5 things to know about the Italian league

Five things to know about the Italian league as it prepares to

kick off this week:

NEW LOOK NAPOLI

Napoli not only has a new coach but has also overhauled its

squad since finishing runner-up to Juventus last season. Walter

Mazzarri left for Inter Milan at the end of the season and was

replaced by former Liverpool and Inter coach Rafa Benitez. The

departure of Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain was a blow but

Napoli has been busy spending the 64 million euro ($84 million)

transfer fee – and more – on the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Jose

Callejon, Raul Albiol, Pepe Reina, Dries and Rafael.

BATTLE OF THE STRIKERS

Juventus has reinforced its attack significantly with the

arrival of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City and the signing of

Fernando Llorente from Athletic Bilbao. If Antonio Conte’s team has

had any weaknesses in previous years it has been up front, with the

lack of a world-class striker. At AC Milan, Mario Balotelli and

Stephan El Shaarawy are used to playing together for club and

country. Balotelli has excelled since returning to Italy from

Manchester City in January and scored 12 goals in 13 games for AC

Milan.

JUVE HAT TRICK?

Juventus has been the standout team in Italy since Antonio Conte

took over as coach in 2011, guiding it to two consecutive Serie A

titles. It is again favored this season and has been reinforced

further with the addition of top strikers Carlos Tevez and Fernando

Llorente. Juventus had a poor preseason, sparking hope in its

rivals, but as soon as the competitive matches started it blew its

opponent away in devastating fashion, crushing Lazio 4-0 to win the

Italian Super Cup. Paul Pogba broke the deadlock less than three

minutes after coming on as a substitute. The match was a warning of

intent to its rivals that it will be hard to prevent Juventus from

completing a hat trick of Serie A titles.

LIKELY CHALLENGERS

AC Milan is the team likeliest to challenge Juventus. Last

season was one of transition after a complete overhaul of the squad

but it still finished third and secured a Champions League spot.

With an added year of experience, expect Milan to once again be

serious title contenders. Napoli is also set to challenge again

after spending heavily in the offseason. However, the new team and

new coach Rafa Benitez will take time to settle and Napoli

struggled to deal with combining the exertions of the domestic

campaign and the Champions League two years ago. Fiorentina could

also be a dark horse under promising young coach Vincezno Montella.

The team narrowly missed out on the Champions League last season,

finishing fourth, and has done shrewd business in the transfer

market.

TROUBLE OFF THE FIELD

Match-fixing is still a plague in Italian football and this is

the third consecutive offseason in which Serie A clubs have been up

in court. Lazio and Genoa could still be docked points for the role

their players had in the scandal, while Lazio captain Stefano Mauri

has been banned for six months – and possibly more if the

prosecutor wins his appeal. Racism also continues to be a scourge

on the national game. AC Milan player Kevin Constant walked off the

field during a preseason friendly at Sassuolo following alleged

racial abuse, while the Italian Super Cup was marred by racist

chanting.