Serie A 2019-20 preview: Juventus has strengthened, but so have their rivals

In true Italian style, Serie A is arriving fashionably late, as the last of the major European leagues to kick off this season. Juventus will be aiming for their eighth consecutive title, while the league has been strengthened as a whole by a swathe of world-class signings. And possibly Alexis Sanchez.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 118th edition of top-flight Italian calcio, which begins Saturday.

Can the Juventus juggernaut be stopped?

Probably not. The Turin side have won Serie A 35 times (or 37 times, if you ask Juve fans who are overlooking the titles that were stripped from them after the Calciopoli scandal) and are heavy favorites to retain the scudetto for the ninth consecutive season. And their summer transfer business has made their strong squad even stronger.

The biggest arrival is 19-year-old center back Matthijs de Ligt, who expertly handled Cristiano Ronaldo as Ajax dumped Juve out of the Champions League quarterfinals last season. The Dutchman was targeted by several powerful European sides, with Juventus stating their intent for continental domination by meeting his $84 million fee. The aging backline will also be aided by the arrival of promising center back Merih Demiral from Sassuolo.

The midfield has also been improved by virtue of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot, while they have maintained the services of Cristiano Ronaldo to handle goal-scoring responsibilities.

(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
Cristiano Ronaldo, Matthijs de Ligt and Juventus will have to hold off Antonio Conte's Inter Milan and impending Napoli signing Hirving Lozano. (Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

To fund these new arrivals, a couple very useful players have left the club: Joao Cancelo was switched for Manchester City’s Danilo, and budding star Moise Kean now plays his soccer with Everton.

Despite the losses, the squad is stronger on balance. And the Old Lady will receive a boost from the reintroduction of Gigi Buffon, the 41-year-old club legend who will back up Wojciech Szczesny.

Juve also have a new manager in Maurizio Sarri, who will be expected to play the attractive, attack-minded soccer that helped his Napoli side nearly steal the Serie A title in 2018. Defensive midfield is arguably the most important role in Sarri’s system, and the part of Jorginho will be played by veteran Miralem Pjanic. This is almost certainly an upgrade.

Sarri was treated for pneumonia this week, but health permitting, will be expected to deliver Juve’s first Champions League title since 1996. With this squad and manager, it may be the best chance they have had in a long time.

Are there any other title contenders?

Realistically, only two sides have a chance of catching Juve: Napoli and Inter Milan.

Napoli will pair up new signing Kostas Manolas with Kalidou Koulibaly in order to form one of the best central defenses in the league.

In attack, meanwhile, they will be strengthened by the arrival of Mexican winger Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. In his sophomore season, Carlo Ancelotti has the ingredients to muster a top-two finish.

That task will be made more difficult, however, by Inter Milan. Manager Antonio Conte has replaced Luciano Spalletti and a raft of new signings have strengthened the squad: Romelu Lukaku has arrived to the tune of $88 million, while his former Manchester United teammate Alexis Sanchez is reportedly set to put pen to paper on a loan deal.

Inter have also spent big on midfielders Valentino Lazaro, forward Matteo Politano and veteran center back Diego Godin.

Star attacker Mauro Icardi remains frozen out of the team and seems unlikely to move elsewhere, but otherwise, things look good for the Milanese side.

Who else will be in contention for the top four?

Much like the Premier League, there is a chasing pack who are all vying for the coveted fourth Champions League qualification berth. The three most likely candidates are Roma, AC Milan and Atalanta.

AC Milan finished fifth last season, a point back of their San Siro roommates Inter, but they were banned from European competition this campaign regardless after running afoul of Financial Fair Play regulations. With no European soccer to distract them — and impressive signings that include exciting Portuguese forward Rafael Leão and Real Madrid fullback Theo Hernandez — AC Milan are in a good position for success.

Atalanta's Gambian forward Musa Barrow (C) celebrate with Atalanta's Colombian forward Duvan Zapata after opening the scoring during the Italian Serie A football match Atalanta Bergama vs Genoa on May 11, 2019 at the Mapei Stadium - Citta del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Can Duván Zapata (center) and Atalanta qualify for the Champions League again? (Getty)

Roma, on the other hand, are coming off the back of a disappointing season, in which a heavy loss to fierce rivals Lazio cost coach Eusebio Di Francesco his job in March. A lowly sixth-place finish followed.

There has been a mass exodus of players over the summer, including the aforementioned defender Manolas, legendary midfielder Daniele De Rossi and star forward Stephan El Shaarawy. Given the relative lack of squad improvement, it remains to be seen if Roma can work their way back into the top four.

The dark horse of the Champions League-chasing pack is Atalanta, who qualified for the big tournament for the first time last season with a very impressive third-place finish. The Lombardy-based side have lost a few stars whose loan deals ended, but the addition of players such as striker Luis Muriel from Sevilla will help them to keep up with the more established sides.

Who are the promoted teams?

The two automatically promoted sides return to the big time following relatively lengthy absences: Serie B champs Brescia have been away eight years, while Lecce have been absent for seven. Hellas Verona are back at the first time of asking, via the playoffs.

The biggest name on Brescia’s roster is Mario Balotelli, who returned to the region where he was born and raised this summer. He will partner with Serie B top 2018-19 scorer Alfredo Donnarumma, which should help Brescia defy the bookmakers’ odds as the second-most likely team to be relegated.

The most likely is Lecce, who are combining a lack of top-flight experience with a squad that would appear better suited to the second tier.

Verona, which shocked the world by winning the league in 1985, are being given a sporting chance of survival. However, their lack of squad investment and the difficulty they experienced during their previous Serie A tenure suggests they will struggle.

Who will win the Golden Boot?

Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella was Serie A’s top scorer last season with 26 goals, but is not among the favorites this time out. Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo is the favorite (13/8 with bet365) and will be aided by Sarri’s attacking style and the free role his manager is giving him.

Krzysztof Piątek is also a contender, given the 22 goals he scored for Genoa and AC Milan in the last campaign. But the smart money might lay with Lukaku (10/1 at bet365), who will be the main scoring outlet for revamped Inter.

How do I watch Serie A this season?

Once again, ESPN holds the rights to Serie A in the USA. One match per week will be broadcast on either ESPN or ESPN2, while around nine games per week will be available on ESPN+.

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