Serie A action is back this weekend and Juventus look stronger than ever after completing the £100 million signing of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid this summer.
The Portuguese talisman’s arrival makes this season one of the most highly anticipated campaigns in Italy for years with 19 teams all looking to see if they can break Juventus’ stranglehold on the scudetto.
Ahead of the first round of fixtures, SATO looks at the title and Champions League contenders this season.
Being blunt, it’s 99.9% certain that Juventus will win an eighth consecutive scudetto this season. They sealed the 2017/18 title with the most number of victories (30) best goal difference (+62) and a twenty match unbeaten run.
They also lifted the Coppa Italia without conceding a goal. They were demonstrably the best.
And now the bad news for the rest of Serie A: they have strengthened in every department.
In come Italy international goalkeeper Mattia Perin plus defenders Joao Cancelo and old boy Leonardo Bonucci. Midfielder Emre Can has joined and, most eye-catching of all, Cristiano Ronaldo is on the scene.
Their transfer activity is blatantly aimed at conquering the Champions League, but also increases their chances of walking the domestic title once again.
Champions League Chasers
Judging by the summer transfer window, there is only team that have a realistic chance of pushing Juventus.
Inter have bought in seven new faces, including Radja Nainggolan, Stefan De Vrij and Sime Vraljko. But the glitzy newcomers will need time to gel. Nainggolan isn’t even fully fit yet and will miss his team’s opener against Sassuolo.
If it is a procession behind CR7 and pals, Inter will be tussling with Roma (who have signed Javier Pastore, Stephen N’Zonzi and Patrick Kluivert’s son Justin).
Lazio were eight minutes away from the last Champions League spot last year, but missed out agonisingly when they lost at home to Inter. The Eagles, coached by Simone Inzaghi, will be mentally tougher due to that disappointment.
Trouble In Naples
All is not well in the bay of Naples. The clumsy and slightly cold handling of Maurizio Sarri’s exit upset fans, who loved the Tuscan coach.
His replacement Carlo Ancelotti has experienced a nightmare start, losing friendlies to Liverpool and Wolfsburg, and conceding nine goals in the last three games.
The team has lost the organisation and purpose of the Sarri era (due in no small part to Jorginho’s departure) and the club’s transfer campaign has been a damp squib.
Ancelotti deserves time to mould his team and select a strategy, but it’s tense at the San Paolo.
And it didn’t help when president Aurelio De Laurentiis responded to fans urging a big money signing by saying ‘they want star players, but only buy fake shirts.’ Watch this (unhappy) space…
The seven-times European champions Milan might look odd in the dark horses category.
But the fact is they haven’t ended the season in the top five since 2013. That includes a couple of unsightly eighth and tenth place finishes.
Despite improving last year under Gennaro Gattuso, they only managed sixth.
But since US fund Elliott took over in July, the optimism is back. So is Paolo Maldini, as sports director.
The defence, bolstered by new signing Mattia Caldara, features the youthful promise of full-backs Davide Calabria and Andrea Conti, and is led by new skipper Alessio Romagnoli.
The Irrepressible Franck Kessie, wise old dog Lucas Biglia and chief creator Giacomo Bonaventura form midfield.
And Gonzalo Higuain is the latest striker to take the cursed No9 shirt. Pato, Alessandro Matri, Fernando Torres, Mattia Destro and Andrea Silva have all been weighed down by the sacred garment since Pippo Inzaghi vacated it.
If Higuain brings his scoring boots to San Siro, the Rossoneri have a chance to break back into the top three after a lengthy absence.