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Serie A preview: Another tantalising season awaits on BT Sport
Milan pipped city rivals Inter to the title on the final day of last season, and this upcoming campaign promises to be just as intriguing.
Last season's title tussle between Milan and Inter was the stuff of Serie A dreams.
The two Italian giants traded time at the summit in a gripping campaign that hung in the balance right until the final day, with the Rossoneri ultimately coming out on top thanks to a 3-0 win at Sassuolo, with Inter powerless to stop their arch-rivals claiming a first Scudetto since 2011 despite a 3-0 victory themselves over Sampdoria.
Simone Inzaghi's men will no doubt fancy their chances of getting their own back at the first opportunity and have added some notable figures to their ranks, most significantly of all sealing the return on loan of Romelu Lukaku, who banged in 24 goals in 2020/21 as Antonio Conte's men stormed to the title.
It looked as if he had permanently burnt bridges with the Nerazzurri ultras when he declared that he was "happy to be back home" after joining Chelsea for the second time.
However, after a miserable year at Stamford Bridge, the Belgian is back at San Siro and although the hardcore supporters do not appear to be quick to forgive the 29-year-old, that will surely change quickly if he reacclimatises to life in Italy seamlessly, with Inter tipped as favourites to regain their title.
Read on for the main talking points ahead of what will be another absorbing season.
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Juventus expected to roar once more
Juventus are highly fancied to push Inter hard and that is in no small part due to the fact that they have Dusan Vlahovic available from the outset this term.
The Serbian striking sensation arrived in Turin from Fiorentina in January and hit his stride immediately, scoring seven goals in 15 league games.
Although this was quite a bit down on his 2021/22 strike rate for Fiorentina - 17 goals in 21 league matches before the move last season - the 22-year-old's link-up ability means he is certainly not a one-trick pony.
The other winter purchase, Denis Zakaria, has also added some valuable protection to Juve's backline, although the defensive midfielder's early taste of Italian football has been punctuated by injury.
This summer has seen the Old Lady refresh their squad, with stalwarts Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala coming to the end of their contracts, while Alvaro Morata's two-year loan deal elapsed and Federico Bernardeschi also departed.
The most significant outgoing though was Matthijs de Ligt, who joined Bayern Munich for around £60m.
Juve acted quickly to replace the Dutchman, nabbing Serie A Best Defender Gleison Bremer off rivals Torino, while Daniele Rugani and the promising Federico Gatti will provide back-up to the Brazilian and Leonardo Bonucci.
Going forward, Paul Pogba's return to Juventus Stadium will provide an injection of quality and add some much-needed progressive passing to the mix.
Excitement around the Frenchman's arrival soon went flat after he tore tissues in his right knee during training, but the good news is that the midfielder could be in line to return by late September.
Angel Di Maria could be the most impactful new recruit though. His attacking output may have waned slightly compared to a few years ago, but his versatility could allow Massimiliano Allegri to play him on the left and Federico Chiesa on the right, after the Italy international completed a rapid recovery from an ACL injury this summer a little over six months after suffering the blow in January.
Allegri's men have performed poorly in pre-season, following up a 2-2 draw with Barcelona by losing 2-0 and 4-0 to Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid respectively, but as has been the case many times, friendly matches do not accurately reflect a team's performance in competitive matches.
Milanese clubs still look formidable despite need to adapt
After winning the title last season, Milan's big transfer conundrum has been how to replace the all-action Franck Kessie.
The Ivorian's ability to shield the back four as well as drive forward, initiate attacks and contribute handsomely to the goals tally made him highly sought-after, and although Tommaso Pobega and Yacine Adli have since been recalled after impressing during loan spells at Torino and Bordeaux respectively, neither yet has the all-round game to replicate Kessie's influence.
That said, Milan still have a wealth of midfield talent at their disposal which is capable of adapting and the club have strengthened in the attacking department with the purchases of the highly promising Belgian Charles De Ketelaere and Liverpool super-sub Divock Origi, while retaining Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Junior Messias.
Ibrahimovic will turn 41 in October, but his influence on and off the pitch during last season's triumph was still significant.
Inter meanwhile will feel that overturning the two-point deficit to their groundsharers is well within their grasp, especially with Lukaku's return.
He and Lautaro Martinez were an unstoppable combination two years ago, scoring 41 league goals between them and giving defenders a torrid time with their telepathic understanding and elusive movement.
The loss of Ivan Perisic has been offset by the similar profile of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while the club have pulled off arguably the signing of the summer by snapping up Andre Onana on a free from Ajax to ultimately replace 38-year-old Samir Handanovic, who is into the last year of his contract.
The incredibly energetic Robin Gosens gives Simone Inzaghi a ready-made wing-back option and Joaquin Correa is already well integrated into the set-up having spent last season on loan before completing a permanent move from Lazio over the summer.
Inzaghi is keen to get a blend of youth and experience, adding 20-year-old Empoli midfielder Kristjan Asllani and 22-year-old Cagliari right-back Raoul Bellanova to the ranks, both on loan deals.
Inter have lost Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez though, and although on paper they have the stronger starting XI than Milan, the slight advantage in depth that Milan possess could prove crucial in a particularly gruelling system punctuated by the World Cup.
