Thursday, 25 August 2011

Serie B Preview

The 2011/12 Serie B season kicks off on Thursday evening as twenty two sides will compete to gain promotion to the top tier of Italian football, and also look to improve the image of a league that was embroiled in a match fixing scandal last season. Below is a brief preview of the clubs that will be involved, along with my prediction of where they will finish.
For a team the size of Albinoleffe, it is incredible that they still find themselves in Italy’s second tier for an eighth consecutive season. After maintaining their Serie B status last season, with a victory in the relegation playoff against Piacenza, their main aim this season will be to avoid relegation once again.
Prediction - 16th
After financial difficulties meant they were deducted six points last season, Ascoli found themselves embroiled in a relegation battle for much of the season. Those problems do not seem to have been rectified, and they have already been deducted seven points this campaign, six of those points were for their role in the match fixing scandal that hit the league last season . However, on the field, Ascoli should have enough to avoid relegation, though if they don’t start well, they could find themselves in trouble.
Prediction - 17th
After relegation from Serie B last season, Bari will be aiming to do what Atalanta and Siena were able to do last season and gain promotion at the first attempt. New coach Vincenzo Torrente performed a minor miracle by gaining successive promotions at Gubbio. Therefore, despite a number of players leaving the club, including long serving Goalkeeper Jean-Francois Gillet, they should be amongst the leading contenders for promotion.
Prediction - 4th
Another of the sides that were relegated from the top tier last season, Brescia have lost a number of their key players, with talented playmaker Alessandro Diamanti leaving to join Bologna. With only a few new acquisitions joining the club, it is difficult to see them being amongst the automatic promotion contenders, but a place in the playoffs may be possible.
Prediction - 7th
Thanks to the goals of Federico Piovaccari, Cittadella achieved a respectable 14th place finish last season. However, last season’s Serie B top scorer has now departed to divisional rivals Sampdoria, and without his goals, Cittadella may struggle.
Prediction - 20th
Last season, Crotone finished in mid-table and never looked to be in serious relegation trouble. However, the departure of striker Aniello Cutolo to Padova is a setback, but they should still have enough to avoid the drop.
Prediction - 15th
Empoli were relegated from Serie A in the 2007-2008 season and the fact they still find themselves in the second tier illustrates that Serie B can be a difficult division to get out of. The return of striker Francesco Tavano could prove to be an inspired signing, especially if he can recapture his form of 2006 when he scored 19 goals for the club in Serie A.
Prediction - 8th
For much of last season, the Tuscan side were embroiled in a relegation battle, and will be looking to fare much better this time around. The signing of Paulo Zanetti from Torino will provide experience in the midfield, and upfront, Arturo Lupoli has the ability to score plenty of goals.
Prediction - 11th
The town of Gubbio is perhaps better known in Italy for being the setting of TV show Don Matteo, (about a Catholic Priest who solves crimes) than it is for its football team. The rise of Gubbio has certainly been a meteoric one, and after two successive promotions, they will now play in Serie B for the first time since 1948. With only limited resources, Gubbio have been forced to rely heavily on the loan system for the upcoming season, and avoiding relegation would be a fantastic achievement.
Prediction – 21st
Juve Stabia
Less than ten years ago, Juve Stabia were competing in Serie D, and much like Gubbio and Nocerina, the fact they find themselves in Serie B is an achievement in itself. The signing of Lithuanian striker Tomas Danilevičius is an impressive acquisition, and it will be interesting to see whether fellow new signing Savio Nsereko can show why West Ham once paid a significant undisclosed fee for the winger.
Prediction – 19th
Livorno narrowly missed out on the playoff positions last season, and will be looking to go one step further in forthcoming campaign. However, as of yet, none of their summer signings suggest that they may be able to mount a serious promotion challenge. Whilst they have signed World Cup winner Simone Barone, it would be fair to say that his best years are firmly behind him.
Prediction - 10th
Modena only lost eleven times last season, but could only manage a mid-table finish due to the fact they drew far too many matches, and only scored 46 times. They will be looking to rectify both of those problems this season, but as a neutral it is difficult to see where their goals will come from, and therefore they could struggle.
Prediction - 18th
After an absence of 32 years, Nocerina return to Serie B and will hope it will be a more prolonged stay than the 1978-79 campaign in which they were relegated after just one season.  Their squad that contains a number of young players and a lot will depend on how quickly they adapt to a new division. Maikol Negro, a midfielder who started his career with Torino could be a key player this season, after scoring an impressive 12 goals last season to help Nocerina gain promotion.
Prediction - 22nd
After losing in the playoff final last season, Padova are expected to mount another promotion challenge this campaign. Whilst the star of last year, Stephan El Shaarawy, has departed, Padova have made a number of decent acquisitions for the new season. Experienced midfielder Omar Milanetto, YouTube sensation Linus Hallenius and pacey winger Dejan Lazarevic have all signed from Genoa, and one would expect Padova to be amongst the contenders for automatic promotion this season.
Prediction - 3rd
By appointing Zdeněk Zeman as coach, Pescara have almost guaranteed that no matter what happens this season, it will certainly not be boring. The Czech tactician is renowned for his attacking style of football, and last season, his Foggia side scored 67 goals, but also conceded 58 times. Therefore, scoring goals should not be a problem, and on loan Juventus striker Ciro Immobile could flourish in Zemen’s system.
Prediction - 6th
Reggina did well to reach the playoffs last season, but were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Novara in the semi-finals. Whilst the last season's coach, Gianluca Atzori, has departed to join Sampdoria, the bulk of the squad does remain, so a place in the playoffs should still be their aim.
Prediction – 5th
Twelve months ago, Sampdoria were in the Champions League, but after last season’s disastrous Serie A campaign, they now find themselves preparing for a season in the second tier. Whilst Sampdoria have made a number of solid signings, the fact they have been able to retain the services of Italian international Angelo Palombo is perhaps equally, if not more important.
Prediction - 1st
Sassuolo spent last season in a relegation battle as they couldn’t replicate the success of the previous season, in which they unexpectedly reached the playoffs.  Highly rated Ghanaian striker Richmond Boakye has been signed on loan from Genoa, and he could score the goals to keep them away from relegation zone this time around.
Prediction – 13th
With less than a week until the transfer window closes, the fact that Angelo Ogbonna and Rolando Bianchi both remain at the club is a pleasant surprise. Although both players could still depart before the end of the month, Torino will still be confident about their chances of gaining promotion this season. New coach Giampiero Ventura has made a number of good signings, and Stefano Guberti who has signed on loan from Roma, has the ability to be one of the best players in the division.
Prediction - 2nd
Varese will find it difficult to repeat the fantastic season they enjoyed last year, when against all odds they finished in 4th place and made it into the playoffs. The coach who masterminded their success, Giuseppe Sannino has now departed to join Siena, but it will be interesting to see how Benito Carbone will do as his replacement.
Prediction - 12th
After four seasons away from Serie B, Hellas Verona will be eager to make a good impression in their first season back in the second tier. Of the four newly promoted sides, Hellas are undoubtedly the biggest side historically, considering they were champions of Italy as recently as 1985. Former Tottenham midfielder Emil Hallfredsson was a key member of the side that got promoted, and could be important as they attempt to avoid relegation this season.
Prediction - 14th
Vicenza will be looking to improve on last season’s 12th place finish, and with one of the best strikers in the division, Elvis Abbruscato, leading the line, they should be in the reckoning for a place in the playoffs.
Prediction - 9th

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