Champions Milan set for big kick-off
Champions AC Milan will kick off the new Serie A season on Friday following the resolution of the player strike which caused the postponement of the first weekend of the new campaign.
Milan host Lazio at the San Siro in an early test of both sides' potential to challenge for the title. The hosts, alongside neighbours Inter Milan, are the favourites to retain their crown while Lazio are hoping to go one better than last season and secure a UEFA Champions League finish.
Milan have strengthened moderately in the off season, bringing in defensive recruits Philippe Mexes and Taye Taiwo while also adding Liverpool flop Alberto Aquilani to a midfield that lost 2006 FIFA World Cup™ winner Andrea Pirlo. The trick for coach Massimiliano Allegri will be to continue to keep his attacking players happy as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Antonio Cassano and Pato cannot all play at the same time - Ibrahimovic and Cassano are especially hard to please when they are on the sidelines.
In fact, it will be interesting to see who are his first choice strikers for the big kick-off as that will give a clear indication as to who he will be counting on most in the coming season. Milan should still be defensively secure this season and can always rely on the most talented forwards in the league to decide games.
The bigger interest will be in seeing how Lazio have changed after their busy summer of activity. They brought in experienced forwards Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose and it would be difficult to imagine that they won't improve on last season's shot-shy showings.
Klose is a proven goalscorer and Cisse has pace and power while he has always knocked in the goals wherever he's been. With Brazilian Hernanes pulling the strings behind Klose and Cisse, they should at least give Milan's defence a tough test.
The other major change has been at goalkeeper where Uruguay number one Fernando Muslera has left for Galatasaray while Federico Marchetti, who kept goal for Italy at last year's FIFA World Cup, comes in from the cold after a year-long stand-off with Cagliari. They will also have to make do without talented Albanian midfielder Lorik Cana, a signing from Galatasaray who will sit out Friday's match injured.
Lazio may have a slight advantage as they have already played a pair of competitive games this season, thumping Macedonia's Rabotnicki 9-1 on aggregate in the UEFA Europa League, demonstrating that they may have found the potent fire-power they lacked last season.
Milan, on the other hand, have been playing friendlies for more than a month but at least many of their players were on international duty this past week.