Serie A: The title contenders, their transfer business, and their expectations.

As the first matches of the Serie A season beckon, and with the transfer window slowly beginning to close, the needs and desires of each team are becoming more apparent. Scudetto holders Juventus look poised to challenge for a sixth consecutive title, while Napoli, Roma, and Inter will use these final weeks to strengthen rosters in hopes to knock the Bianconeri off the top spot.

The mega-deal that sent Pogba to Manchester United for well over €100 million naturally raises questions about how Juventus will reinvest the profit and replace their superstar midfielder, but impending transfers for Inter, Roma, and Napoli will dictate how well they have used the summer market to improve their chances at stopping Juve. Napoli’s inclusion in the Champions League, as well as Roma’s should they be victorious over Porto, will necessitate deeper squads for both teams. The departures of Higuain and Pjanic, both moving to Juventus, provided each team with a considerable transfer fee, but will they be able to spend efficiently and retain the form needed to succeed in multiple competitions? Only time can answer that question.

Yep. Pogba’s gone. (Photo by Man Utd via Getty Images)

Meanwhile Inter’s coaching confusion with Mancini departing only a few weeks before the first match leaves his replacement Frank De Boer very little time to make squad adjustments. Ever Banega and Antonio Candreva are both excellent additions and will provide flexibility in the midfield and attack. Should the Nerazzurri add Joao Mario and manage to keep ahold of Icardi and Brozovic, they have the potential to return to the Champions League next season and perhaps even rival Juventus for the Scudetto.

The Serie A remains a difficult league to play in week to week, as its technical, tactical, and physical demands are on par with almost any competition in the world. Top spending clubs with deeper rosters see these demands as attainable through the right combination of skill, athletic ability, and intelligence from players. This allows the coach to integrate multiple different formations that can be used interchangeably throughout the season. Consider Max Allegri’s use of the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 during Juventus’ success the last two years.

The Old Lady, even having lost Paul Pogba, remain favorites for the upcoming season. They have already improved with the additions of Pjanic, Dani Alves, Higuain, Benatia, and Pjaca. Still, Marotta must secure another midfielder to fill the absence left by Marchisio’s long term knee injury and the doubts over Khedira’s recurring muscle injuries. The list of possible candidates runs the gamut, with Luiz Gustavo, Isco, Matuidi, Witsel, Diawara, and Saponara all mentioned.

More recently, rumors involving Inter’s Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic have been strongly cited, but a glance over Juve’s current midfield list shows they need to sell before they buy. Hernanes, Asamoah, Sturaro and Pereyra could all end up being surplus to requirements should one from the target list above come in. From a technical perspective Pogba’s departure and the arrivals of Dani Alves and Pjanic change Juve into a team better suited to play in tight spaces. Without question Allegri and Marotta will want to choose wisely to find the player that fits this evolution, and Isco and Brozovic though are likely the most expensive, fit the mold the best. Having strengthened in defence with Benatia and Dani Alves and in attack with Higuain and Pjaca (even with loss of Morata), Juventus have built a squad capable of returning to past Champions League glory. It will take a catastrophe for them to finish the season out of the top three spots in the league, and its equivalent in the UCL. 

Former Ajax forward Arkadiusz Milik is expected to take up the goalscoring burdens at SSC Napoli. All aboard! (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

After leading Napoli to a respectable second place finish in only his first season with the club, Maurizio Sarri has to cope with the departure of last season’s Capocannoniere winner Gonzalo Higuain. Pressure to find the back of the net will fall on direct replacements, former Ajax man Arkadiusz Milik, along with Manolo Gabbiadini, to score as consistently as the outgoing Argentine. But consider too the plethora of chances Sarri’s 4-3-3 creates for wingers, and this is an area where they have depth. Insigne, Callejon, and Mertens can rotate to fill those roles and newcomer Giaccherini adds versatility in the position. The addition of another Polish international Piotr Zielinski solidifies an already strong center of the park consisting of Hamsik, Jorginho, Allan, Valdifiori, and El Kaddouri. If the rumors of poaching Icardi from Inter have any truth to them, perhaps there is some weight to De Laurentiis’ claims of making Napoli a European contender. The outspoken owner has remained active on the market this summer, adding depth to an already quality squad. Should they be able to secure Criscito or De Sciglio and fend off foreign bids for Koulibaly, the Partenopei will continue to boast a formidable defense. Having also secured Tonelli, De Laurentiis and Sarri will likely look to the summer market as a success in his preparations for the upcoming season. How the latter can maintain his team over two competitions is yet to be determined, nonetheless Napoli will hope to continue to be a thorn in Juve’s side as the title race grows. 

