VERONA, ITALY - Serie A kicks off with an intriguing battle when newly promoted Hellas Verona host the scuddeto chasing AC Milan. It's been over a decade since Verona were in the top flight and, following an impressive summer of recruitment, I am certain they can avoid relegation and take a scalp or two along the way. But beginning their season with three points against AC Milan, who were in competitive action during the week in a 1-1 draw with PSV, looks too big of an ask.
The bookmakers make the rossoneri odds on favourites for victory and you can pick up a top price of 1.80 with Betfred and BetVictor. If you fancy Verona to get off to a flyer then can back them at an industry price of 4.90 with Sportingbet. Finally, the draw is available at 3.75 with the same firm.
AC Milan finished in third place last season, 15 points adrift of the eventual winners Juventus but they should close the gap this season. The arrival of Mario Balotelli in January saw Milan's form in the second half of the season propel them into third position. The enigmatic Balotelli scored 12 goals in 13 league games as he took to wearing the red and black of Milan like a duck to water. Predictably, he is the market leader in the goal scorer markets.
You can pick up a top price of 4.50 with Paddy Power on Balotelli to open the scoring; however, the value in this market lies with his striker partner Stephen El Shaarawy. The Egyptian-born youngster is available to back at 5.50 with Skybet and Boylesports to net first.
El Shaarawy made a blistering start to last season but tailed off towards the end, many were suggesting he wasn't as productive with Balotelli around but his drought was most likely down to fatigue. He found the net first in the Champions League qualifier against PSV and see no reason why his partnership with Balotelli cannot flourish, back El Shaarawy to break the deadlock again.
There is no doubt that Verona will enjoy their first season in the top flight for 11 years but they have a horrendous record on the opening day. They have won just three of the last 24 games on the opening day of the season (P24 W3 D9 L12), the worst record in the league and I expect more opening day misery for the Veronese.
However, the 1.80 on offer for a Milan doesn't excite me and I would prefer a bit more meat on the bones. Instead the correct score of 2-1 in favour of AC Milan looks packed with value at 10.0 with Labrokes.
Luca Toni was the marquee signing of the summer for Verona and he will definitely be a player to keep on side in the goal scorer markets this season. For those interested in backing the 36 year-old against AC Milan you can pick up a top price of 9.0 with Paddy Power on him to net first or 3.75 with Skybet to score anytime.
The game kicks off at 5pm BST on Saturday 24th August 2013 and is live on Setanta Sports.
Mark Smith's bets on this game: