Serie A 2011/12 Preview - The Wait Is Over

It's been more than three months since the 2010-2011 Serie A season, three very long, very difficult months for fans of Italian football. The new season was meant to start two weeks ago, but disputes over the collective bargaining agreement lead to a players' strike. Then there was the international break. Now, finally, the wait is over. AC Milan and Lazio kick-started 2011/12 season on Friday with an entertaining match which was ended in 2-2 draw. Here's a quick breakdown of what we might expect from the matches this weekend:

SATURDAY

Cesena vs Napoli (20:45 CET)

Napoli also look ahead to the Champions League, playing their first match against Manchester City on Wednesday. While the Partenopei have certainly strengthened their squad this off-season, the quality of their bench doesn't begin to approach that of Milan's. Will Walter Mazzarri take a risk against Cesena, starting the season with a less than full strength squad? After all, Cesena didn't have the best home record last season, but after setting a record with season ticket sales, and doing well in the transfer market, the seahorses should give other clubs more to worry about this time around. Keep an eye on two players: Adrian Mutu making his debut in the Cesena shirt, and Edinson Cavani coming back to the pitch after missing the final two matches of last season. Both forwards will have a point to prove.

SUNDAY

Juventus vs Parma (12:30 CET)

Juventus opened their new stadium against Notts County on Thursday, and now will be looking to start the season by picking up all three points in their new home. And who better to do it against than Parma, where little Juve kidlets go to grow up. The Old Lady has had a few significant injury scares in the past couple weeks, including injuries to Milos Krasic, Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri, but they're all likely to be set for Sunday. With Parma still lacking firepower, nothing less than a solid victory will be enough for new coach Antonio Conte.

Catania vs Siena (15:00 CET)

Welcome to Serie A, Siena! Can you cut it against Vincenzo Montella's Catania? The former Roma man looks to continue fielding an attacking side, with Alejandro Gomez in particular looking to threaten defenders. Siena, meanwhile, haven't really done much to improve their Serie B side, while it is also new coach Giuseppe Sannino's first time in charge in Serie A. It's likely it will take awhile for Sienna to settle in to the top division.

Chievo Verona vs Novara (15:00 CET)

Is it too early to tell you to watch something else? Novara haven't been in Serie A for over fifty years. Chievo play negative football - even at home. Michael Bradley is likely to see much more playing time with the Flying Donkeys than the American did for Aston Villa last season. Novara, meanwhile, have lost their best goalscorers in Cristian Bertani and Pablo Gonzalez, and haven't replaced them with similar players. Fingers crossed that it won't be as boring as it sounds.

Fiorentina vs Bologna (15:00 CET)

In good news for the Viola, they've managed to hang on to Riccardo Montolivo, Juan Manuel Vargas and Alberto Gilardino, all three of whom seemed destined to leave at some point during the summer. On paper, at least, this is a squad that should be finishing higher than 10th - but then again, that's what was said last season as well. A miserable performance could see already-disliked coach Sinisa Mihajlovic as the first casualty of the season. Fortunately for the home side, Gaston Ramirez is suspended for Bologna, providing a greater challenge for new coach Pierpaolo Bisoli. It's likely he'll be up to the task, but don't expect too much from his first match.

Genoa vs Atalanta (15:00 CET)

What a welcome present to Serie A for Atalanta: a six-point deduction to start the season, meaning exactly zero people favor the newcomers to stay up. Meanwhile, Genoa is purely unpredictable, nobody knows what to expect from this match. Enjoy!

Lecce vs Udinese (15:00 CET)

Udinese may have failed to reach the Champions League, but despite losing Alexis Sanchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata during the summer, the Zebrette remain strong. Udinese excel at picking young players that fit perfectly within their system, but the pressure will be on captain Antonio Di Natale. Toto looks to capture his third straight Capocannoniere title and will need to hit the ground running. Lecce, meanwhile, will still be looking just to hang on in Serie A, although their approach at least remains fun. Between their commitment to attacking football and Udinese's lethal counter-attack, this could be the most entertaining match of the opening weekend.

AS Roma v Cagliari (20:45 CET)

If we attempt to outline all of Roma's off-season moves, it would require much more than a paragraph. Suffice it to say that new owner Thomas Di Benedetto indulged the whims and wishes of Luis Enrique, and the new arrivals could pay off handsomely - particularly if the new manager and captain Francesco Totti have called a cease-fire. Finding a place for Totti remains a challenge for Luis Enrique, but he remains the face of Roma, and it's a struggle the manager will have to solve. Cagliari are still looking for a solution to their goalscoring problem, having never adequately replaced Alessandro Matri, and now having sold Roberto Acquafresca to Bologna. It'll be an uphill battle for the Rossoblu.

Palermo v Inter Milan (20:45 CET)

Apparently, Inter needs no special dispensation to prepare for their intense Champions League match against Turkish club Trabzonspor, who take Fenerbahce's place in the tournament. They close out the weekend against Palermo, who just might be this season's Sampdoria. Out of Europa League play already, the Rosanero have had an utterly disappointing off-season. Goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and playmaker Javier Pastore both went to France's PSG, with various others finding their way out the door as well, including former Chievo boss Stefano Pioli. It's in no way surprising that owner Maurizio Zamparini wants to bring back Delio Rossi for yet another term as coach. As for Inter, all eyes will be on new forward Diego Forlan, who will need to step up to fill Samuel Eto'o's goalscoring boots. Still, this should be a comfortable win for the Nerazzurri.

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