SERIE A PREVIEW: AC Milan to battle rivals Inter for the title again

SERIE A PREVIEW: AC Milan look set to battle cross-city rivals Inter for the title again, with Juventus and Roma looking to join the party… while Silvio Berlusconi’s Monza aim to make a splash on their top flight debut

  • AC Milan will be trying to defend their Serie A title under Stefano Pioli 
  • They are set to be challenged once more by their fiercest rivals, Inter Milan
  • Juventus and Roma may also have aspirations of getting into the title picture
  • Meanwhile, Monza will be playing in Serie A for the first time in their history
  • They are owned by controversial former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi 

This weekend sees the return of Serie A, and competition between the teams, at every level of the table, is very high. 

At the moment there is no clear favourite for the title and it is very difficult to predict who will slip into the dreaded drop zone and be relegated to Serie B.

But let’s give it a go. Sportsmail has assessed how a number of teams are shaping up heading into the new season, picked out key figures to keep an eye on, and predicted what the final league table could look like next June.

AC Milan won the Serie A for the first time since 2011 on the final day of last season

AC Milan ended their 11-year wait for the Serie A title back in May, and will now look to defend their crown, starting with a home game against Udinese on Saturday.

The Rossoneri have significantly strengthened their squad in recent windows, bringing in the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Mike Maignan and Olivier Giroud, who all contributed to last season’s Scudetto triumph.

They have opted against making decisive changes to their team this summer, though, and it remains to be seen whether that will prove to be a mistake or not.

Yacine Adli has impressed in pre-season and could have an important role to play off the bench

Creative midfielder Yacine Adli has returned following his loan spell at Bordeaux, and adds quality to a team that already has Rafael Leao and Brahim Diaz to support Giroud. 

He performed very well in pre-season and is a candidate to become something of a ‘super-sub’ for coach Stefano Pioli. His initial task will be to provide energy off the bench, before potentially managing to become a fundamental player in the starting line up. 

Milan chiefs Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara have focused on a strategy of bringing in useful players without pushing the boat out too much to try to keep the club’s finances in order. 

Stefano Pioli has opted against making significant changes to his squad this summer

This summer they chose to sign Divock Origi on a free transfer following his departure from Liverpool.

Origi struggled for minutes at Anfield last term, but Milan are clearly hoping he will add freshness up top, and be able to combine with the ageing Giroud to help Milan withstand the rigours of Serie A and the Champions League in a congested season which will be interrupted by the World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year.

Key man – Charles De Ketelaere: In truth, this is a transfer that could go either way – the Belgian could be a major hit or a flop in Serie A.

His proposed move to Milan from Club Brugge dragged on throughout the summer, but the Italian outfit finally got the deal across the line at the start of the month.

This has only ratcheted up the pressure on the forward to perform now that he has arrived at the San Siro.

Charles De Ketelaere has the potential to be a major hit at the San Siro this season

Playing in front of 75,000 fans has proved to be too much for some players at Milan over the years, and at 21, De Ketelaere may need time to adapt to his new surroundings.

However, he is also a very exciting talent, who netted 14 goals in Belgium’s top flight last season, and if he can hit the ground running, he is likely to become an instant fans’ favourite. 

Prediction – 1st: Milan just have the edge due to their ability to cope without key players. Franck Kessie and Alessio Romagnoli may have moved on, but Milan have enough in reserve, and Pioli has consistently got the best out of his young, vibrant squad. Expect him to do the same again this season.

Inter Milan: Financial troubles threaten title bid

Inter’s financial situation has been well-documented in recent seasons, and this issue caused CEO Giuseppe Marotta to fail to bring in either Paulo Dybala or Bremer this summer.

The team’s place in the top four looks to be safe, and they arguably should have won Serie A last season with the squad at Simone Inzaghi’s disposal, but spending more money in the final weeks of the transfer window may be necessary if the Nerazzurri want to get back to the top.

When assessing Inter’s squad, there are no major problems to fix, but Inzaghi will need to iron out a few things to get his side to their best level.

One concern is the fitness of wing-back Robin Gosens. The German flourished at Atalanta and Euro 2020 last year, but muscle problems have held him back over the past 12 months. 

