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<I>This week’s preview comes to you in an abridged format due to time constraints and the fact that Cesena vs. Napoli kicks-off in the next couple of hours. Expect greater detail in the future.</I>

A.C. Cesena

Cesena fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of the 2011-12 campaign. Tipped for relegation last year, the Seahorses managed a credible 15th-place finish after an impressive haul of 14 points from a possible 24 in the last two months of the season. In the end Cesena survived 2010-11 with games to spare, and an active summer transfer window should help them consolidate their position as a mid-table Serie A side.

It’s been a busy summer at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi with 11 players leaving and no fewer than 14 arriving. On the departures front, Davide Santon and Fabio Caserta left after productive loan spells and forward Emanuele Giaccherini has been sold to Juventus. Ghanian midfielder Stephan Appiah’s contract wasn’t renewed and he has left the club on a free transfer, but perhaps the most significant departure is that of Luis Jiminéz.

The Chilean midfielder rebuilt his career at Cesena last season after disappointing spells with Inter, West Ham United and Parma. Cesena’s key playmaker last season, Jiminéz also notched 9 goals in 31 league appearances for the Seahorses, but will feature for Dubai’s Al-Ahli next season after the resolution of a complex contractual issue with Lega Pro side Ternana.

Cesena have had a productive summer in terms of new arrivals despite the losses of Jiminéz and co. Gianluca Comotto, Marco Rossi and Guillermo Rodriguez have arrived to shore-up the Seahorses’ defence, while Antonio Candreva and former Palermo man Roberto Guana should both start in midfield. Brazilian Éder is a striker whose talent belies his paltry six-goal haul for Brescia last season, and Cesena have also made one of the most intriguing buys of the summer in their new number 10: Adrian Mutu.

The Romanian is notorious for his problems and they certainly don’t need documenting here, but Mutu’s quality is undeniable. His signing is a huge coup for a club of Cesena’s stature, and at 32 years of age Mutu should still have plenty to offer. Plying his trade with a small-town club away from the spotlight, Mutu won’t get a better chance to put his head down and enjoy the rest of his career.

The Seahorses aren’t a big club by any stretch of the imagination. The last few decades have seen them spend more time in the lower tiers than Italian football’s upper echelon, and their Serie A return came after consecutive promotions from Lega Pro (2009) and Serie B (2010).

Cesena’s longest stays in Serie A both lasted just four years (1973-77 and 1987-91) so on-paper it looks like they’re currently performing above their level. Currently, such an assumption is wholly inaccurate. They’ve added depth, experience and genuine quality to their squad this summer and are in an excellent position to establish themselves and challenge for a higher finish than last season’s 15th. They may be third favourites for relegation and there’s always the chance that Mutu’s demons will resurface, but for now they should be looking forwards, not over their shoulders.

Unfortunately it won’t be an easy start for the Seahorses as they welcome Napoli to the Stadio Manuzzi this evening. Comfortably beaten 4-1 in the same fixture last season, new coach Marco Giampaolo will see tonight as a test of how far Cesena have come. Nobody can expect this side to gel immediately and it’ll take all of Cesena’s endeavour to contain Napoli’s strengthened squad, but the Partenopei have a midweek Champions League fixture with Manchester City to worry about. If Napoli’s focus isn’t completely on Cesena this week then there’s every chance the Seahorses and their new-look Eder-Mutu-Martinez frontline could do some damage.

I’ll be watching tonight’s game on ESPN at 19:45. Further analysis will follow sometime this weekend.

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