Milan 1.40, the draw 4.50, Sampdoria 7.75
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: gone. Thiago Silva: gone. Antonio Cassano, Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso, Pippo Inzaghi and Gianluca Zambrotta: all gone. Oh, and Alexandre Pato: injured (of course). Ahead of Milan’s season opener against Sampdoria, the casual observer might be excused for asking what the Rossoneri could possibly have left.
The answer is: more than most other teams in the division. While Milan have been significantly weakened by this summer’s departures, theirs is still a squad boasting such players as Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Riccardo Montolivo and – if he can ever stay fit – Pato. New signing Giampaolo Pazzini might be coming off a wretched year with Inter, in which he scored just five league goals, but in more fruitful campaigns with Inter and Sampdoria his strike rate was close to one every two games.
Even at centre-back, where the absences of Silva and Nesta will be keenly felt, the situation is hardly dire. New arrivals Francesco Acerbi, from Chievo, and Cristián Zapata, from Villarreal, represent a significant step down, but if the latter can rediscover his form of two years ago at Udinese, they would still be an above average partnership. At 24 and 25, respectively, there is also scope for them to improve as they grow together.
Sampdoria, by contrast, enter the new season on the crest of a wave following their promotion, yet it remains to be seen if they have sufficient quality to maintain top-flight status. The club were delighted to bring back Andrea Poli this summer after the player’s year on loan with Inter, and have also added Maxi López, Marcelo Estigarribia and Lorenzo de Silvestri, but will still be relying largely on a group of players who finished sixth in Serie B last year, before obtaining promotion through the play-offs.
A trip to San Siro hardly makes for the gentlest of starts; the statisticians of the Italian press have been quick to note that Samp have lost all of their last three away games against Milan by the same, comprehensive margin: 3-0. Odds of 11.00 are available on a repeat of that scoreline.
But while Ciro Ferrara’s side are rightfully heavy underdogs, they should be able to avoid such a bruising defeat this time around; not only is this a weaker Milan team, but Samp showed themselves last season to be impressively resolute at the back. Their goalkeeper, the Argentina international Sergio Romero, surprised many with his decision to join the Blucerchiati in the second-tier last summer, and his saves subsequently played a huge role in Samp finishing the season with just 34 goals conceded in 42 games.
Rather than backing a blowout, consider a bet on fewer than 2.5 goals being scored in the game at 1.92, and perhaps also a punt on Milan to win the game without conceding at 2.4. Although the Rossoneri’s back line is not what it was, the disparity between their defensive records at home and away last season was striking: they conceded just 11 at San Siro and 22 on their travels.
The fixture is lent additional interest by the fact each team’s attack will be led by one of their opposition’s former strikers. López may well be Samp’s most likely source of a goal, yet he found the net just once in eight games during his loan spell with Milan last year. Pazzini, on the other hand, could be a decent bet to grab a goal against his former club after being reunited with his old friend Riccardo Montolivo – whose assists he has long cited as the best in the business.