Robin Gosens has had some bright moments at Inter, but has also struggled with fitness issues

Inzaghi could benefit from bringing in another all-action wide player to rotate with Gosens after losing Ivan Perisic to Tottenham, and this could ease the burden on the 28-year-old moving forward.

Milan Skriniar is also unhappy as he would like a higher salary to remain at Inter. The centre-back has been a key player for the team over the last two seasons and has been linked with a switch to PSG this summer, but that move has not materialised yet. 

If he does leave, Borussia Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji would be the easiest option to buy as a replacement given he has just entered the final year of his contract at the Bundesliga club. However, he does not possess the technical qualities of Skriniar, meaning Inter’s back line would be weakened.

Samir Handanovic and Andre Onana look set to battle for the No 1 spot, and Inzaghi must ensure that he keeps both players on side and avoids any confusion when picking his goalkeeper. 

Club captain Samir Handanovic could come under pressure for his place from Andre Onana

Handanovic has been Inter’s captain for a number of years, but he recently turned 38, and it could be time for summer signing Onana to step in and take the gloves. 

Finally, there is the risk taken on bringing back Romelu Lukaku. Admittedly, it is only a loan deal, but Lukaku’s wages are eye-watering, and will likely force the club to sell one of their top players before the transfer window closes.

The club’s hierarchy must now choose who to let go while causing minimal disruption to the squad as Inter look to win back the title they claimed so emphatically under Antonio Conte in 2020-21.

Key man – Romelu Lukaku: It couldn’t be anyone else, could it?

Lukaku’s return to Chelsea was an unmitigated disaster, but Inter need him to fire after agreeing to take him back.

The 29-year-old was a game-changer in his first spell at Inter, but he has returned to the club carrying a few extra pounds, and is working hard to get down to his ideal weight of 105kg. 

Romelu Lukaku has a point to prove after returning to Inter just a year after the left the club

If he can get back to his best condition quickly and rediscover the form he showed under Conte, Lukaku is a frightening opponent for defenders to come up against, and he could lead Inter straight to the top of the table.

Prediction – 2nd: But for a calamitous error by back-up goalkeeper Ionut Radu, Inter would have won the title again last season. They should push Milan close this year, but their financial uncertainty may hold them back. If Marotta can bring in more reinforcements before the window closes, they could overhaul Milan.

Juventus: Summer of change in Turin

Juventus have brought in Paul Pogba, Bremer and Angel Di Maria this summer, but they have also lost Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini and Matthijs de Ligt to Bayern Munich.

Bremer will be tasked with replacing Matthijs De Ligt, and winning the best defender in Serie A award last year suggests he is capable of doing so.

His technical and tactical ability could see him even out-perform De Ligt, who had difficulties adapting at times to the demands of Serie A.

Brazilian centre-back Bremer has been brought in to replace Matthijs de Ligt in defence

Di Maria also looks to be an intelligent signing, as despite now being 34, he has shown no signs of slowing down in recent seasons.

Unfortunately for Juventus, Pogba’s return has not started well, with the midfielder picking up an injury in pre-season.

The Frenchman is a leader in the dressing room, but is currently unavailable on the pitch. He is targeting a September return after deciding against surgery, but this could be a risky strategy.

Much of Juventus’ success will depend on Dusan Vlahovic and Leonardo Bonucci. 

After joining from Fiorentina in January, Vlahovic was left frustrated with a lack of service in the second half of last season. He may need to score in excess of 20 league goals if Juventus are to be genuine title contenders, so he must develop a greater understanding with his team-mates.

Juventus will expect Dusan Vlahovic and Leonardo Bonucci to both step up this season

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, Juventus are now without Chiellini and De Ligt, so Bonucci must step up. He spent almost two months on the sidelines in 2021-22 through injury, but if he can stay healthy this time around, Juventus’ chances of a positive campaign will greatly increase. 

Federico Chiesa has come back from a serious knee injury, while Moise Kean has had some bright moments in pre-season, and Massimiliano Allegri will hope they can add some impetus to his side’s attack.

Key man – Paul Pogba: Juventus had a choice between two injury-prone players as they weighed up whether to bring in Pogba or Dybala. 

