It's been less than a fortnight since the European Championships ended over in France but already it's time to start looking ahead to the new Serie A season. Quite what state Inter are going to arrive in does not really bear thinking about, given the complete deadlock our transfer business is suffering from and the evident behind-the-scenes tension between Roberto Mancini and new club owners Suning, but even for those of us who are feeling incredibly pessimistic at the moment this is a brief opportunity to fill ourselves with excitement and (probably misguided) optimism.
Nothing beats fixture release day. Fixture release day is without doubt the single happiest day of the football season, because every set of fans in the country is united of hope; an emotion most football supporters are not in the slightest bit used to. Everybody comes together in a big happy circle, dreaming of what their heroes might be able to achieve in the coming months, blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic disaster that their team is about to serve up in front of their eyes.
The other thing that's great about this time of year is all the utter nonsense people spout about the importance of the fixture schedule. Last year Mario Sconcerti spent the whole evening telling anyone who would listen that nobody since 1975 has won the Scudetto after losing their first game of the season, and then Juventus won the Scudetto after losing their first game of the season. Fabio Caressa excitedly billed the Matchday 2 clash between Juve and Roma as a fundamental opportunity to lay down a psychological marker, which Roma won before completely collapsing before Christmas and allowing Juve to waltz to the title. Interisti pointed out that we had a lot of tough away games against big teams in the second half of the season, and then we dropped a sackful of points against tiny sides like Carpi and Verona to invalidate all that talk. You get the gist. I think it's like when people earnestly analyse preseason friendlies - nobody really remembers anything they've said once the actual season has started, do they? I don't remember anything anyway.
ANYWAY, enough of the waffle. The fixtures. Let's discuss our fixtures. Attached here is our schedule in its entirety for the 2016-17 Serie A campaign, but if you're only after some quick headlines here's a summary of all the dates that matter:
Our first match of the new season will take place away from home against Chievo, the Flying Donkeys who finished eighth last year, on the weekend beginning 21 August 2016. Not too easy then, but not too difficult either; about as good as we could have drawn. It's always dodgy to draw newly-promoted sides on matchday 1 (as Napoli have, who travel to Pescara), so at least we've avoided that. Seven days later, we will play our first home game of the campaign, as Palermo travel to San Siro, before we take on newly-promoted Pescara (along with a certain Gianluca Caprari and Rey Manaj) at the Stadio Adriatico on the third weekend of the season.
After that comes our first big match, as Inter vs Juventus has been drawn for the fourth weekend of the new season - which unfortunately is the weekend directly after our first Europa League game (Thursday 15 September), and isn't particularly ideal. Straight after the Derby d'Italia will be the first midweek round, scheduled for 20-22 September, in which we will be away to Empoli, so we might get to encounter young Federico Dimarco after his loan move there. Who knows. So to recap, our start to the season looks like this: Chievo (A), Palermo (H), Pescara (A), Juventus (H), Empoli (A). It's fair to say we have comfortably the softest start out of all of the so-called 'big teams', so let's try not to waste it.
Onto the other big matches then. The next heavyweight clash awaiting us comes on matchday 7, when we will play Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, and then we need to wait another few weeks before three of them come in successive weekends. First we have the 'away' version of the derby with Milan on matchday 13, which will (almost certainly) take place on Sunday 21st November. Mark that date in your diaries. Then a week later we take on Fiorentina at San Siro, and then if that wasn't enough we'll have Napoli at the San Paolo the week after that. It could be an important run of games. The final prestigious name of Italian football that we'll encounter is Lazio, who will be our last opponents before Christmas at San Siro - for the third season in a row. How does this happen?! I blame Lotito.
If our first five look reasonably OK, our final five games of the season look a little bit harder: Napoli (H), Genoa (A), Sassuolo (H), Lazio (A), Udinese (H). Not exactly straightforward, perhaps Udinese aside. Still, if the club doesn't resolve the utter chaos it's engulfed in at the moment it'll be academic, because we won't still be in contention for anything meaningful by that stage. (That's half a joke, half not.)
The other thing that may be of interest to you is the games we will play directly after our Europa League group stage games: Juventus (H), Roma (A), Atalanta (A), Crotone (H), Fiorentina (H), Genoa (H). That's almost certainly the worst bit of news to come out of this draw. Oh well.
And that's it. Thoughts? Do you like the calendar? Do you hate it? Do you think it makes absolutely no difference? Whatever your point of view, one thing is now clear: the new season isn't very far away. Let's go!