With just two days to go until Serie A gets underway for another season, below is my preview with a few predictions thrown in as well.
As hard as it is for me to admit, it is difficult to look beyond Juventus as the favourites for the scudetto as the team who were head and shoulders above the rest of the division last year have further improved their squad. The acquisitions of former Toro defender Angelo Ogbonna along with strikers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez have given Juve more strength in depth and should help them cope with the demands of the Champions League. Napoli were Juve's biggest challengers for much of last season, and under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez, they should be able to mount a title challenge for the forthcoming campaign. Edinson Cavani may have departed, but Gonzalo Higuain is an adequate replacement and it will be interesting to see whether Dries Mertens can replicate his PSV form in a Napoli shirt. With Mario Balotelli in their team - arguably the best player in the league - AC Milan should be able to mount a better title challenge this campaign, provided they don't start as poorly as they did last year. However, Milan have not strengthened their much maligned defence, and this could prove to be their downfall.
Fiorentina impressed many last season as they narrowly missed out on a place in the Champions League, and after spending big to sign Mario Gomez from Bayern Munich they should be able to mount a similar challenge this season. Despite some pundits (including myself) predicting Lazio to struggle last season with unknown Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic at the helm, the Biancocelesti qualified for Europe due to their Coppa Italia victory. However, they will probably want to improve on their league standing this season, and experienced striker Miroslav Klose will be key in order to do so. After suffering an incredible 16 defeats in the league last season, it would almost be impossible for Inter to have a worse campaign. New coach Walter Mazzarri has been busy in the transfer market, and youngsters Mauro Icardi, Mateo Kovacic, Ishak Belfodil all have good potential. Despite the departure of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo to Southampton, Roma will feel that they are capable of replicating last season's 6th placed finish. New coach Rudi Garcia did a great job at Lille, and if they are able to keep Erik Lamela away from the lure of the Premier League they could be one of the surprise packages this campaign. Francesco Guidolin continues to work miracles with Udinese as evidenced by their fifth placed finish last season, and a strike partnership of Antonio Di Natale and Luis Muriel will guarantee goals.
Catania will be Sicily's only representative in Serie A this year, and whilst it will be difficult to replicate last season's 8th placed finish due to the loss of Alejandro Gomez and Francesco Lodi. However, they have a habit of upsetting the odds, and their home form has been incredible over the last couple of years. Despite not making many new signings, Cagliari have been able to keep a hold of Davide Astori, Radja Nainggolan, Victor Ibarbo and Marco Sau - and this should make them extremely competitive, despite question marks over where they will play their home matches. Despite the loss of promising young striker Ishak Belfodil to Inter, Parma have managed to sign Antonio Cassano as part of the deal, and his partnership with Amauri promises to be an exciting one.
Bologna may be without Alberto Gilardino but former Torino captain Rolando Bianchi is certainly an adequate replacement. Alessandro Diamanti will also provide the creativity to keep the rossoblu from relegation trouble. Sampdoria have lost Mauro Icardi, but Manolo Gabbiadini should be able to replace his goals, and Delio Rossi is a veteran tactician who will be able to keep his team in the division.
After a couple of difficult seasons fighting relegation, Genoa would willingly take a boring season in mid-table. The return of Gilardino is certainly a boost, whilst Francesco Lodi is an extremely good acquisition. However if inexperienced coach Fabio Liverani makes a poor start to his reign, there could be more misery on the horizon for il Grifone. Returning to Serie A for the first time in eleven years Hellas Verona will be hoping their stay will be a prolonged one. The signing of Luca Toni is an interesting one, and whilst there are doubts over whether he can still cut it at the top level, he could score some important goals to keep them up.
As much as it hurts me to say this, I do feel that my beloved Torino could be in some trouble this season. The change in formation from 4-2-4 to 3-5-2 is extremely risky, especially when one considers the Granata have yet to win a single competitive match under Giampiero Ventura whilst playing in this new formation. Whilst Angelo Ogbonna and Rolando Bianchi have been replaced by Cesare Bovo and Ciro Immobile, doubts remain over the strength of their midfield - which was often their downfall last season. The suspensions to key players Jean-Francois Gillet, Alessandro Gazzi and Paulo Barreto are a worry, and could mean that they start the season slowly. However, being able to retain the services of Italy international Alessio Cerci was a major coup for the club, and moving him to a striking role could be a masterstroke. Atalanta have enjoyed a number of steady seasons under the stewardship of Stefano Colontuono, however in their two fixtures against Toro last season they failed to impress. The Bergamo side should have enough to stay up, but they could endure a more difficult season than they have in recent years - especially if German Denis fails to find the net on a regular basis. Chievo have also enjoyed some consistency since returning to the top flight, but replacing club legend Eugenio Corini as coach was a strange decision, and if new man Giuseppe Sannino makes a slow start they may find it difficult to recover. Sassuolo will often be referred to as "minnows" by numerous pundits, but it is important to remember that they were Serie B champions last season. However, much like Pescara before them, I doubt whether they have enough experience in their squad to cope with the demands of the top tier. Simone Zaza was prolific for struggling Ascoli last year, and they may be over-reliant on him replicating that form. Livorno gained promotion to Serie A via the playoffs last season, and have therefore have had less time to prepare for their return to the top flight. Talented duo Ibrahima Mbaye (who is excellent on Football Manager 13 by the way) and Alfred Duncan have joined on loan from Inter, and whilst they may gain a number of impressive results, I doubt whether they will have the consistency to stay up.
Champions - Juventus
Runners Up - Milan
Champions League - Napoli
Relegated - Chievo, Sassuolo, Livorno
Top Scorer - Mario Balotelli