Sun, Sep 01, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Serie A turns up the flare as ‘catenaccio’ fades

AP, ROME

Bologna’s Gary Medel, right, vies for the ball with SPAL’s Federico di Francesco during their Serie A match in Bologna, Italy, on Friday. Bologna won 1-0.

Photo: AP

A seven-goal thriller won by never-say-die SSC Napoli over full-throttle ACF Fiorentina. An entertaining six-goal draw between AS Roma and Genoa. Inter’s authoritative 4-0 shutout of US Lecce in Antonio Conte’s debut.

And not a single scoreless draw.

If there is anything to be learned from the opening weekend of Serie A, it is that free-flowing, attacking soccer might have finally arrived in Serie A, and catenaccio — a tactic of lockdown defense — could be history.

There were 33 goals scored over 10 matches for an average of 3.3 goals per game — considerably more than the 2.7 goals per game the league has averaged for the past two seasons.

The last time Serie A averaged more than three goals per game over an entire season came in 1950-1951.

“This was just a little glimmer. Now we need to become dynamite,” Conte said of his completely revamped squad.

With offensive-minded coaches such as Conte and Maurizio Sarri at Juventus returning to Serie A and the addition of attack-minded Paulo Fonseca at Roma, plus Vincenzo Montella back at Fiorentina, goals should come in abundance.

“Their squads promote collective football that promotes organized creativity with a considerable sense of adventure,” said Arrigo Sacchi, the former AC Milan and Italy coach who was something of a novelty when he first employed forward-thinking soccer in the 1980s.

“So it could be a blessing for our league, which generally doesn’t tend toward those traits,” Sacchi added in an editorial for the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Gian Piero Gasperini at Atalanta BC is another coach who favors offense, and after a surprise third-place finish and Champions League berth last season, the Bergamo squad was at it again, coming back from two goals down for a 3-2 win at SPAL.

Lazio also scored three in a shutout of UC Sampdoria.

In what is being hyped as the most competitive Serie A in years, perhaps the lone holdout in the new offensive wave remains Juventus, who have not yet adopted the swift passing game preferred by Sarri.

With Sarri watching at home sick with pneumonia, Juventus controlled and risked little after taking an early lead in a 1-0 victory at Parma.

The Juventus performance was the closest thing to catenaccio seen over the weekend.

Aiding the increase in goals is that the video assistant referee is in its third season of use, meaning that defenders can no longer get away with the physical play of yesteryear.

Stricter handball rules also favor the strikers, as seen when Fiorentina were awarded an early penalty against Napoli.

Perhaps in anticipation of more goals, average attendance for the opening weekend was more than 26,000 per match — led by the 64,000 at San Siro to witness Inter’s four-goal romp.

The 26,000 barrier had not been broken for the first weekend since Serie A enlarged to 20 teams in 2004-2005 — nor had that many fans shown up for an August weekend, which is during Italy’s summer vacation period, in a decade.

More big crowds are expected this weekend, eight-time defending champions Juventus playing last season’s runners-up Napoli, and the Rome derby.

“Resistance to change reigns large in our country,” Sacchi said. “But we might just be about to witness a different season in which overwrought tactics, defensiveness and fear could make way for strategy, emotions and courage like hardly seen before over the last 60 to 70 years.”

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