challenging for the title is not a realistic goal this term, they can look to other recently promoted sides in the past few years for inspiration. Clubs such as Catania and especially Napoli have not only maintained their Serie A status, but have put a scare into the top Italian sides when they either host them or come to visit.

Money, Money, Money

Bologna have put nearly €20 million into the transfer market this summer, but got back a great deal of quality for their money. Serie A veterans such as Sergio Volpi, Gaby Mudingayi and Marco Di Vaio will add top-flight experience to the side. This experience will be invaluable as the Rossoblu navigate the Serie A.

One purchase which did not materialize this summer was their proposed sale to a foreign buyer. TAG Partners LLC, an American firm, did not go through after the company asked for more time to get the necessary funds to buy the club outright. While many people in Italy will be happy to see that the autonomy of Italian ownership is still in tact, it would have been interesting to see what type of influence a change in ownership philosophy would have had on Italian football.

FORM GUIDE 

Milan

09/08 (Friendly): Manchester City 1-0 Milan

17/08 (Friendly): Milan 4-1 Juventus

21/08 (Friendly): Napoli 0-1 Milan

21/08 (Friendly): Milan 0-0 Juventus     (4-5 after penalties)   

24/08 (Friendly): Sporting Gijon 2-0 Milan 

 

Bologna

13/08 (Friendly): Rimini 1-3 Bologna

18/08 (Friendly): AEK Athens 1-1 Bologna

23/08 (Coppa Italia): Bologna 2-0 Vicenza

24/08 (Friendly): Equipe Romagna 0-4 Bologna

28/08 (Friendly): Castel San Pietro 0-2 Bologna

TEAM NEWS

Milan

With Kakà not totally fit, the attacking onus will fall on the shoulders of Ronaldinho, who looks likely to make his debut and play alongside Clarence Seedorf from the start of the match. Alexandre Pato will probably get the start as well. Having only begun training with his teammates this week, Andriy Shevchenko may come on as a substitute.

Kakà has not recovered entirely from his recurring knee problem, and will not be available for this match. Marco Borriello is still trying to regain full fitness, as is Alessandro Nesta. New purchase Phillippe Senderos has a minor back strain and will not be able to take part in this match.

As for the other summer arrivals, Gianluca Zambrotta and Mathieu Flamini could be set for starting appearances as well. Flamini was especially impressive during the preseason, and will challenge the usual midfield trio from last season (Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini).

Possible Formation (4-3-2-1): Abbiati; Zambrotta, Kaladze, Maldini, Jankulovski; Gattuso, Pirlo, Flamini; Seedorf, Ronaldinho; Pato

Bologna

The Rossoblu come into this opening fixture with all hands on deck. Many of their new acquisitions will be featuring in this match, most notably among them Gaby Mudingayi, Sergio Volpi and Marco Di Vaio (formerly of Lazio, Sampdoria and Genoa, respectively). Also, Cristian Zenoni (transferred from Sampdoria), who came up in the Milan youth setup, will look to get the better of his former side.

The defense features many new faces in the form of Miguel Angel Britos, Cristian Zenoni and Salvatore Lanna, all of whom have a good chance of starting this match. In attack, the additions of Marco Di Vaio and Marco Bernacci will take some of the goal-scoring weight off Massimo Marazzina, who led the club with 23 goals last term in Serie B.

Possible Formation (4-4-2): Antonioli; Zenoni, Castellini, Britos, Lanna; Coelho, Volpi, Mudingayi, Valiani; Di Vaio, Marazzina

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ronaldinho (Milan) – C’mon, who else would I pick? All eyes in Italy will be focused on Milan this Sunday morning. After an uneven set of performances in the Olympics, how he will cope with his new surroundings is still up in the air. At the age of twenty-eight, he still has time to regain his best form, but he must remain committed to training and stay out of the nightclubs Inter Milan’s (and Brazilian teammate) Adriano has frequented.

Massimo Marazzina (Bologna) – After lighting up Serie B last term, he could very well do the same to many of the sides in Serie A. He will not be a huge aerial threat, but his goal totals increased in each of the last three seasons.

PREDICTION

With fresh faces in defense, the lack of experience together could be Bologna’s undoing, at least at the start of the season. Milan will come out guns-a-blazin’ after having added players like Ronaldinho, Andriy Shevchenko and Marco Borriello to the mix. The home crowd will have a large influence on this match, and if they are amped up from the start for Ronaldinho’s debut, then watch out Bologna!

Milan 2-0 Bologna

Joel Whitehead

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