Under former boss Maurizio Sarri, it was Napoli that pushed Juventus all the way in what was a thrilling title race in Serie A last season, however the winning mentality of the Bianconeri once again proved to be decisive as they secured their seventh consecutive Scudetto. A side with ambitions of European glory firmly on their minds, they then blew the transfer window apart this summer with the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.
“If they want, they can win the League by February and then think about the Champions League,” declared former Italian international Antonio Cassano this week. “Juve are three or four years ahead of the others: they’re programmed in a completely different way to anyone else, thanks to their ideas, decisions and revenue.”
Having brought in the Portuguese superstar and taken advantage of a desire to return to the club from former defender Leonardo Bonucci, it is hard to see anything other than another Serie A crown for the Turin giants, however the competition have also taken the opportunity to up their game.
Last year’s runners-up Napoli have captured the signing of highly experienced boss Carlo Ancelotti, a man well-versed in the art of league victories. The former AC Milan Coach has secured domestic titles in Italy, England, France and Germany, but a 5-0 pre-season thrashing by Liverpool shows there is still some work for him to do.
Meanwhile, Inter may have only just scraped into the Champions League on the final day of 2017/18, but their smart work in the transfer market this summer has transformed them into contenders on the domestic front. Roma continue their intelligent work under sporting director Monchi and ambitious boss Eusebio Di Francesco, leading many to believe that Serie A has become a mouthwatering prospect once again.
Battle Of The Strikers
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo has sparked somewhat of a chain reaction among Serie A’s biggest sides, as the battle of the strikers looks set to commence. Gonzalo Higuain was previously the highest earner at Juve until the aforementioned high-profile transfer, and the Old Lady simply couldn’t justify this price for a backup number nine.
This allowed the man who holds the all-time single-season Serie A scoring record to join Milan, the Rossoneri having been crying out for a striker after Nikola Kalinic unsurprisingly flopped last term. With Higuain at the red half of San Siro and compatriot Mauro Icardi at Inter, a Milan derby with two deadly strikers becomes an event that has not been seen since the 2011/12 campaign, in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Milito went toe-to-toe in the city’s most pivotal fixture.
Napoli too can boast Belgian international Dries Mertens, who looks set to drop behind fit-again striker Arkadiusz Milik in Ancelotti’s 4-2-3-1, with rumours that talented Torino number nine Andrea Belotti could also make the move south to Naples. Added in with Roma’s Edin Dzeko and last season’s joint top scorer Ciro Immobile at Lazio, Serie A is shaping up to get back to its brilliant best in 2018/19.
Who Will Reach Europe?
With four places in the Champions League at stake, the race for Europe will once again be fascinating in Italy’s top leaguw.Taking it as a given that Juventus will once again reach the elite competition leaves three places available for Napoli, Roma, Inter, Lazio and Milan to fight for.
The latter side have now ousted charlatan owner Yonghong Li and are now owned by US hedge fund Elliott Management, who have steadied the ship and seemingly provided a solid platform in which the club now hope to achieve their Champions League ambitions. Boss Gennaro Gattuso was only really lacking a proven goalscorer last term and with Higuain now on board, Milan fans will hope the new man can fire them to their stated aim.
Meanwhile Lazio will look to try again after narrowly missing out last season, and the remaining trio have all strengthened in one way or another during the break.
As always, promoted sides Empoli, Parma and Frosinone will be the favourites to be relegated by the end of the campaign, and it is expected that Ronaldo in particular will have a field day against the weaker sides in the division. Last season it took Benevento until November to gain their first ever point in the top flight, however this year’s trio are all teams with some previous Serie A experience.
Furthermore, there was only six points that separated 18th placed Crotone – sitting in the final relegation spot – and 12th placed Genoa last term, meaning that any one of the struggling sides that included SPAL, Cagliari, Bologna, Udinese and Chievo could be in the mix come May next year, with a clear gulf in quality between the top and the bottom in this league.
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Also published on Medium.