In Inter Milan, Tottenham and Arsenal, new challengers appear across Europe

Claudio Villa

Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan, Arsenal, Monaco and Napoli all announced their intentions to challenge for the title yesterday on a collective bad day for Europe's old guard.

Sassuolo may not be the sternest opposition Walter Mazzarri's Inter Milan will face, but a 7-0 away shoeing of any side cannot be overlooked regardless of context. Inter have announced their intent to challenge for the title in grand style with the win, particulary compared with Juventus labouring to get past a Hellas Verona side at home by a single goal.

Of course, that may say much about the two sides. Juventus' ability to win regardless of circumstances, how well they're playing, or how doomed they appear, will probably remain with them until the end times. Inter, meanwhile, have scant resources and are a generally shaky side probably still suffering from the carnage of the end of last season. It's easier to see these victories as more the equivalent of a PTSD-induced rampage, doling out arbitrary, merciless thrashings to innocents, rather than a calm, disciplined performance of a new era.

On paper, Mazzarri's squad don't appear to have the squad depth to back up their ambitions by grinding through the bad patches, and in practice, it remains to be seen whether they can match Juventus' phenomenal mental resources. For a comparison of potential attitudes, compare the snarling, skinheaded patrolling of the Juve backline by Giorgio Chiellini to the gambolling of the admittedly adorable but also utterly gormless Andrea Ranocchia.

Mazzarri could find something in there to drag them out into a real fight, and they can probably produce enough impressive results to really worry Juventus, particularly with the return of Diego Milito, but they probably have one more step to go in their development to win the title. That, however, is a prediction. That they are title challengers is now simply objective fact.

* * *

The other team to announce their arrival to the tier of Serie A title challengers yesterday were of course Napoli. That's something of a misnomer, as the club put up a brave enough fight last year, but with Edinson Cavani out of the door and Rafael Benitez in, there was always the potential that Mazzarri's legacy could soon collapse.

More from our team blogs: Napoli blog The Siren's Song

That appears to not be the case - Napoli finally won at the San Siro against AC Milan yesterday, and ominously, they did so with their best player, Marek Hamsik, not having an exceptional game. The team were often over-reliant on their key players last year, and while his replacement Goran Pandev was typically far worse, Gonzalo Higuain did a fine job in replicating Cavani's great talent of scoring goals from very little.

It's very unlikely that Higuain will prove as consistent or reliable as the departed Uruguayan, but José Callejon, Dries Mertens and the improved Lorenzo Insigne should give Napoli the firepower they need to put up a strong challenge this year. Carlos Tevez has not quite had the effect at Juventus that he might have - he will surely click eventually, but even with that addition, their challengers could be taking much bigger steps this year.

* * *

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur also probably declared themselves contenders for the Premier League title, although this did have something to do with events elsewhere. A 1-0 win against a newly-promoted side isn't enough to get people excited usually, but it was looking like a sad repeat of a period which many had hoped the Christian Eriksen-inspired display of the last round of fixtures had put to bed: Spurs were dominant but unable to find a way through against a determined defence. Then, however, came Paulinho, and Spurs' best start to the season since their hallowed days of the 1960s. They are also, along with that, just behind Arsenal, who also look like putting down a real challenge this year.

The two sides are not without flaws. Tottenham are still light on strikers, with Roberto Soldado not really of sufficient quality for a team that would have designs on winning the title. The same can be said of Olivier Giroud, and while Spurs' depth is without question, the amount of truly top-tier talent they have is not. The reverse is true of Arsenal, who are one injury from having a worse squad than last year.

If these teams were going up against the best Manchester United, Manchester City, or Chelsea season-long performances of the past few years, they wouldn't get close. But all three are struggling with various problems (City to a lesser extent after today, although they have hardly set the world alight in any game so far) and it seems that if a surprise grab for the title is going to be made, it will be this year.

* * *

And another! Finally, Monaco were well worth their point at the Parc des Princes, the slightly disappointing affair being able to be boiled down to its roots for idiots, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Falcao, both trading goals in a 1-1 draw.

Considering Marseille's iffy start to the season, this is a very good thing. A real challenger, with enough resources and clout that Laurent Blanc cannot simply potter along safe in the assumption implosion will inevitably occur at some point in the season, will reveal much about Paris Saint-Germain, and whether they have the mentality to become a truly great side in their current incarnation.

Of more importance than the point may well be the loss of Thiago Silva - including that, the game counts as a win for the visitors. Barely a year into their reign at the helm of a supposed monopoly, things are already looking shaky in the capital.

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