'The Magnificent Seven' - Mourinho, Allegri & Sarri the headline acts in Serie A's stellar cast of coaches

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Maurizio Sarri Jose Mourinho Massimiliano Allegri Formation Serie A GFX
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The Italian top flight returns this weekend and while it has been hit hard by the sale of top players, a number of colourful characters have returned

It's been a traumatic summer for fans of Serie A.

A plethora of last season's top performers have left for pastures new. And, far more depressingly, no genuine superstars have arrived to replace them.

Not on the pitch, at least.

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While the loss of world-class players like Gigio Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku has hit hard, Italian football has been lifted by the return of some of the game's most successful – and colourful – coaches.

Indeed, with Jose Mourinho, Maurizio Sarri, Massimiliano Allegri and Luciano Spalletti all returning, Gian Piero Gasperini and Stefano Pioli staying put, and Simone Inzaghi taking over at Inter, Serie A now arguably boasts the most intriguing managerial line-up in Europe's 'Big Five' leagues.

As Fabio Capello proudly declared in the Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this week, "It's the championship of the coaches!"

But which member of 'The Magnificent Seven', as La Repubblica has christened them, will prove the star of the show?

Goal rates Serie A's stellar cast of coaches below...

Jose Mourinho

Serie A's signing of the summer? Certainly, no other arrival generated as much hysteria. Mourinho remains a major draw in Italy, as underlined by the rockstar welcome he received in Rome.

Of course, his enduring appeal owes everything to his historic treble triumph with Inter in 2010. 

A lot has changed since then and Mourinho's stock has fallen significantly after an acrimonious exit at Manchester United and a trophy-less stint at Tottenham.

The big question is whether he has anything left in his extensive playbook? 

Roma Formation Serie A GFX

Sky Sport Italia's resident Premier League expert Paolo Di Canio reckons the Portuguese is "finished" and he's not alone in that regard. 

There are plenty of neutrals who believe that Mourinho's methods are now at odds with the modern game.

The man himself, though, insists that not only are his recent results unfairly maligned, he's no longer a confrontational character.

"I will give everything to defend my players, but I won’t be the one looking for trouble," he claimed in his very first press conference as Roma's new coach. "I don’t have time for that. I have more experience now, so I am more solid emotionally."

He has since proceeded to take shots at Inter, Antonio Conte and a variety of other rivals, making it clear that his Roma tenure will be nothing if not dramatic.

Maurizio Sarri

The Rome derby is always one of the most heated clashes in world football. This season, though, the action on the field could pale into comparison to what happens off it. 

Maurizio Sarri may not be as outspoken as Mourinho, but the chain-smoking, Bukowski-loving Tuscan is no stranger to controversy.

He once used a gay slur to refer to Roberto Mancini, admitted that he would have told one journalist to "f*ck off" had she not been a woman, and warned Gonzalo Higuain he'd be a "right d*ckhead" if the Argentine didn't win the Ballon d'Or.

Most infamously of all, though, he flicked a V-sign in the direction of Juventus fans while in charge of Napoli.

Obviously, that was one of the reasons why the Bianconeri faithful never really took to him during his one and only season with the Old Lady.

Lazio Formation Serie A GFX

It's worth remembering, though, that Sarri won a Serie A title in Turin – in spite of the fact that the fans were never fully behind him. It was a similar story at Chelsea, too, where he lifted the Europa League – the first trophy of his career – despite a bitter backlash to his style of play.

By contrast, Lazio fans left hurt by Inzaghi's defection to Inter, celebrated the appointment of such a revered tactician, but Sarri will not be working with anything like the same strength of squad as those of his two most recent clubs.

That may well suit him, though. While he can't be happy by the parsimony of Lazio president Claudio Lotito, Sarri has done his best work – at Empoli and Napoli – with teams devoid of superstars.

The key, as Capello has pointed out, will be how the players respond to his beautiful but demanding brand of football.

Midfielder Gonzalo Escalante has already revealed they are "still trying to get to grip with" being asked to play at 2000km per hour, while Sarri was recently caught warning Elseid Hysaj during a training session that if he played one more long ball, "I'll award a penalty to the other team!"

Lazio may not win the title but they could well win over plenty of purists...

Massimiliano Allegri

Juventus may have only nicked fourth place on the final day of last season but they are many people's favourites to be crowned champions next May. 

Why? Massimiliano Allegri. It really is as simple as that.

During his first tenure in Turin, Allegri won five consecutive titles and reached the final of the Champions League twice.