Historically, the Serie A winner has usually been the team that concedes the least, and building a strong stout defense is at the forefront of every coach’s plan. An experienced tactician, Luciano Spalletti wasted no time in reinforcing Roma’s backline following the long term injury to Rüdiger and the end of Lucas Digne’s loan. So far the Giallorossi have added Fazio, Vermaelen, and Juan Jesus, but a more recent misfortune for new signing Mario Rui may force Roma back into the market. Torino’s Bruno Peres is rumored to be a candidate, and this move bodes well for Florenzi who can then move into the midfield, allowing Spalletti the versatility he lost with Pjanic’s departure.

What up Strootman? Long time no see! (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

If Strootman can return to his form from a few years ago and Roma can manage to keep Paredes, (keeping in mind mainstays Nainggolan and De Rossi) they still have one of the best group of midfielders among Italian clubs. In attack i Lupi will continue to play with the three pronged attack including El Shaarawy and Salah flanking center forward Dzeko. Totti and Perotti offer Spalletti the opportunity to tweak his attack to play with two forwards or a false 9. Meanwhile, Iturbe adds depth on the wing. Now, only days before the Champions League qualification legs against Porto and the weekend Serie A opener, Spalletti will be confident in his squad, especially considering how Roma acted intelligently and early in the transfer window. 

Inter, even with a late coaching change, still have been able to secure Banega, Candreva, and Ansaldi to strengthen their squad. Incoming coach De Boer is a devout 4-3-3 supporter in the Dutch style, tactically speaking. His needs to fulfill this formation are mostly already in tact, with Perisic and Candreva playing as wingers and Icardi as the number 9. Eder, Jovetic, and Biabiany are all quality substitutes who can either go on as direct replacements or offer a different element when the formation needs adjustment. The Nerazzurri defense was restructured before last season with Murillo and Miranda; and it was a stronghold for Inter as they led the Serie A during the first half of the season last year. It remains relatively similar with the addition of Ansaldi to add depth. The biggest questions for the Inter squad arise in the midfield. Can they convince Brozovic to stay or can they demand a fee they consider worthwhile? Lucas Leiva and Diarra have already been mentioned as potential replacements.

A large sum of it will go in the transfer for Joao Mario as rumoured, which adds a higher quality attacking presence to the Black and Blue. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Banega gives Inter a creative touch they definitely lacked, and they are supported by gritty players such as Melo and Medel. Should De Boer be able to get the most out of Kondogbia, Inter’s midfield could surprise this year, and may be the link they need to stay in the top three. 

A Serie A season is much more than a race for first place. It is a vicious, multifaceted battle for the three Champions League qualification places. Throughout the year, the teams with the most solid defenses that concede the least, possess skilled and efficient midfielders that can dictate the rhythm of play, and a front line that scores game in and game out will stay at the top of the table. Clubs with the deepest squads will have the best chance to remain competitive in multiple competitions. Most importantly a coach with a plan that works, and the ability to implement that plan with the squad available will be the top dogs at the end of the season. In the coming months many questions will arise. Will Allegri be able to manage Juve to a sixth consecutive Scudetto? Can De Boer be influential in his first season? Will Spalletti pick up where he left off? Is Sarri ready for the challenge of a second competition?

Or will there be a Serie A surprise, like Ranieri’s Leicester in the EPL last year?

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