Empoli won admirers with a classy and relatively comfortable campaign last season. Giancarlo Rinaldi assesses how easy it will be to repeat the deal after losing some key personnel…
There was a point about midway through last season when something was truly stirring in Tuscany. The boys from the Carlo Castellani had been a revelation and were an outside shot for Europe with some stylish football and impressive results. But a long winless run ensued and – although they survived easily enough – left questions about which version of the team was the real one.
Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli has been a casualty of that depressing sequence and is replaced by Paolo Zanetti – a man who knows a bit about relegation fights having most recently managed Venezia. He appears to have a better squad at his disposal at Empoli but the loss of last season’s top scorer Andrea Pinamonti is a blow. Mattia Destro could be the answer – or so they hope – but he has blown hot and cold throughout his career.
Loan deals could represent their best chance of staying afloat again but it is always a risk to rely on the kindness of others. Their newly-promoted rivals look a little more ambitious this season than last so they face a stern task. Dodging the drop will be particularly hard if they don’t make another flying start this year.
Key man: Guglielmo Vicario
Every Serie A relegation fight starts with a solid base and the much-scouted goalkeeper, pictured above, is sure to be a busy boy again this term. He attracted a wide range of suitors in the summer but – at the time of writing – he remained between the posts in Empoli, which can only be to their advantage. Likely to face plenty more chances to enhance his reputation in the weeks to come but clean sheets will be essential in keeping his team afloat.
Coach: Paolo Zanetti
He came into Serie A with Venezia with a reputation for trying to play football on the front foot but quickly had to adapt to his circumstances with a team which struggled throughout the season. There is no doubt he has a more tried and tested squad this time around and there are more solid foundations of playing attractive, aggressive football in the top flight. He chopped and changed formations in Venice but a 4-3-1-2 or a slight variation appears the most likely option with his new side.
Watch out for: Heroic Henderson
Scottish players are starting to make a name for themselves in Serie A and Liam Henderson is now well-established as a consistent and reliable performer. Good energy, tactical awareness and his all-round skill-set have seen him rattle up nearly 150 appearances between the top flight and Serie B and he will hope to kick on even further under his new boss.