He only left because he wanted to overhaul the squad, even suggesting to Andrea Agnelli that he "get rid" of Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, the Juve president preferred to follow the advice of Pavel Nedved and Fabio Paratici, and got rid of Allegri instead.

The Bianconeri have regressed in the interim; their bid to play a more expansive, exciting brand of football eventually resulting in the end of a run of nine successive Scudetti.

So, in a bid to return to winning ways, Agnelli brought back Allegri, and his far more pragmatic approach to the game.

Juventus Formation Serie A GFX

It's obviously good news for journalists, too, as the straight-talking Allegri rarely disappoints in his pre and post-game press conferences.

Just last month, at his second unveiling as Juve coach, the idea of making Leonardo Bonucci captain cropped up and Allegri made it clear that he hadn't forgotten – or forgiven – the centre-back for leaving for AC Milan for a year.

"If he wants the armband, then he can buy one and go play in the piazza with it," the Bianconeri boss told amused reporters. "And Leo knows that."

And that is significant here: after the Sarri and Pirlo experiments, Juve once again have a coach who commands total respect from each and every member of the squad.

The Bianconeri may have only made one major signing, that of Manuel Locatelli from Sassuolo, and there are ongoing doubts over Cristiano Ronaldo's future, and how the ageing forward will react to spending more time on the bench, but they are obvious title challengers.

"Allegri knows how to win," the legendary Arrigo Sacchi told the Gazzetta. "He knows the roads that lead to victory."

Simone Inzaghi

When Inter presented Simone Inzaghi to the press as their new coach in July, he admitted: "I know that there will be difficulties."

However, while the former Lazio boss was aware that Hakimi needed to be sold because of the club's financial problems, he had no idea that he would also have to do without Lukaku.

Inzaghi had called the Belgian forward before his appointment had even been made official, so keen was he to impress upon Lukaku just how much he wanted to work with him.

The 2021-22 Serie A MVP was utterly integral to his plans; plans which have now been left in tatters by Lukaku's shock sale to Chelsea.

Inzaghi was dead set against the deal and did everything he could to stop it going through. Now, though, he must somehow unite a club left in a state of disarray just three months after a dominant title triumph.

It's an onerous task for the 45-year-old coach but there are some grounds for optimism. Firstly, Inzaghi's personality is as positive as his football.

Inter Formation Serie A GFX

Inter defender Stefan de Vrij, who played under him at Lazio, says the former striker is adept at creating a "great atmosphere" within a dressing room, while Biancocelesti striker Ciro Immobile has compared Inzaghi's motivational skills to those of Jurgen Klopp.

Furthermore, while Inzaghi may not be as intense as his predecessor, Antonio Conte, he does play a very similar 3-5-2 formation that his new players should have little trouble implementing.

Inzaghi has enjoyed anything but an ideal start to his new job but this is not exactly uncharted territory for him, given he was installed as Lazio coach on a permanent basis only after Marcelo Bielsa had quit the Roman club just a week after taking over.

In addition, Inzaghi is hardly a chequebook manager, having worked wonders at the Stadio Olimpico – a Coppa Italia triumph in 2019, and Champions League qualification the following year – on a very small budget.

He will clearly be hoping that Edin Dzeko isn't the only forward signed to fill the gaping void left behind by Lukaku.

"Conte's Inter leaned heavily on Romelu and you can't do the same thing with Dzeko," ex-Inter defender Daniele Adani told the Gazzetta. "But, in the last two years at Lazio, Inzaghi has shown that he knows how to construct attacks in different ways."

Essentially, while Inter may have lost Lukaku, they haven't lost all hope. Inzaghi's ingenuity means Inter have a shot at retaining their title.

Luciano Spalletti

Napoli have yet to spend a single cent this summer yet new coach Luciano Spalletti freely admits that he'd be happy if the transfer window closed now.

He's content with the current make-up of his squad and is scared stiff of losing a top talent like Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly or Fabian Ruiz.

"I wanted to chain myself to all of the players," he joked last month. And it's easy to understand why Spalletti is happy with his lot.

Gennaro Gattuso won a Coppa Italia at Napoli, after restoring order at a club threatening to tear itself apart during a dispute between the players and their employers, but he failed to secure a top-four finish last season, with the Partenopei throwing away Champions League qualification with a dismal draw at home to Verona on the final day.

Even without the addition of any new players, there is every chance that Spalletti could enjoy even more success than his predecessor. 

There has long been the suspicion that Napoli should be challenging for the title, given the strength of their squad, particularly with Victor Osimhen seemingly set for a spectacular second season at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Napoli Formation Serie A GFX

The Tuscan is 62 now, has been out of the game for two years, has never won a Scudetto and his last major trophy in Italian football came at Roma 13 years ago, when he retained the Coppa Italia. 

