About 2 years ago I wrote a piece for the Italian department magazine about how Serie A was a dead league: players like Gervinho were going from Premier League rejects to outstanding stars in the Italian top division; Juventus were the only team that had anything to do with European competition beyond December, and even they were out by January; fans were leaving en-masse.
As we head into November things are looking up in Italy. Ownership issues seem to be being resolved, fans are returning and, most importantly, world class footballers are choosing to head to Serie A to ply their trade. The likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Carlos Bacca and Mario Mandzukic have all transferred from Spain or France to Italy over the summer and have gone from a very narrow field of potential title contenders to a very broad one. Before the season it was assumed that Juventus would run away with it again but things have been less than smooth in Turin and The Old Lady finds herself in 12th. The new arrivals have brought spark to their teams, have improved the general quality of player in the league and made it competitive again.
There is the genuine possibility of a different winner of the Serie A title this year as Roma currently lead the way from Napoli and Fiorentina. The top 8 includes the big names of Italian football that we have come to recognise: the above 3 plus AC Milan, Inter Milan and Lazio have stormed to the top and are going to fight it out not just for the title but also for the Champions League places too, something which Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri will be all too aware of as his side lose ground on the leading heavy-weights. 2 points separate the top 4 and Lazio are only one win behind those 4. Whilst there is much of the season to go of course, the initial signs are that the one horse league has gone and that the return of the Milan giants after 5 years since either made a major impact on a European scale is really starting to take off.
A lot of that has to do with the players that have been brought in. AC Milan have brought in three world class strikers with recent issues to overcome: Mario Balotelli, Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano have proven over time that they have the talent to lead their side back to the top of the league but need patience and chances. They haven't really been able to function together yet, hence the lower position of the Rossinieri. Lazio have a lower budget than the clubs they are competing with and so haven't brought in many new names, but they always seem to be there or there abouts at the end of the season and will want another shot at Champions League football next season after falling at the qualifying stages this year.
The real splash has been made in the blue half of Milan as the Nerazzuri have signed some players with league winning credentials and European experience and the results are stunning. Roberto Mancini has assembled a formidable squad and has got them to gel in a reasonably short time frame: Kondogbia has been joined by Stevan Jovetic, Joao Miranda, Adem Llajic, Ivan Perisic and Martin Montoya. There are Premier League winners, La Liga winners, Bunesliga and Serie A runners up and plenty of Champions League experience amongst those players and whilst some are only on loan there must be the intention of bringing them in permanently.
Whilst the challenging teams have strengthened their squads and management teams Juventus have hardly been quiet. Mandzukic replaced Carlos Tevez, Sami Khedira replaced Andrea Pirlo, Juan Cuadrado, Hernanes and Roberto Pereyra have been added to their attacking roster and Pablo Dybala joins Alvaro Morata in attack and the squad overall looks much stronger. There are stories in Italy that Allegri's rotation policy is hurting Juve's chances of pushing up the table but with so much talent available you can understand his issue. They will need to start picking up points soon though if they want to retain their title.
Lastly, Roma seem to have recovered from their dreadful mid-season collapse last season and currently lead the chasing pack by two points after only a single defeat in their opening 10 games. Their headline signing, Edin Dzeko, hasn't really fired yet with just the single goal from his first 8 games in the Italian capital. Antonio Rüdiger, a centre back who I highly rate, arrived from Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart and Mohammed Salah is back in Serie A after an unsuccesful spell at Chelsea. The success of the side has been maintaining their side from last year and adding more talent around the effervescent club legends Francesco Totti and Danielle di Rossi.
Serie A looks like it could be back to the league that British fans fell in love with before the turn of the century (ironically enough, James Richardson is still presenting it!) with a competitive league, top quality players and exciting matches. The days of match fixing seem to be in the past, hopefully, and bankruptcies these days seem to be limited to Parma and their depressing collapse into a fourth division team. Outside the title race, Palermo are just as bonkers as ever and there are always minnows to cheer for: Sassuolo sit in 5th at the time of writing and are the underdog of choice for Serie A followers this season by the look of it!
I advise anyone that thinks that Serie A is a write off and waste of time to reconsider and watch some of the games; it is a league back on the march and heading back towards challenging in Europe again. There's more to Serie A than vines of Pogba's latest wonder strike and it is time to appreciate the rediscovered quality of one of Europe's top leagues.
Every weekend I plan out what I am going to be doing and when I will have time for football, both matches and highlights shows. Often I utilise various catch-up services through the week, but I do like to have a rough idea of what I will watch on any given weekend and I'm sure you are the same. Here are my intended matches this weekend, mostly from the European leagues (all times CET):
Friday 20.30: Mainz 05 vs. Borussia Dortmund
The return of Thomas Tuchel to his previous employers Mainz coincides with Dortmund's first dip in form since his arrival and after the demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich before the international break the Schwarzgelb will be aiming to get back to winning ways against a Mainz side who haven't done badly despite the loss of midfield maestro Johannes Geis to Schalke 04 over the summer.
