From Napoli’s title credentials to Milan’s new dawn – five key questions ahead of the new Serie A season


With Serie A set to begin on Saturday, we put five key questions about the forthcoming season to Italian football writer Adam Digby. Looking at both ends of the table and what looks like an increasingly competitive title race, this should whet your appetite ahead of the big kick off on the peninsula.

 

Can Juventus overcome the loss of key players to win a seventh consecutive title?

The short answer here is undoubtedly “yes,” but the Bianconeri will clearly be affected by the events of a tumultuous summer. Both Leonardo Bonucci (more on him later) and Dani Alves moved on, each appearing to have serious grievances with the club and boss Max Allegri.

Yet even before their exits, the Coach appeared to have some serious issues to address. The midfield pairing of Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanić was overwhelmed in Cardiff against Real Madrid, but more worryingly also looked out of their depth against Lazio last weekend. The German in particular was way off the pace, prompting Juve to sign Blaise Matuidi just days later while fans hope Claudio Marchisio features much more often this term. 

However, even with a growing list of rivals for the title, the Old Lady should not be written off just yet. The defence and midfield may need some work, but the attack looks set to be something truly special following the additions of Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi. Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 formation should eventually allow that duo to flank Paulo Dybala in a trident behind Gonzalo Higuain, a prospect to terrify defences across Europe and keep them favourites for the title once again.



What about Napoli? They kept everyone, can they finally challenge for the Scudetto?

Maurizio Sarri and his squad returned to pre-season training ahead of almost every other team in the division, and looked on from their mountain retreat as Italy’s other top sides bought and sold players at breakneck speed. While their star players Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Martens and Kalidou Koulibaly were strongly linked with moves away, none ever came close to leaving, instead pledging their support to Napoli’s “Scudetto Pact.”

Their beautiful style of play has won them many admirers but no silverware, something they are determined to address this term. Any hope of success is obviously going to depend on Juventus not being at their best, but if the Turin giants falter in any way, Napoli are undoubtedly the side most ready to capitalise.



 

Does Leonardo Bonucci's arrival make AC Milan instant title contenders?

In isolation, the signing of a central defender – even one who is the best in the world – is unlikely to spark a title push, but there is so much more going on at Milan. The Rossoneri must be applauded for snatching Bonucci away from Juventus, especially at the bargain price of €42 million, simultaneously strengthening their own backline while weakening the champions considerably.

But it is the fact that the 30-year-old is part of an influx of talent that will make Milan unrecognisable from last season that really matters. Franck Kessie, Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez will make the team so much better, while Andre Silva and (perhaps) Nikola Kalinic are arguably going to be the ones Coach Vincenzo Montella needs to hit the ground running. If one or both of that duo can regularly bag goals, then the Rossoneri – who are almost certain to finish in the top four – are likely to challenge Juve again at long last.

 

What about Roma, Inter & Fiorentina? What can we expect from them?

This is slightly more difficult, as it feels like each has taken a backwards step, albeit to varying degrees. After having three coaches last term, Inter have another new man in charge but will hope that Luciano Spalletti can succeed where so many others have failed before him. He will have a strong and talented squad at his disposal, but it is likely to take some time for his methods to be fully integrated.

The Nerazzurri should contest a European slot, but things would need to go very well for that to be a Champions League berth, even with Italy now having four spots in UEFA’s elite competition. Spalletti’s arrival of course has harmed AS Roma, who also lost Francesco Totti, Antonio Rüdiger, Leandro Paredes and Mohamed Salah this summer.

New boss Eusebio Di Francesco played for the club and will know exactly how great the pressure is on the Giallorossi to deliver, while Serie A has already seen his attacking 4-3-3 approach work well at Sassuolo. With some exciting new players on board, Roma could grow over the next year or two, but it is likely to be at the expense of a difficult start to the 2017/18 campaign as things settle down in the Italian capital.

It is a similar story in Florence, where the Viola rid themselves of frustrating coach Paulo Sousa, while also comprehensively revolutionising their squad. Many familiar faces have departed, meaning that a young, inexperienced squad will need time to gel and improve, but signings like Marco Benassi and Giovanni Simeone hint at a bright future for Fiorentina.


 


 

At the other end of the table, will the relegation battle be more tightly contested than last year?

The past few years have seen the bottom of Serie A growing increasingly poor, with arguably nine teams set to be locked in the battle to avoid the drop this term. That large group means that the likes of Genoa, Cagliari and Chievo will probably finish in mid-table but below them, Udinese, Crotone and Bologna will join newly promoted sides Benevento, SPAL and Hellas in propping up the table.

If any can register some early points, they too will likely manage to survive, but the top clubs will relish routinely taking victories over teams that are simply not good enough to be in the top flight.