However, Spalletti is almost universally regarded as an innovative coach and an amicable but powerful personality, as perhaps best underlined by his relationship with Francesco Totti.

It was Spalletti that got the absolute best out of the legendary Roma captain with his striker-less 4-6-0 formation – which inspired Sir Alex Ferguson's Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney forward line – but it was also Spalletti who repeatedly squared up to Totti during the No.10's final season at the Stadio Olimpico.

Spalletti also fell out with former Inter captain Mauro Icardi during their time together at San Siro, so this is not a man who suffers fools gladly.

For now, though, much of the media focus is on his relationship with club president – and movie producer – Aurelio De Laurentiis. As it stands, nothing is off the table regarding the transfer window.

De Laurentiis, who says Napoli have "innumerable" financial problems, freely admits that there could be comings and goings right up until deadline day, but if Spalletti reaches September with his squad intact, he has the experience and tactical acumen to mastermind a sustained title tilt.

Stefano Pioli

Stefano Pioli insisted that even if a resurgent AC Milan failed to finish in the top four last season, their campaign couldn't be considered a failure.

However, had the one-time leaders missed out on Champions League football, it would have been a massive blow for the club's coffers, and the coach's hopes of holding on to his job.

After all, Pioli has never won a major honour at senior level, so Milan's decision to suddenly abandon their grand plan to allow Ralf Rangnick to rebuild the Rossoneri from top to bottom would have looked ridiculous.

Pioli, though, secured a second-placed finish with an impressive win at Atalanta on matchday 38 and proudly declared: "Sleeping Beauty will now reawaken in her own home: among the biggest clubs in the Champions League."

Of course, there is little room for fairy tales in football anymore and Milan suffered a brutal reality check when they quickly lost both Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu for absolutely nothing.

In fairness, Milan have probably done as well as they possibly could in replacing both, by signing Mike Maignan from Lille, and persuading Real Madrid to let them have Brahim Diaz on loan for another two years. 

AC Milan Formation Serie A GFX

Olivier Giroud has also arrived from Chelsea and the France international is a proven performer at the very highest level. The obvious concern, though, is that Giroud is 34 and will be vying for the centre-forward role with the 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Still, Pioli has proven himself capable of extracting the very most out of what is an otherwise young squad. Unlike many of his peers in Serie A, he is not outspoken, he does not court controversy and he does not partake in mind games. 

He is honest, loyal and likeable, which is precisely why he has been able to restore the Rossoneri to their rightful place among Italy's elite.

"It's too easy to recognise 'winners' as only those who win leagues," he told Milan TV. "But my dream, professionally speaking, is to win something, and to do it with Milan would be something to celebrate."

Gian Piero Gasperini

Gian Piero Gasperini perfectly proves Pioli's point that not all winners have a title to their name.

The Atalanta coach has yet to lift a trophy since arriving in Bergamo five years ago but his record is truly remarkable.

For the third consecutive season, the provincial outfit with just the 11th biggest wage bill in Serie A will compete in the Champions League, underlining just why Atalanta are regarded as the biggest overachievers in European club football.

There are several reasons for their surprise success, including their mastery of the transfer market and their wonderful youth sector, but none of it would be possible without Gasperini.

Players come and go at Atalanta. The one constant is their thrilling style of play, with Gasperini willing to go one-v-one at the back as it allows the wing-backs to bomb forward in a 3-4-1-2 formation featuring a fantastically fluid forward line.

The question, as always, is whether they can keep it going?

Atalanta Formation Serie A GFX

Atalanta have lost two starters, in Pierluigi Gollini and Cristian Romero, sparking fears among the fans of an excellent squad being disassembled once again.

Earlier this summer, some ultras left a message for president Antonio Percassi outside the club's training ground which read: "Season tickets, friendlies, the transfer market – Don’t get it wrong, there's a city here to respect."

Atalanta, though, have replaced Gollini with Udinese's highly rated Juan Musso, while Merih Demiral has, just like Romero before him, arrived from Juventus with something to prove.

If both settle in quickly, and Atalanta manage to persuade Duvan Zapata to stay put despite interest from Inter, they have every reason to dream of winning the Scudetto at the end of this, one of the most open seasons in Serie A history.

They don't have the money to compete. But they do have the stability and the strategy.

As Gasperini said, "Just because you're humble, doesn't mean you can't be ambitious. I firmly believe you are more likely to get good results if you play good football.”

And no other side in Serie A plays better football than Gasperini's Atalanta.

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