Serie A preview: Juventus affirm status in Italy by raiding their rivals at Napoli, Roma

Ian Hawkey previews the upcoming Serie A season and ponders whether anyone can stop Juventus following a summer that has seen the champions strengthen at the expense of their rivals.

Juventus celebrate winning the 2015 Italian Super Cup. (AFP)
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To listen only to the farewells being uttered at the home of the Italian champions this summer would be to imagine that Serie A has become just a stopping point on the upward career ladders of the very gifted and ambitious players.

Thanks for the memories, said Paul Pogba, as he left Juventus and they thanked him for providing their back account with the biggest sum ever committed to the transfer of an individual footballer.

Pogba went back to Manchester United, from where Juve had recruited him as a teenager. Alvaro Morata, meanwhile, went back to Real Madrid, from where Juve had found him two years earlier aged 21.

Morata spoke eloquently of how much he had learned at Juve. “Italy is the hardest place for a striker to shine,” he said anticipating his return to his native Spain, and to Madrid, the champions of Europe. “But it’s the best place to learn.”

• More: 5 players to watch in Serie A this season

But Serie A should be more than a finishing school for aspiring finishers, or would-be Ballons D’Ors winners, as Pogba clearly aims to be.

A principal hope for the Italian league season that begins Saturday is that it will have a compelling, classy title race even if it seems unlikely that the clubs disputing that can be the trio that used to do so in the days, the 1990s, when Italy undoubtedly housed the most glamorous and richest domestic competition in the sport.

The Milan clubs, Inter and AC Milan, have deep structural problems that have been going on long enough now that the upper rung of expectation at San Siro is merely to try and scrape into the Uefa Champions League, via a spot in the top three.

The frailties of Inter and Milan – who both have new managers, with Frank de Boer at Inter and Vicenzo Montella at Milan – do make things easier for Juventus, who on Saturday take on Fiorentina as the first step in the chase for a sixth successive Serie A title.

That run of titles puts them into the kind of territory not even Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain have yet built up in two leagues, Germany’s and France’s, that have become a little derided for the predictability of their outcomes.

This summer, more than any before, Juve are spoken of as a ruthlessly relentless institution, and not only because they have been reigning champions for so long.

Like Bayern tend to, they have systematically preyed on their nearest rivals in the transfer market.

The swoop to take Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli by paying his buyout clause, of €90 million (Dh 374m), has animated the lead-up to the season far more than the sale of Pogba, whose fee clearly helped Juve to be so bold in signing the Argentinian.

Higuain’s 36 goals in the league last season made Napoli real contenders to put a new name on the championship shield. There is great venom in some of the Neapolitan reaction to his departure.

“That’s the way Juve work,” fumed Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Napoli president. Evidently, it is.

Miralem Pjanic, Roma’s creative fulcrum for the last five years, is now a Juve player, too. The top dogs have taken a big bite out of the last second- and third-placed finishers.

Can Napoli chase again as effectively as they did for two-thirds of the last campaign? Replacing Higuain will be hard, and much looks likely to depend on the effectiveness up front of Arkaduisz Milik, the young Polish striker signed by De Laurentiis from Ajax.

Roma need to maintain their recent habit of starting well, but must add to that a stamina through the winter months.

Long-term endurance is at issue at Roma in several respects.

Francesco Totti is still there. Well before he turns 40 next month, ideas will form about whether he can be an effective supersub or just an overbearing figure casting an ominous shadow from a bench he would rather not be sitting on, ruminating on the better times, when he was a giant in a league that was out on its own as the very best.

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