Antonio Nocerino, right, has joined West Ham on loan from AC Milan.

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

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In Part I of their Serie A preview, Kirsten Schlewitz and Richard Farley talked about Juventus, Fiorentina, and Napoli’s changes at Italy’s crown. With the new season starting tomorrow, here’s their look at Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, and the pack:

Kirsten Schlewitz: Milan may have a hope, but they have the same defensive issues as Napoli. They’re still playing Philippe Mexes, for goodness sake. I guess when you have Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy up front, you don’t worry too much about the back. It also helps that Nigel De Jong is fit again, and can help relieve some of the pressure from the back four.

Richard Farley: I’d love to go on and on about an attack that will sometimes feature all of Balotelli, El Shaarawy, and M’Baye Niang, but can we pause for a moment and stand in awe of the fact that Max Allegri survived? My God, that was close. The man’s only had three straight top three finishes while having his team sold (and let go) out from under him. He’s not perfect, but yeesh. What’s a man go to do to keep his … oh, wait. Forgot we were talking about Italy.

Same building, different team. How much difference will Walter Mazzari make at Inter? Clearly, he’s not going to do worse than Andrea Stramaccioni did last season.

KS: Allegri’s secret is the fact that he casts a spell over his side while yelling “DAI! DAI! DAI!” again and again. That and the arrival of Mario, of course.

I’m a big cynic about Mazzarri, having to had to watch him closely over the past few seasons. Yeah, he did well to get Napoli where they are, but he also had great players. I’m not sure Inter have great players. His insistence on using the same players, week in and week out, in the same shape, makes it easy for other sides to exploit their weaknesses. And his refusal to give young players a chance often harms his sides.

But will he do better than Strama? Yes. A … searching for a food metaphor here … an eggplant would be better than Stramaccioni.

Yes, an eggplant. I couldn’t think of anything better.

RF: I know I should transition into another team here, but I’m already debating whether to keep that reference in the edit. Seriously: No more food metaphors. Don’t you know all cool sports writing references pop culture. Which member of One Direction would Mazzarri be?

KS: Who? I’m hungry and we’re talking about Italy. Food metaphors are necessary. Although to be fair, I didn’t invent the Ljajic one.

RF: Fair enough. We still have the two teams from Rome … who it feels like we’re just referencing because they’re big clubs. Should we just say “Michael Bradley” and “Hernanes” and get out of here? I think our audience wants to hear a little about how Bradley’s going to do (especially with Roma having changed … everything, ever, again), and Hernanes – well, I just picked Lazio’s best player. What can these teams do?

KS: We can talk about Bradley, but he’s not the reason to watch Roma. He’s certainly improved at the club, but his role may diminish with the arrival of Kevin Strootman.

Roma have had an … interesting … transfer market, …

RF: You don’t say.

source: Getty ImagesKS: As of right now, they still have Erik Lamela, they still have Miralem Pjanic, and of course, they still have Francesco Totti (right). Those players are all reasons to believe Roma can make a solid showing, but anyone saying they can do more than finish in the top five is simply dreaming.

What else …

RF: My love of Totti is well documented. But … Lazio.

KS: Oh, Lazio. Lazio kind of fell off the deep end at the end of last season and have done little to rectify the situation since. They held on to Hernanes and they still have Miroslav Klose, but, well, he’s old. At some point, he’s going to stop scoring. That point may have been in the Supercoppa match last weekend. Vladmir Petkovic is a solid coach, but not spectacular. I just don’t think there’s a lot to fear from Lazio this season.

RF: Give the readers one team we haven’t detailed who could surprise and, say, claim a European spot.

KS: I assume you mean besides Udinese, who always manage to slip in and get a Europa League spot against all odds?

RF: No, I didn’t mean besides them, but that’s my fault. I always forget they’re in Europe, given how much they always seem to want out. But … yes, let’s pick somebody besides Udinese.

KS: Well, Catania were the surprise last year, but with the losses of Alejandro Gomez and Francesco Lodi, I have trouble believing they’ll finish in the top half. So I’d say . . . Parma? They’re at least interesting, they’ve kept much of their squad and made decent reinforcements. If Roberto Donadoni wises up and learns how to use his players, such as Nicola Sansone, they could certainly be the thorn in the side of the big clubs.

RF: And of source you bring up one of the players I want to dote on (Sansone) as we need to move on. Our contracts with the International Blogger Council require us to make picks, but let’s keep it simple. Who wins the league?

KS: Juve.

RF: Took my answer. Second and third? I’ll go Napoli and … OMG … am I really saying this? I think Max gets them (Milan) into top three again. Same order as last year.

KS: Hmmmm.

RF: Look, I’m no Serie A expert. I just play one on the internet, where I’m allowed to say dumb stuff (as long as the domain name is  You, however, need to be right.

KS: Well, by “Max” you mean “Mario,” right? Nevermind. Predictions are dumb and I always end up alienating fan bases. No more. I quit.

RF: Fair enough, but I’m not the one who’ll have to answer to the council.

Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri: Our goal is 40 points

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When Claudio Ranieri was brought into Leicester City this summer, he set a goal for the club: Get 40 points and stay up in the Premier League.

A third of the way through the season, Ranieri has far exceeded expectations, sitting top of the table with 28 points through 13 matches.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

Originally thought of as a favorite for relegation, the perception of Leicester has changed very quickly, as both Arsene Wenger and Louis Van Gaal said you could not rule them out as title contenders.

Responding to Wenger’s comments, Ranieri played down the Foxes’ title chances, saying their goal is still to get 40 points and stay above the drop.

Thank you to Arsene but he’s a joker. He knows the truth very well. The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points.

Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal.

Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.

At this point last season, Leicester sat bottom of the table with a record of 2-4-7 and ten points. Today, Leicester is top of the table with a record of 8-4-1 and 28 points. Under Nigel Pearson, the Foxes won just 11 games all of last season, with seven of those coming from the final nine matches in a legendary run to stave off relegation.

[ RELATED: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks — Week 14 ]

With a tough run of matches coming up against the likes of Manchester United, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City, Ranieri is trying to keep his side in check, knowing you can never take anything for granted in the Premier League. However, if Leicester was to pull out a win over United on Saturday, Foxes’ fans will certainly have much higher hopes than 40 points.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.