Serie A preview: Talking through Italy’s new season – Part I

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Italy starts on Saturday, with two matches ringing in the new Serie A season. ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley and new PST contributor Kirsten Schlewitz (who also serves as Serie A editor at SBNation.com) walk through the storylines ahead of a campaign where Juventus is picked by many to win their third straight title:

Richard Farley: So … I suppose there’s no other way to start this. Can anybody beat Juventus? Or, should we expect anybody to keep Juve from three-in-a-row?

Kirsten Schlewitz: Three wins in a row? Three scudetti? That’s a bigger challenge. With less than two weeks left in the transfer window, Juventus have lost none of their starters and made quality reinforcements. Meanwhile, their two biggest challengers — Fiorentina and Napoli — have both lost their best player.

RF: You’re talking Stefan Jovetic and Edinson Cavani. A lot of people are still talking about Fiorentina, as if all the hipsters who ruined Dortmund last year have been told Viola’s the new bacon. Why all the buzz?

KS: Yeah, the Viola are bacon dipped in chocolate and covered in a thin candy coating. They’ve got a hot young manager (Vincenzo Montella), play in a fantastic city, have a great new striker in Mario Gomez and they play in purple — what more can a new fan to Serie A want in a team?

RF: Jovetic, probably. Seems a lot of people in England didn’t know much about him (no, he’s not a No. 9). Can you explain how big a loss this will be? Preferably without food metaphors (still recovering over here).

KS: Well, most Fiorentina supporters seem to think their side is better off now that their star has shot off to Manchester. I find that interesting, however, as Gomez and JoJo aren’t the same player. Gomez will play in the same position, but they’re very nearly opposite forwards. The manner in which he’ll produce the goals will be different.

But Gomez will still have Juan Cuadrado and, as of today, Adem Ljajic helping him out up front, which may be why Viola supporters just aren’t that worried.

And Vincenzo Montella has brought in reinforcements for those wide roles, so if Ljajic leaves, or decides to go back on his Nutella diet, there are players , such as Joaquín, to step in

RF: Nutella. I’m sure there’s a segue to Napoli here — one referencing the irresistibility of their play under Walter Mazzarri — but I can’t find it. Regardless, Mazzarri’s at Inter, Rafa Benítez is in (resisting another Nutella reference here), and Naples has experienced a small Spanish invasion. Enough to offset the losses of Cavani and Hugo Campagnaro?

source: Getty ImagesKS: Honestly, I don’t think so. In a way, Napoli lost not one but two defenders, considering all the tracking back Cavani did. I don’t think — I don’t think ANYONE thinks — Higuain is at Cavani’s level. He won’t score 29 league goals next season and he won’t rescue opposition shots off the line. But he’ll be quality.

What helps in terms of production is Marek Hamsik (right) — 13 goals last season and the orchestrator of the Napoli attack — as well as Lorenzo Insigne. Insigne didn’t start much under Mazzarri, but Rafa doesn’t have the same aversion to youth, and the forward should be given many more chances this year. He’s looked immense in preseason as well.

So, in all honesty, I think the bigger loss is that of Hugo Campagnaro. Napoli haven’t replaced the centerback. They bought Albiol, but yet there’s still Paolo Cannavaro, who’s looked past his prime for well over a season now. Napoli looked bad enough defending set pieces last season. If the preseason is anything to go by, that will continue. Supporters will continue hiding behind their sofa cushions when Napoli concede a free kick, and it won’t even need to be from the likes of Andrea Pirlo for the strike to be threatening.

RF: Napoli in decline … no wonder the hipsters have flocked to Fiorentina. And given Napoli were the only real threat to Juve last year, the Bianconeri’s additions of Tévez and Llorente seem even scarier, given the state of the peloton. What about the other big names: Milan, Inter … Roma and Lazio? And hope of contention there?

KS: Okay, as a Napoli fan, I have to say that “in decline” is going a bit too far. “In transition” would be better. They still look great going forward and questionable at the back, which is more or less what we saw last season. Just the highs will be lower and the lows will be higher for a bit.

RF: Fair enough. My bad …

… in part two, we get to the Milan clubs, Roma’s duo, and look for surprises from this year’s Serie A.

Statement from suspended UEFA president Michel Platini

Michel Platini, UEFA & FIFA
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Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:

Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.

I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.

Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.

I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.

I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia