Juventus target 5th consecutive Serie A title
MILAN - Juventus kicks off the Serie A season in familiar fashion, as the favorite to lift a record-equaling fifth successive league title.
That feat has only been managed three times in Italy's top flight, with Inter Milan doing it as recently as 2006-2010. Juventus' city rivals Torino won five in a row in the early 40s, although the sequence was interrupted by World War II, while the Bianconeri themselves set the record 10 years earlier.
Few expect Juventus to lose their grip on the title after last season's form. Massimiliano Allegri's team swept everyone aside, finishing 17 points ahead of second-place Roma and completing a domestic double with the Italian Cup.
It narrowly missed out on the treble as it lost the Champions League final to Barcelona. However, it will be a new-look Juventus side which takes to the pitch at home to Udinese on Sunday, with several familiar faces having left Italy.
Waiting to take advantage of any slip-up will be Roma, which has finished runner-up to Juventus the past two seasons.
Here are some things to know about the upcoming season:
NO PIRLO NO PARTY?
Juventus saw three of its top players leave in the offseason. Midfielder Arturo Vidal went to Bayern Munich, while star striker Carlos Tevez - who scored 29 goals last season - returned to Boca Juniors.
In perhaps the biggest blow, Italy legend and World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo left for MLS club New York City. The talismanic midfielder, instantly recognizable with his flowing locks, had dominated Italian football for years and lifted his fifth successive Serie A title last season (and his sixth overall).
However, Juventus managed to keep hold of young talent Paul Pogba and the club has signed Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, Sami Khedira and Simone Zaza among others. ''So many players have left but equally good ones have arrived,'' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. ''There just needs to be a bit of patience.''
Roma is once again the most likely challenger to Juventus' crown after finishing as runner-up the past two seasons.
It now hopes it can go one step further after making some astute signings, bringing in Edin Dzeko, Iago Falque and Mohamed Salah to add some much-needed firepower to a side which scored just 54 goals last season. Last season's surprise package, Lazio, could also challenge. Coach Stefan Pioli impressed in his first season in charge, steering Lazio to third, just a point behind Roma.
Fiorentina and Napoli remain perennial dark horses for a title bid, and both have new managers this season. AC Milan could also be back in the mix after spending serious money in the offseason for the first time in years, including buying Colombia striker Carlos Bacca.
NEW FACES IN CHARGE
An outside contender for the title is Fiorentina, where new coach Paulo Sousa appears to have had an instant impact since replacing Vincenzo Montella in the offseason.
Although friendlies count for little, Fiorentina has won its past four - including victories over Chelsea and Barcelona. Fiorentina had a difficult campaign last year, with star striker Giuseppe Rossi absent with a season-long injury and Mario Gomez struggling for form, but still managed to finish fourth.
Paulo Sousa's first match is at home to AC Milan, which itself has a new man in charge after Sinisa Mihajlovic took over from Filippo Inzaghi. In Mihajlovic, Milan finally has a tested tactician in place after handing managerial debuts to Clarence Seedorf and Inzaghi.
Another top side with a new coach is Napoli. Maurizio Sarri left Empoli to replace Rafa Benitez, who moved to Real Madrid, and his first match in charge will be against Sassuolo.
Two unheralded teams will enjoy their Serie A debuts this season.
Carpi, which appeared in Serie B for the first time just two years ago, stormed to the second division title last season. Its stadium holds just over 4,000 fans, which means it will play its matches at Modena's Stadio Alberto Braglia.
Fellow minnow Frosinone is based in a small town in the Lazio region, with a population of less than 47,000. Favored to go straight back down to the third division last season, Frosinone astounded everyone by finishing second to ensure back-to-back promotions.
Both teams' main aims will be to avoid relegation. Carpi's first ever Serie A match will be at Sampdoria, while Frosinone kicks off its top flight adventures at home to Torino. Despite only reaching Serie A via the playoff, Bologna will be looking to do better than its fellow promoted sides after just a year's absence from the top flight.
Bologna will be hoping for an instant impact from new signing Mattia Destro, with the 24-year-old Italy forward looking to revive his flagging career after a disappointing loan spell at AC Milan.