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Can any of us imagine a Serie A season that ends without the Nerazzurri winning the scudetto? It has been five seasons since another team won Italy's first division, and most of the Juventus players that helped win that title have entered the sunsets of their careers. We can remember the kits celebrating, but the players inside them are faded faces in a Polaroid. Roma's made a habit of finishing second and Milan hasn't improved, so in addition to us becoming accustomed to seeing Milano at the top of the table, none of the other contenders are distinguishing themselves as challengers.
At least, that's the conventional wisdom, but of all the qualities that have come to characterize my time at SB Nation's soccer desk, conventional and wise are not among them. Thus, it should be no surprise that my Serie A preview has another club as this season's favorites.
Suspense be damned, let's get to the numbers and leave the 'splaining for later:
|Rk||Club||Avg||W||D||L||GF||GA||1st||Top 4||Top 7||Relegated||Best||Worst||Range*|
Why Juve? After all, this is a team that barely qualified for Europe last season. More telling, they had a negative goal difference (-1). It's not difficult to see improvement, but jumping past the likes of Inter and Roma? At first blush, it seems a reach.
When you look closer at Juve's 2009-10 season, there is no area of the squad that does not stand to improve. Alex Manninger had a terrible record in place of Gianluigi Buffon. Marco Storari will be much better. Fabio Cannavaro is gone from the defense. Felipe Melo will improve in a midfield that's added Simone Pepe, Jorge Martínez, Milos Krasic and Alberto Aquilani (at Diego's expense, the Brazilian having moved to Wolfsburg). Their forwards underperformed last season, and while the ages of Alessandro del Piero, Amauri, and Vincenzo Iaquinta do not portend to much improvement, Davide Lanzafame adds much needed youth and depth.
Juve's biggest improvement comes off the pitch. Last year's campaign was undermined by what proved to be the ill-advised appointment of Ciro Ferrara, replacing Claudio Ranieri. While Ranieri went home to Rome and led to Giallorossi on a title challenge, Ferrara crashed after a strong start - a strong start that led Juventus to stick with their former captain for far too long. On Juve decided to make a move, Alberto Zaccheroni as a mid-season replacement was too drastic a change.
Now Juventus goes from one of the worst coaching situations in the league to one of the best. Luigi Delneri is one of the most respected coaches in Italy and left potential Champions League football with Sampdoria to move to Turin. At a minimum, he will bring stability, but judging by last year's results with Samp, Delneri brings much more.
Taking the reigns of a club whose players all underperformed expectations last season, Delneri enters a situation destined to make him look good. Juve would have rebounded without him, but with Delneri, the Old Lady is set to uncoil.
Why not Inter? Based on the ages of their key players, you would expect them to regress, if only slightly. Based on the change from Jose Mourinho to Rafa Benitez, you would expect them to fall. It's only a question of how much, but given Inter barely won the league last season, they need not fall far to see their title streak snapped.
Mario Balotelli's loss will be another major factor in Inter's downfall. Inter is thin in attack, something that won't be a problem if all of Diego Milito, Samuel Eto'o and Gordan Pandev stay healthy and productive. Balotelli was the next in line at all of their positions. Even if that trio performs to expectations, Inter is losing Balotelli's nine goals.
Again, Inter did not win this league by much last season. A little thing - like losing Balotelli, like replacing Mourinho with Benitez - could derail them.
Why not Roma? It is a huge presumption that Roma will continue to play as they did the second half of last season. The Giallorossi did not lose between the end of October and the end of April. It's an unreasonably high level to expect from Roma, and while the additions of Adriano and Fabio Simplicio will help, their season could be undone by the inability to replace Nicolas Burdisso.
Later, we'll be getting you up-to-date on the comings-and-goings around Serie A ahead of tomorrow's opening day, though it would be unfair to leave this post without some words about the rest of the predictions:
Milan: Where health was a major concern in defense last season, that addition of Sokratis Papastathopoulos helps, if for not other reason than stability. Pato will start more than 20 matches (and score more than 12 goals) while the goalkeeping will improve.
Fiorentina: Improved health for Alessandro Gamberini and Felipe coupled with the continued improvement of Stevan Jovetic and the addition of Adem Ljajic improves a club whose goal difference suggests a team better than their bottom-half finish.
Genoa: Their summer build-up has been much discussed, and for good reason. I see Eduardo, Rafina, Miguel Veloso and Luca Toni getting them into Europe.
Napoli: High-profile additions of Edinson Cavani (on loan from Palermo) and Jorge Sosa (on loan from Bayern) build upon on attack that already featured Marek Hamsik, Fabio Quagliarella and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Can all of them together?
Sampdoria: A small step back with the loss of Delneri, but a significant drop down the table with the improvement of a number of other clubs.
Cagliari: Another team whose improvement - from relegation battler to, according to this forecast, ninth - is a reflection of a goal difference that was not-so-bad last season. Robert Aquafresca, on loan from Genoa, provides further reason to expect improvement.
Palermo: Cavani, Simplicio, Simon Kjaer and Mark Bresciano are all gone. Fabrizio Miccoli does not have another 19 goals in him. Abel Hernandez is set of a huge year in an increased role. Javier Pastore will take another step forward, and the addition of Massimo Maccarone will help offset the losses. Still, a big step down for Palermo.
Chievo: Domenico di Carlo replaced Delneri at Sampdoria. How will Stefano Pioli replace di Carlo?
Lazio: The return of Cristian Ledesma and the addition of Hernanes gives the Aquile a whole new midfield.
Brescia: Will neither score nor allow many goals, giving them a strong chance to stay up after promotion. The simulation, though, seems a bit generous.
Bari: Just a slight step-back (return to Earth) from last year, but should solidify their place in the first division.
Parma: They were surprisingly strong last season but are due for a big step back, and though many are high on the addition of Sebastian Giovinco, he isn't enough to save his new team from a large regression.
Catania: Much the same as last year, the goal prevention will be good for a team that lacks the ability to consistently score.
Cesena: Trying to stay up after promotion, have added a few names people will recognize: Diego Cavalieri, Steve von Bergen, and Stephen Appiah.
Udinese: I'm not sure I agree with the simulator's prediction that Udinese will be relegated; however, if Antonio Di Natale falls from 29 goals to around 20 or 22, it's very possible.
Lecce: Many are expecting last year's Serie B champions to stay-up, but perhaps that expectation which led Lecce to make only limited improvements?
Bologna: Seen as by far the worst team in the league, last year's 17th place finishers are also being picked by many carbon-based prognosticators to be relegated.