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.


Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?

Zlatan explains tough second season at Old Trafford

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic at his most humble is still a man riding his ego through the clouds.

The LA Galaxy striker gave an interview to the BBC in which he detailed why his second season at Manchester United didn’t go according to plan.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Ibrahimovic, 36, said his “mind was ready” but his knee was not when he followed up a 28-goal, 10-assist debut at Old Trafford with just seven appearances with one League Cup goal.

From the BBC:

“When I was ready, I said to myself ‘I am not there’,” he said. “They had a Zlatan before. After, I was not ready to be that Zlatan. I was selected in many of the games but I told the coach: ‘Listen, I am not ready. I don’t want to disappoint you. The respect I have for my team-mates and the coach. Select someone else who can do the job better.’ I stood up and did it, even if I am Zlatan.”

How’s that for humble? There’s only one Zlatan…

Report: Bristol City offers $4m for USMNT GK Steffen

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Championship side Bristol City has lodged a $4 million bid for Columbus Crew and USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, according to MLS insider Sam Stejskal.

Viewed as a potential long-term American No. 1 for his country, Steffen has thrived at Columbus since returning from a stint at Freiburg in Germany.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Stejskal reached Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter, who said multiple teams are interested in Steffen but did not confirm the Bristol City bid. Berhalter said, “We want to be a place where we get players and we develop them and we help them advance in their careers, wherever that may be.”

Steffen, 23, starred at Maryland before making the move abroad. He’s proven a fantastic young pro with a knack for stopping penalty kicks.

Bristol City finished 11th in the Championship last season with 30-year-old goalkeeper Frank Fielding, who had played 153 league matches for the club since 2013 and led the club to promotion from League One in 2015.

Some have openly questioned whether the Championship is a clear upgrade from MLS — don’t count this typer in that group — but this does seem like win-win for Columbus and Steffen if the player wants the move. The Championship has been good for the development of several American players including Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin (on loan from a Premier League club), and Lynden Gooch.