After a summer of substantial change across Italy, Serie A is back up and running.
Perennial champions Juventus have a new face in the dugout, with Maurizio Sarri succeeding Massimiliano Allegri; Inter Milan have done likewise, recruiting serial-winner Antonio Conte. Meanwhile the red half of San Siro also joined in with the end-of-season cull, with Gennaro Gattuso the unfortunate departure, and Marco Giampaolo the fresh face at the helm.
So, it’s safe to say the landscape has changed drastically in Southern Europe. But will the Old Lady’s stranglehold finally come unstuck with the chasing pack closing in, or will Chelsea’s former tactician make it nine straight Scudetti for the Turin giants?
Both these questions will be answered in nine month’s time, but for now, this weekend’s curtain-raiser has offered a brief but exhilarating glimmer of things to expect this season.
With that, what might you have missed from Serie A’s opening weekend?
1. Clinical Chiellini and blindsided De Ligt
Despite being very much in the twilight years of his career, 35-year-old Giorgio Chiellini still looks fit as a fiddle and capable of holding the fort at the highest level for Juventus; and he reached a personal milestone on Saturday as his winning goal against Parma was his first ever on the opening matchweek of Serie A football.
Of course, that won’t come as a surprise, despite this being the Italian’s 15th Serie A campaign, as the centre-back has only netted 27 league goals across his career, but it’s another marker that shines brightly on his glittering career.
With the match finely balanced at the Ennio Tardini, the Juve skipper reacted quickest to poke home from Alex Sandro’s drilled ball into the box, breaking the deadlock in the 21st minute and gifting his side three points to kick start their season.
Chiellini’s inclusion, alongside Leonardo Bonucci, denied Matthijs de Ligt his Serie A debut. It was a decision the former Ajax captain, signed this summer for just shy of £70 million, did not expect.
“Of course, I would have preferred to play,” he told post-match reporters.
“I couldn’t read this based on the training sessions, in that sense I didn’t see this coming, but obviously I respect the decision of the coach.
“I’m also realistic, I’m still getting used to being here in Italy. The duo that played today, Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci, were seen as the best defensive pairing in the world.
“It’s not like you’re just going to play instead of them in the opening match. I’ll have to conquer them to earn my place in the team this season.”
2. Ronaldo denied by marginal VAR call
Cristiano Ronaldo, another veteran of the game who, like Chiellini, is showing no signs of slowing down, was extremely unlucky not to open his account for the season after his lethal right-footed finish was chalked off by the smallest of margins.
As Juve galloped forward, Douglas Costa dismissively shook off myriad Parma challenges before slipping in Ronaldo, who deftly cut inside onto his left, jinked back onto his preferred boot, and rifled a clean strike into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for Ronaldo his goal was ruled out upon intervention from VAR, with replays showing his shoulder to have been in an offside position by mere millimetres.
It was a goal reminiscent of Raheem Sterling’s against West Ham on the opening weekend of Premier League action, and the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that Ronaldo went on to squander a number of glorious opportunities in the afterglow.
3. Fledgling Fiorentina
Fiorentina fielded a starting XI with an average age of 23 years and 188 days against Napoli on Saturday, their youngest line-up in over 25 years, with 19-year-old Dusan Vlahovic leading the line.
And, Vincenzo Montella’s side nearly dented the Parthenopeans’ title charge on day one, with La Viola firing three past Alex Meret, though ultimately, Carlo Ancelotti’s men held firm to strike four and place three invaluable points on the board.
Of course, the recent recruitment of seasoned winger and 36-year-old Franck Ribery will bump that average age up considerably when he takes to the field in a starting role – he came on with 12 minutes to spare – but for now it was the young guns strutting their stuff at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, and they nearly pulled off an early upset.
4. Ribery makes Viola debut
Having left Bayern Munich and joined Fiorentina last week, Ribery is clearly not looking for one final payday by winding down his career across the Atlantic or in the Chinese Super League. Rather, he is attempting to cut his teeth in a new division against some of the best clubs Europe has the offer.
And his experience will prove invaluable to this young, but exceptionally talented Fiorentina side. The diminutive winger stepped onto the field to make his introduction for academy graduate and 20-year-old Riccardo Sottil.
The likes of Sottil, and notably Federico Chiesa, are set to receive the finest education on wing-play that they are ever likely to receive in their respective careers, with elder statesman Ribery one of the finest out-and-out No.7s the game has ever produced.
5. Imperious Insigne
Should Napoli mount a serious title challenge this season, then it will likely rest on the shoulders of Lorenzo Insigne, the club’s fulcrum, catalyst and source of goals all rolled into one world-class striker. The pint-sized forward directly contributed to all four of Napoli’s goals on Saturday.
He initially assisted Dries Mertens for the Belgian’s delectable curler in the 38th minute, before scoring from the spot, teeing up Jose Callejon and then scoring a match-winning goal to secure an impressive opening away victory.
His second, and Napoli’s fourth was an exquisite piece of build-up play, with Callejon reciprocating the assist to set up Insigne who, at 5 ft4 in, had the simplest of headers to to knock in – a collector’s item indeed for the Italian.
6. Sleeping giant remains…asleep
New season, new manager in the hotseat, new signings to inject fresh impetus… same result. AC Milan have started 2019/20 in horrendous fashion, suffering an opening match defeat to Udinese, while also failing to find the back of the net in the process.
This was not the dream start Giampaolo would have dreamt about last night. In fact, it was a nightmare made reality, bloodying the nose of this great Italian club even further, as it looks set to be another campaign of intense ups and dispiriting downs.
Milan have already been kicked out of the Europa League this season for breaching financial fair play regulations and haven’t had the luxury of spending lavishly like their noisy neighbours or other Italian rivals, so this 1-0 defeat to Udinese will come as a rude awakening to Giampaolo of the recent woes in Milan.
And that woe has been amplified all the more when you put this result further under microscope, as the Rossoneri have now lost their opening Serie A match five times in the previous eight seasons.