They went with the former, but it may have backfired already as the 29-year-old picked up a knee injury straight away. 

Still, he is hoping to return next month after deciding against an operation so that he could keep his World Cup hopes alive.

Paul Pogba is injured, but Juventus will hope he can return quickly to improve their midfield

Will trying to get back on the pitch so quickly prove to be an error? Potentially, but it is a risk that Pogba is willing to take, and all eyes will be on him when he does return.

He divided opinion throughout his time at Manchester United, but Pogba was a huge success during his last spell in Italy, and if he can get past this injury setback, he could shine again.

Prediction – 3rd: Juventus should be closer to the top of the table this season after back-to-back campaigns that have seen them finish fourth. They have lost some senior players in the dressing room, though, in the shape of Chiellini and Dybala, and this could prevent them from toppling the Milan clubs.

Roma: Dybala arrival raises expectations

There has not been as much excitement heading into a new season at Roma for 10 years. Jose Mourinho has been backed by the Friedkin family in the transfer market, with the club adding the experience of Nemanja Matic and Georginio Wijnaldum, plus full-back Zeki Celik to their ranks.

Dybala is the standout name, though. He appeared to be on the brink of joining Inter, but Roma managed to pip their domestic rivals to his signature.

The biggest problem will be managing expectations at the club. Fresh off the back of their Europa Conference League triumph, and having strengthened their squad more than anyone else in Serie A this summer, fans may be dreaming of a first Scudetto since 2001.

Roma ended their trophy drought by winning the Europa Conference League last season

Yet Roma finished sixth in Serie A last season, 23 points behind Milan, so they have plenty of catching up to do. 

Perhaps a return to the Champions League would be a more realistic first step for Mourinho’s men.

Key man – Paulo Dybala: Dybala looks set to play just behind Tammy Abraham in attack, and will be tasked with building a strong connection with the Englishman.

Dybala’s body has let him down time and again in recent seasons, and keeping him fit will be crucial for Roma’s hopes of challenging at the top of the league.

Roma have turned to Paulo Dybala to try to take them to the next level this season

Yet his talent cannot be questioned, and surrounded by players like Abraham, Nicolo Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini, he could have an outstanding campaign if he can remain healthy.

Prediction – 4th: Roma should make the biggest jump this year to get back into the Champions League. They have recruited well and the atmosphere at the club is a buoyant one. Getting into title contention may be a bridge too far, though. 

Napoli: Club icons move on

Napoli will start the season without their all-time leading goalscorer, last season’s captain, the goalkeeper who made the third-highest number of saves in the league last term and one of their best ever defenders. It won’t be easy.

Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, Davide Ospina and Kalidou Koulibaly have all moved on this summer, and Napoli must now try to replace them.

They have brought in centre-back Kim Min-jae from Fenerbahce, but he will need time to settle into life in Italy, while Khvicha Kvaratskhelia could prove to be Insigne’s long-term successor on the left wing.

Napoli have lost some big names this summer, including Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly

Luciano Spalletti has his work cut out to build on the third-place finish his side achieved last term, but he still has Victor Osimhen to spearhead his attack, if the Nigerian can avoid any fitness issues which have affected his first two years in Serie A.

Key man – Victor Osimhen: Osimhen was sent off on the opening day of last season but Napoli will need him to mature and take responsibility this season if they are going to have a good year.

The 23-year-old has hit double figures in both of his Serie A campaigns so far, despite missing a number of games due to injuries.

Fans want to see what he can produce if he stays off the treatment table for a full season. 

Napoli need Victor Osimhen to be at his best if they are going to challenge for a top four place

Should he manage this, he could truly deliver on his tremendous potential and help supporters forget about the big names they have lost in this summer’s transfer window. 

Prediction – 5th: Napoli will need to adapt to playing without some of their biggest stars from the past decade. This is likely to take time, and could ultimately cost them a place in the top four. 

Lazio: The inferiority complex in the Eternal City

Lazio finished above Roma last season, but it is going to be hard for them to repeat that given the additions their rivals have made to their squad.

The Biancocelesti have tried to provide Maurizio Sarri with the squad he needs to compete this summer, bringing in Alessio Romagnoli from Milan and Matias Vecino from Inter. They have also signed midfielder Marcos Antonio from Shakhtar Donetsk and goalkeeper Luis Maximiano.

