As Inter Milan set out to scoop a sixth consecutive Serie A crown, the question taxing Italy’s finest footballing minds is how to topple the champions from their perch. The Nerazzurri’s rivals will begin the new season bolstered by their incoming summer transfers, but all were given a stark reminder of the task ahead when Inter downed Roma 3-1 to lift the Italian Super Cup at the weekend.
Heavyweights AC Milan, Roma and Juventus are the sides most likely to lead the rebellion against Rafael Benitez’s men, but while it would be no surprise to see that trio in the upper reaches, elsewhere change is afoot. Italy’s disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup™ campaign has been felt keenly back home and most top-flight clubs – with the exception of Inter – appear keen to blood promising youngsters previously held back by foreign talents.
FIFA.com now takes a closer look at what fans can expect from the coming season, with the action due to kick off this Saturday.
The defending champions
After becoming the first outfit to claim the Scudetto, Coppa Italia, UEFA Champions League and Italian Super Cup in the same calendar year, Inter now plan to match Barcelona’s achievement in 2009 by adding the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup to their tally – all the while maintaining their stranglehold on the domestic game. To do so, they will nonetheless have to cope without two key elements to last season’s success in departed coach Jose Mourinho, now at Real Madrid, and headstrong young striker Mario Balotelli, currently finding his feet at Manchester City.
Spanish tactician Benitez has been charged with filling the void in the San Siro dugout and has already opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with more of an attacking accent as well as a higher defensive line. That has put a smile back on the face of Samuel Eto’o in particular, the Cameroonian marksman having been granted a more advanced role after being asked to curb his instincts last term. Meanwhile, evergreen captain Javier Zanetti and his fellow senior stalwarts remain in place and will commence the new campaign with a perfect understanding and superb team ethic. Benitez can also tap into an exciting pool of teenage prodigies if necessary, with Nigerian holding-midfielder Obiora Nwankwo recalling a certain Gennaro Gattuso, and defensive trio Simone Benedetti, Cristiano Biraghi and Felice Natalino all desperate to feature.
Among the chasing pack, Claudio Ranieri’s Roma made perhaps the biggest gamble of the summer by letting Luca Toni leave and offering Adriano another chance in the Italian game - the Brazilian marksman having switched back and forth between Brazil and Europe with increasing frequency since 2001. As for Francesco Totti, he remains the key man for I Giallorossi despite his 34 years of age.
Named Serie A coach of the season back in 2008/09, Massimiliano Allegri has been granted the mission of replacing Leonardo and his audacious 4-2-4 approach at AC Milan. The newcomer’s first move was to strengthen an ageing rearguard by snapping up Italian international goalkeeper Marco Amelia plus experienced campaigners Mario Yepes and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and much is also expected of lively Ghanaian midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng. Up front, Marco Borriello has been struggling for form, meaning a striker could well be recruited to swell the ranks alongside Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.
Over in Turin, the problem for Juventus will be to fashion a team following 13 summer transfer ins-and-outs, including the exit of iconic stopper Fabio Cannavaro. Luckily for I Bianconeri, new coach Luigi del Neri is a specialist in the field, while the club have invested both substantially and judiciously to reinforce every department. In defence, for example, a line-up featuring Gianluigi Buffon in goal behind Marco Motta, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Paolo De Ceglie closely resembles the Squadra Azzurra’s back five. Further forward, meanwhile, there is both genius and solidity in midfield with Felipe Melo and Claudio Marchisio in the centre and wide duo Simone Pepe and Serbian international Milos Krasic supporting forwards Diego and Amauri. Indeed, Juve have clearly gone to great lengths to reacquaint themselves with the title they last won in 2003.
Genoa will open the 2010/11 season with patent designs on a European place after introducing a new spine to their side from Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo all the way up to striker Luca Toni. Palermo will likewise be looking to reach a new level and their strength is expected to reside in the firepower of Argentinian forward Javier Pastore, Uruguay’s Abel Hernandez and Italian predator Massimo Maccarone. As for Napoli, gifted trio Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Fabio Quagliarella will again be pulling the strings.
While one forthright character has gone, another has arrived, Balotelli leaving Inter for England and Adriano switching from Flamengo to Roma. Away from those deals, Juventus have concentrated on Italian recruits, swooping for Bonucci from Bari, Pepe from Udinese, Marco Storari from Sampdoria and bringing Alberto Aquilani back on loan from Liverpool – with Serbian dynamo Krasic captured from CSKA Moscow to complete the jigsaw. Genoa, for their part, have gone with the tried and tested, luring Toni from Roma, Schalke’s Rafinha and Miguel Veloso from Sporting Portugal.
Players to watch
The new internationals recently capped by Nazionale coach Cesare Prandelli will come under particular scrutiny this season, while many eyes are sure to fall on Juve’s fresh central defensive pairing of Bonucci and Chiellini plus Sampdoria strike partners Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano. Midfielders Claudio Marchisio, Angelo Palombo, Riccardo Montolivo and Simone Pepe can expect plenty of attention too, as can Brazilian forwards Adriano and Ronaldinho as they vie to prove their worth after being left out of Dunga’s 2010 FIFA World Cup squad.
Have your say
Will Inter lay their hands on a sixth consecutive title? Will Italian clubs put more faith in young players this season?