[SERIE A PREVIEW] Juventus started the 2011-12 Serie A season with a new coach, Antonio Conte, and a new stadium and
ended it having never lost. It begins the 2012-13 season without Conte, suspended for 10 months in the latest game-fixing scandal. But such are the problems of Juve's rivals that the loss of Conte
should pose no problem in its title defense.
HEAVYWEIGHT. With all the talent leaving AC Milan, there can only be one favorite in Serie A this season.
Conte inherited a seventh-place team, but it managed to become the first team in Serie A history to go unbeaten and win the Scudetto -- Perugia finished the 1978-89 season without a loss and without the title -- despite enduring 15 ties.
Juventus Stadium is the only venue in Italy owned by a club, providing revenue other teams don’t have. Those monies allowed Juve to add depth for its return to the Champions League.
It paid third-place Udinese almost $25 million for two of its best young players, Kwadwo Asamoah from Ghana and the versatile right back Mauricio Isla from Chile. Brazilian Lucio will bring his vast experience in defense from Inter.
No one scored more than 10 games in league play for the champions last season, but attacker Sebastian Giovinco, born in Turin, will bring his 15 tallies at Parma a year ago back to his former club.
Gianluigi Buffon, 34, was terrific in goal, but it was the addition of Andrea Pirlo that gave Juve a focal point. Shown the door in Milan after 10 seasons, Pirlo was masterful from the deep midfield, controlling matches as Conte shuffled average strikers.
NEXT IN LINE. No club will have had a bigger impact on the Serie A race than Paris St. Germain, which bought up the league’s top scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and best defender, Thiago Silva, from AC Milan for $80 million. PSG also broke out its checkbook to buy Ezequiel Lavezzi from Napoli for nearly $30 million, and Marco Verrati of newly promoted Pescara went a bargain at $12 million.
In Italy, which now has three Champions League spots, having lost one to the Bundesliga, six teams will fight for the two seats alongside Juve at the head of the standings.
In Milan, the San Siro’s notoriously ragged field, shared by AC Milan and Inter Milan, was replaced with a synthetic grass hybrid. The two teams also got makeovers, though the Rossoneri’s wasn’t pretty.
Aging veterans Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf left for Switzerland, Canada and Brazil, respectively, while Filippo Inzaghi retired. Mark van Bommel took his hatchet home to PSV.
Cristian Zapata is on loan from Villarreal to help replace Silva and Nesta in defense, while midfielder Riccardo Montolivo comes from Fiorentina on a free transfer.
Forwards Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini swapped locker rooms at the San Siro. Milan gets Pazzini, 28, while Cassano, 30, is now at Inter, which finished a disappointing sixth last year, missing Champions League play for the first time in 10 years.
Udinese made the Champions League playoffs by finishing third last season but it could be tough sledding this fall. A top six finish would be welcome after selling Asamoah, Isla and goalie Samir Handanovic (now at Inter) to teams with more money.
Management in Naples said it wouldn’t break up the “three tenors” -- Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Lavezzi -- after a season that saw finish fourth in Serie A and beat Juve in the Coppa Italia final.
PSG’s euros brought Napoli midfielders Valon Behrami and Alessandro Gamberini from Fiorentina and young Chilean forward Eduardo Vargas from Universidad de Chile in place of Lavezzi. That was a nice haul, but keeping Cavani, who scored 33 times in all competitions, was key. If things break right, Napoli could be the one team to give Juve problems.
The two Rome teams, Lazio and Roma, were fifth and seventh, respectively. Lazio had a quiet summer, but its only move is a good one as Brazilian Ederson brings creativity in the midfield from Lyon to support German striker Miroslav Klose.
American-owned Roma figures to be one of many battling for Champions League soccer after adding several new faces, including fullback Federico Balzaretti from Palermo, young striker Mattia Destro from Siena and Michael Bradley, who joins a deep midfield after an excellent first Serie A campaign with Chievo Verona.
PROMOTION/RELEGATION. Lecce was relegated after finishing 18th, then dropped to Lega Pro Prima Divisione for its part in the recent scandal. Novara’s fairy-tale promotion after 55 years in the minor leagues, including 33 straight in the third division, ended after one season. Cesena, third division just two seasons ago, won four games all year and was dropped. Pescara won Serie B to return to Serie A after 19 years down. Torino finished second to rejoin city rival Juve at the top. Sampdoria only managed sixth place after falling out of Serie A in 2011 but won the four-team playoff last spring to return.