Little change expected in Serie A race
Reigning champions AC Milan head into the new Serie A season as unsurprising favourites following a summer of relative inactivity that has done little to spice up the coming campaign.
Having beaten off the challenges of Inter Milan and Napoli last season it is hard to see anything having changed significantly in the summer to upset the apple-cart. Milan made their main investments last season, bringing in attacking players Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Antonio Cassano and Kevin-Prince Boateng, as well as holding midfielder Mark van Bommel.
They won the title on a foundation of the meanest defence and moments of brilliance from their star-studded forward line to turn tight games in their favour. There has been a slight regeneration in defence ahead of this season with the arrivals of Philippe Mexes and Taye Taiwo meaning the Rossoneri's mean backline should only get meaner.
They let a couple of veterans go such as Marek Jankulovski and Andrea Pirlo, but the former had not been a first team regular for a couple of years and the latter had essentially been replaced by Van Bommel.
It is hard to see Milan being significantly better but they remain a considerable force. The objective then is for the rest to catch them and yet no-one seems to have taken any significant strides in doing so.
Inter eye city rivals
Their main challenge will undoubtedly come from Inter who, without the distraction of the FIFA Club World Cup, should be more focused this season and as long as they don't give themselves a mountain to climb with a poor start, as they did 12 months ago, then they should at least push Milan closer this time around.
But it is hard to see how they will have improved, not least due to the imminent departure of Samuel Eto'o, their best player last season. They weren't helped by a long-term injury to centre-back Walter Samuel but Andrea Ranocchia proved an able understudy who has even done enough to earn a regular starting berth in the Italy national team. Whether Samuel will even get back in the Inter team is debatable.
But the impending loss of Eto'o, who is set to sign for Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia, and his pace, is significant. Even if Inter manage to replace him with Carlos Tevez or Diego Forlan, they will have lost a major threat.
Tevez and Forlan work hard and are good finishers, but so too is Diego Milito who plays in the same position. Eto'o's advantage was his seering pace and the fact he could operate out wide.
Leading the chase
Napoli have strengthened but only modestly with Gokhan Inler coming into midfield from Udinese. Their problem last year was a lack of squad depth and an inability to replace any of their talented attacking triumvirate: Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, with a player of equal impact.
Meanwhile the big unknown will be a Juventus who have spent heavily again. Mirko Vucinic and Arturo Vidal look like good signings, as does Pirlo, but these are hardly the star names the Turin giants promised. These players also don't appear to be any better than the ones already at the club and strength in depth was never their problem given they brought in 13 players last season.
What remains to be seen is if new coach Antonio Conte can gel them into a team as they undoubtedly have the individuals to be finishing much higher than the seventh-placed efforts of the last two seasons.
As for the rest it is hard to envisage any surprises. Lazio have signed two experienced forwards in Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose but both are past their best and the Romans are unlikely to get off to such a surprisingly positive start this time around.
Udinese have lost Alexis Sanchez and Inler and cannot possibly expect to challenge the top four again while despite the addition of Bojan Krkic and new coach Luis Enrique, Roma have lost more than they've gained with Mexes, Vucinic and John-Arne Riise all heading to the exit door.