These are considered decent additions to Sarri’s team, but whether they will be able to take Lazio into the top four is another matter.

Lazio have signed Alessio Romagnoli from Milan to try to strengthen their defence

President Claudio Lotito will not put the club’s financial standing at risk by splashing the cash, so Sarri will have to try to make the most of what he has been given.

Key man – Maurizio Sarri: This could be a make-or-break season for Sarri.

His team needed a period of adjustment last season as they moved away from the 3-5-2 that Inzaghi preferred to the 4-3-3 that Sarri insists upon.

There were moments where ‘Sarriball’ was on full display, but the side also suffered some damaging defeats along the way.

Maurizio Sarri has not been given much money to spend heading into his second term at Lazio

Fans will want to see some progress this year, and if that does not happen, Sarri could come under significant pressure.

Prediction – 6th: Sarri’s team could be left in limbo. They do not have the strength of the Milan teams or Juventus, but they may be able to push Napoli, who are also a bit of an unknown quantity heading into the season. They have not spent heavily enough to challenge for Champions League football.

Monza: Serie A new boys plan to make a splash

Monza will be making their Serie A debut this season, and they plan to make plenty of noise.

Owned by the controversial former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, with former Milan general director Adriano Galliani also at the club, Monza have dipped into the transfer market and made some shrewd acquisitions.

Gianluca Caprari and Stefano Sensi have been brought in on loan, and should suit manager Giovanni Stroppa’s playing style. Goalkeeper Alessio Cragno has also signed on the dotted line, and has plenty of experience in Italy’s top division.

Signing Matteo Pessina from Atalanta looks to be great business from Monza

Matteo Pessina may be the best signing of the lot, though, having thrived at Atalanta and won the European Championship with Italy last year.

Monza have been declared bankrupt twice in the 21st century, but are trying to move away from that identity, and have been smart this summer, signing a number of players who know Serie A well on loan deals so that they do not over-spend.

They will then have the option to buy these players outright if they avoid relegation.

Key man – Silvio Berlusconi: Even now at the age of 85, Berlusconi remains in the spotlight.

He has rebuilt the Brianza club since taking over and has brought them up to Serie A for the first time in their history. Now they must try to stay there.

Berlusconi has opted to revolutionise the team without breaking the bank, following the model that has worked for Atalanta in recent years, rather than trying the Hellas Verona strategy which saw them bring in big names on huge wages in the past – a method that ultimately backfired.

Will this approach work for Berlusconi and Monza? We will soon find out.

Prediction – 12th: Monza will want to try and break into the top 10 to show that Berlusconi’s project is continuing to head in the right direction, but they are likely to fall a little short of this target. They should still have more than enough to steer clear of the bottom three.

Salernitana: Can their Cinderella story continue?

Salernitana pulled off a miracle last season by staying in Serie A. They looked dead and buried for most of the campaign, and nearly went out of business around the turn of the year, but they suddenly found form at the end of the season to finish 17th and send Cagliari down.

Since their great escape, they have changed their sporting director, and sold Brazilian wildcard Ederson to Atalanta.

The club have focused on strengthening their back line, turning to the experience of Federico Fazio to play in front of goalkeeper Luigi Sepe.

Salernitana have signed Federico Fazio from Roma as they look to tighten up at the back

They will hope this leads to more clean sheets, and will rely on Federico Bonazzoli to score the goals to take them to safety at the other end of the pitch.

Key man – Davide Nicola: He has now pulled off two miracles at Crotone and Salernitana, but can he keep the latter in the top flight for another year?

He was backed in January, and the club have brought in a number of players on free transfer again this summer. 

Getting Franck Ribery fit will be key – the Frenchman hardly featured last season. If Nicola can manage that, and get his team to gel quicker than last term, they have a chance of avoiding the drop with a little more to spare this time around. 

Prediction – 15th: Realistically, Salernitana cannot expect to do much better than last year with their limited budget. However, they are a well-built team with an astute manager, and this should see them stay in Serie A beyond this season.  

Davide Nicola will hope to pull off another miracle by keeping Salernitana up for another year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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