Inter looking for number four

With a new Serie A season set to get underway on Sunday, all eyes are sure to turn to the city of Milan, whose two heavyweight clubs are both expected to be in the thick of the title race. Reigning champions Inter have acquired Jose Mourinho, that most special of coaches, as they aim to pick up their fourth consecutive Scudetto, while their city rivals AC Milan have spent heavily to avoid a repeat of last season's travails.

Desperate to keep pace with the Milanese duo will be Turin giants Juventus and capital outfit Roma, Inter's closest challengers in recent years. Fiorentina, meanwhile, will also be hoping they have the strength in depth to mount a serious bid.

Once more the division is set to have a distinctly northern accent, with 12 teams from north of the capital compared to six from the south, while Roman pair Roma and Lazio are the meat in the Calcio sandwich. Derby day will also be a recurrent theme of the season, with Milan, Turin, Genoa and Rome all boasting two top-flight teams apiece.

The champions

Established footballing wisdom suggests that you should never change a winning team, but Inter Milan have always liked to do things differently. Roberto Mancini, the coach who oversaw three consecutive Scudetti wins while at the Nerazzurri helm, has made way for the outspoken Jose Mourinho. And though the latter's hallmark is instilling tactical discipline, teamwork and defensive solidity in his charges, the former FC Porto and Chelsea supremo began his reign with a goal-laden Italian Super Cup success over Roma - his new side coming through 8-7 on penalties after a thrilling 2-2 draw.

The club have also strengthened their playing resources with the signings of tireless Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari and Brazilian wing wizard Mancini. Both should help ensure plenty of service for a forward line boosted by the return of Adriano, back to form and fitness after a spell on loan in Brazil with Sao Paulo.

The challengers
Having limped home last season in fifth place in Serie A, outside the UEFA Champions League berths and 21 points behind Inter, AC Milan have brought in no fewer than nine new faces over the summer. Among the flurry of international stars joining the Rossoneri ranks are Ronaldinho, Andriy Shevchenko, Gianluca Zambrotta, Marco Borriello and former Arsenal duo Mathieu Flamini and Philippe Senderos.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti should certainly have a wealthy of talent from which to choose, particularly in attacking areas. Competing for a place in the San Siro outfit's front three will be Kaka, Alexandre Pato, Filippo Inzaghi, Ronaldinho, Clarence Seedorf, Borriello and Shevchenko.

Having kept hold of their crown jewels, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, Milan would appear to be in tremendous shape for the challenges ahead. The same could be said of evergreen defender Paolo Maldini, who remains a key figure at the age of 40 and after 25 seasons and 1,009 official matches in the red-and-black jersey. Ancelotti's remit for the forthcoming campaign is clear: win an 18th league crown as well as the UEFA Cup - the only trophy missing from the Rossoneri trophy cabinet.

Under the astute stewardship of Luciano Spalletti, Roma have been the main threat to Inter's recent title monopoly. Francesco Totti, back after yet another serious injury, remains the focal point and on-the-pitch leader of a side capable of playing the most attractive one-touch football in Serie A. The Romans will also be doubly motivated to come away with some silverware in tribute to former president Franco Sensi, who recently passed away.

The dark horses
Turin giants Juventus, who cemented their return to the upper echelons of Italian football by taking third place last season, have added serious firepower with the purchase of Palermo's Brazilian striker Amauri. Prodigious youngster Sebastian Giovinco also returns after a loan spell at Empoli and this pair will, along with Vincenzo Iaquinta, look to provide stiff competition for last season's divisional top scorers, Alessandro del Piero and David Trezeguet.

Fiorentina, for their part, can now count on the services of former AC Milan and Parma goal-getter Alberto Gilardino. The Tuscan outfit will, however, be keen for a swift recovery from their Romanian superstar Adrian Mutu, injured on international duty, as they look to build on last season's fourth-place finish.

Star signings
Second on AC Milan's all-time top scorers' list with 173 goals, Andriy Shevchenko returns to his old stomping ground determined to prove he has not lost his former sharpness after two off-key years at Chelsea. Another Rossoneri newboy looking to add lustre to a tarnished reputation is Ronaldinho, who failed to put a dismal final season at Barcelona behind him at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.

Players to watch

Worth keeping a close eye on over the course of the campaign will be the duel between Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino and AC Milan's Marco Borriello, as the pair vie for a place alongside Luca Toni in the Azzurri attack. On the back of a breakthrough showing at the recent Olympic Games, Juventus starlet Sebastian Giovinco has been hailed as a possible successor to Del Piero. And the youngster should have plenty of opportunities to learn first-hand from the great man this season.

Have your say
Can Ronaldinho and Shevchenko get back to their glorious best? Will Inter Milan claim their fourth successive league crown? How will Jose Mourinho adapt to the Italian game?