Summer managerial changes
Cremonese - Fabio Pecchia out (resigned), Massimiliano Alvini in
Hellas Verona - Igor Tudor out (mutual consent), Gabriele Cioffi in
Udinese - Cioffi out (end of caretaker spell), Andrea Sottil in
Empoli - Aurelio Andreazzoli (contract expired), Paolo Zanetti in
Spezia - Thiago Motta (mutual consent), Luca Gotti in
Give Paulo Dy-bal and he will do damage
It's hard to look past Roma's capture of Paulo Dybala. The 28-year-old has hit double figures in all but one of his last eight seasons, thriving in a dizzying array of attacking positions.
Dybala's awareness often sees him drop deep and link up intricately with teammates and he is equally adept operating from a deeper position, with his ability to drift past opponents with ease making him an asset in both counter-attacking sides and those that like to boss possession.
The Argentina international is also unafraid to try his luck from distance and he has extremely impressive aerial presence given that he stands at 5'10'', meaning he can act as the focal point for his side.
Most importantly for Jose Mourinho, Dybala's workrate is second to none, and he can be counted on to take some of the goalscoring pressure off Tammy Abraham, who bagged 17 in his debut Serie A season.
Silvio's men finally strike gold
Monza had, until this season, held the unwanted record of playing in the most Serie B campaigns (40) without reaching Italy's top flight.
The Lombardy outfit, owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, looked like that record could be extended to 41 when they missed out on the opportunity to go automatically after losing to Perugia on the final day.
However, a gutsy 4-2 play-off semi-final aggregate win over Brescia was followed by a topsy-turvy two-legged final with Pisa, which eventually ended 6-4 to the Biancorossi after extra time.
The promotion celebrations were predictably crazy, with an open-top bus parade and trophy presentation at the team's Stadio Brianteo drawing huge crowds, with Berlusconi himself in attendance.
Berlusconi initially laid down the law when it came to new signings, stipulating that they must be Italian and have no tattoos, earrings or beards.
However, the last two recruits - former Sassuolo centre-back Marlon and teenage midfielder Warren Bondo - have both been overseas purchases.
Along with Marlon, Monza have made several eye-catching acquisitions, including central defender Andrea Ranocchia, whose contract at Inter had expired, the loan buys of Arsenal centre-back Pablo Mari, dynamic Hellas Verona forward Gianluca Caprari, Inter midfielder Stefano Sensi and Atalanta's Matteo Pessina, and permanent moves for Alessio Cragno and Andrea Carboni, who both stood out for relegated Cagliari.
Don't be surprised to see Giovanni Stroppa's men pushing towards mid-table rather than looking over their shoulder.
The three to go down
Monza's summer activity means that they look a shoo-in to stay up, while fellow newly promoted side Cremonese's ingenious purchase of Europa Conference League goalscoring demon Cyriel Dessers could easily be the difference in their fight to avoid the trapdoor.
Here are the three sides I feel won't be so lucky:
Empoli - The Azzurri have suffered a huge upheaval in the close season, deciding not to renew Aurelio Andreazzoli's contract despite the former Genoa boss guiding the team to a 14th-placed finish on their return to Serie A. The Tuscans have brought in big money for some of their young talents, but that cash hasn't been fully reinvested into the team, and the influence of loan signings Szymon Zurkowski and Andrea Pinamonti, now back at their parent clubs, will be sorely missed.
Serie A table 2021/22
1. Milan (C, UCL)
2. Inter (UCL)
3. Napoli (UCL)
4. Juventus (UCL)
9. Hellas Verona
18. Cagliari (R)
19. Genoa (R)
20. Venezia (R)
C = Champions
UCL = Qualified for the UEFA Champions League
UEL = Qualified for the UEFA Europa League
UECL = Qualified for the UEFA Europa Conference League
R = Relegated
Salernitana - Davide Nicola pulled off yet another escapology act in Serie A, this time keeping the Garnets up following an astonishing run of 17 points from seven games. However, the losses of classy attacking midfielder Ederson, aerially dominant forward Milan Djuric and set-piece specialist Simone Verdi will take some replacing, although the permanent capture of Federico Bonazzoli is vital. They also had the worst defence in the league last season.
Lecce - Last season's Serie B champions have, like Monza, also been busy in the transfer market, but they have yet to attract any outfield players with any pedigree in the Italian top-flight apart from midfielder Kristoffer Askildsen on loan from Sampdoria.
The opening weekend's fixtures
Saturday 13 August
Milan vs Udinese, 5.30pm on BT Sport 2
Sampdoria vs Atalanta, 5.30pm on BT Sport 3
Lecce vs Inter, 7.30pm on BT Sport 1
Monza vs Torino, 7.45pm on BT Sport 3
Sunday 14 August
Fiorentina vs Cremonese, 5.30pm on BT Sport 2
Lazio vs Bologna, 5.30pm on BT Sport 1
Salernitana vs Roma, 7.30pm on BT Sport 1
Spezia vs Empoli, 7.45pm on BT Sport 5
Monday 15 August
Hellas Verona vs Napoli, 5.30pm on BT Sport 1
Juventus vs Sassuolo, 7.30pm on BT Sport 1