Saturday 13.45: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
No escaping it so might as well embrace it: Jürgen Klopp takes charge of his first Liverpool game and everyone expects them to be lifting the title in May, if not this year then next. Incredible though it seems, I'm backing Spurs to win this one; I think that Mauricio Pochettino has got a good thing going on in North London and the dearth of star quality in the Liverpool line-up might be too much even for Klopp.
Saturday 22.00: Valencia vs. Malaga
3rd place Valencia can keep the pressure on the big two in La Liga if they can beat Malaga, a side who are gradually recovering from their financial meltdown a few years back and are residing in upper-mid table at the moment in the Spanish top division. With Valencia having started so well they will be hoping of a Champions League qualification berth at the end of the season and it is games like these, against Malaga, that they must win in order to fight off the likes of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla.
Sunday 15.00: Napoli vs. Fiorentina
These two are the early front runners in Serie A this year, somewhat surprisingly, but with Fiorentina making the most of Juventus' slow start to top the table at this stage (only losing 1 game in the process) and with Napoli aiming to recover from the disappointment of not qualifying for the Champions League last season this promises to be an entertaining game.
Sunday 20.45: Inter Milan vs. Juventus
If watching heavyweights go toe-to-toe isn't your thing then I'd suggest this might not be the game for you. Inter are finally getting back to their old selves, sitting second in the league before this weekend, whilst Juventus will be nursing sores after losing key players over the summer and starting very slowly this season. It promises to be a match like the good old days of Serie A.
What games will you be watching this weekend? Let us know in the comments or on social media!
"Why German football?", many often ask. "Why football?", I answer. It is not even a difficult question to answer. The actual clarity of the inquiry often makes me sad. Why is the answer not clear to the others? Why don't they understand? Why don't they understand perhaps the most imperious thing about football; the passion? What is it about German football that is so unbelievably unappealing to some? It is a mystery good enough for Sherlock Holmes. It is a mystery I intend to solve.
Football: It is the life of many, some love it, some just don't get what the fuss is about, but most people in the world know what it is. Even if it's called football, Fußball, Fútbol or Soccer, with the latter sending shivers down my spine, you know exactly what it is and often what it represents. For some football fans, this sport is their lives. A great example is Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch where he describes his life changing relationship with Arsenal Football Club, a relationship I myself understand quite well. When your favourite team plays well and wins the weekend is great. When it's the other way around, the weekend is affected in the same way. This passion for football shown in Hornby's book presents not just the lives of many English fans, but the whole German fanbase. If you look for so called "plastic fans", Dame Fortune won't be kind to you in the Teutonic lands.
This passion for the sport, mixed together with some of the brightest ideas of modern football (gegenpressing, for example), makes a fantastic league. Add to that the excitement of watching your team play in front of stands of emphatic fans, all dressed in the colours of your team, shouting your club's name time after time, in rather friendly and positive chants. Every german team has its own chants, or Fangesänge, from 1. FC Köln's "Effzeh Kölle" to VFB Stuttgart's "VFB Hier im Stadion", always sung with immense passion and feeling which makes you melt, fall in love or perhaps both.
Furthermore, the teams themselves are healthy clubs with good financial statuses, often illuminated by a long history full of dramatic games and derbies. These, together with club legends, create a legacy that the fans can either look back to, remember or even relish in. The afore-mentioned fans are naturally a great part of very team in every tier of German football. From Bayern Münich to Wehen Wiesbaden, all teams are supported by fans: young or old ones, new or seasoned, all true and loyal to the club. The clubs are often full of nice gestures, shown when they tried to incorporate the refugees into the club through training camps and free tickets. In that way they showed loyalty and immense respect, not only towards their fans, but to the whole of mankind.
Forget not the players, the ones who make the actual football in Bundesliga what it is. The players who are indoctrinated to press high and counter attack. Every player from Marco Reus of Borussia Dortmund to Dennis Grote of MSV Duisburg knows exactly how to "gegenpress" the opposition to win the ball and attempt to score in front of their ridiculous amount of fans. It is beautiful, it is quick and it is very effective. Compact and tight in the back and experimental and expressionistic in attack has come to epitomise the whole of Bundesliga, as well as the German national team itself. When the German teams play their quick, counter attacking football, it reminds us of a grand orchestra playing symphonies in a beautiful and well orchestrated way, symphonies which, for the opposition, end with Mozart's Requiem.
Let us not forget Germany, let us not forget 7-1 versus Brazil, let us not forget gegenpressing. Let us not forget Bundesliga, for it might just be the greatest league this world has ever seen. This site is hereby opened and will henceforth be known as "Fresh off the Gegenpress" and you, dear readers, are very welcome to come here, to read and learn about the lost teams, the forgotten goal, the under-appreciated manager or the unseen player. Welcome home!
Axel Falk. Co-Founder and Editor.