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Italian Serie A Preview 2004/2005

In soccer, the off season can be nearly as exciting as the rest of the year. That's especially true in Italy, where rumours swirl, tempers flare and last minute deals are commonplace. You can never be sure of where a player or coach has been traded until the deal is on paper. Even then, strange things can happen before the ink gets a chance to dry. This summer has been no different, with several big names changing clubs. The Italian league is also one of the most lopsided in Europe: there was a 69 point difference between Milan and Ancona last season. Although the league lacks parity, the top clubs in Serie A are usually the best teams in the world. For a handicapper, it's also one of he easier leagues to beat. Our money is on the Rossoneri, but here's a look at the main contenders: 

Roma (6:1): After being neck in neck with Milan for much of last season’s Scudetto race, the Giallorossi ran out of gas in the end. Despite finishing second last year, Roma made several dramatic changes over the summer that have made them a much weaker team. They lost Walter Samuel to Real Madrid, and Emerson and Jonathan Zebina fled to Juventus. Simone Perrotta is a decent replacement, but Roma’s depth has been unmistakeably lowered. Eighteen-goal-scorer Antonio Cassano is full of potential, but he remains frustratingly immature. But Roma’s biggest blow was the departure of coach Fabio Capello to Turin. It was made especially bitter coming only a few weeks after Capello proclaimed, “I will never coach Juventus.” Bringing in Germany’s Rudi Voeller as a replacement is far from convincing. It is also a big gamble, considering Voeller led his country to their worst finish in recent memory at Euro 2004. Roma’s first choice, Cesare Prandelli, dramatically gave up the job, which makes Voeller seem all the more unsuitable. All of the above points to a disappointing season for the Giallorossi this year. The stars seemed to line up perfectly for them last year, but there is only one direction for Roma this season: down.

Inter (4:1): Inter had a disappointing season by their standards, finishing in a distant fourth place in last year's Scudetto race. They never seemed a threat, but this season we expect Inter to improve. They've brought in Roberto Mancini from Lazio as new manager. He will bring organization and discipline to the team and help convert more of Inter's draws and losses into wins. But Inter made precious few changes to their squad over the summer. They lost Fabio Cannavaro to Juventus and have done well replacing him. Edgar Davids from Barcelona and Juan Sebastan Veron on loan from Chelsea will join Christian Vieri in midfield. If those three can get into form, Adriano will receive plenty of quality passes. The Brazilian played brilliantly at Copa America and it would be no surprise if he improves on last season's tally of 21 goals in 25 games. Inter will do better this season, but they don't have the quality or consistency to produce results week in and week out. That won't be enough to unseat teams like Milan and Juventus.

Juventus (+250): Juve finished third in Serie A last season, and for only one reason: defence. No matter how many goals you score, you simply cannot win the Italian league by conceding an astonishing 42 goals in 34 games. This season Juventus have no choice but to tighten up their defence. Bringing in Fabio Cannavaro from Inter will certainly help, but Juve's defensive problems were always team- rather than player-related. They have done brilliantly by signing Fabio Capello as new manager. Capello steered Roma to a second place finish last season, with the stingiest defence in the league. Expect his organizational prowess to work wonders at the Delle Alpi this year. In the transfer market, Juventus have also made impressive moves. Fabrizio Miccoli and Marco di Vaio depart, but their shoes are filled by even stronger replacements: Emerson from Roma and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Ajax. Paired with David Trezeguet up front, Zlatan is sure to be deadly and could challenge for Serie A's leading goalscorer. There will be plenty of value backing this team early in the season, but we can't count on Juventus over the long haul -- especially at this price.

Milan (+150): It's hard to oppose a Milan team that dominated Serie A last season. They finished eleven points clear at the top of the table and lost only two games all season. They had the second best defence in the league, conceding only 24 goals, but this year it will be even better. Bringing in Jaap Stam from Lazio will reinforce Milan's back line with one of the finest defenders in the history of the game. The on-loan Hernan Crespo, always more comfortable in Serie A than at Chelsea, will be a lethal force up front with Filippo Inzaghi, Kaka and Andrei Shevchenko. Expect Inzaghi to get back into form after last year's injury-ridden season. And Kaka is fast developing into a world class striker and a delight to watch. Manager Carlo Ancelotti, one of the most talented coaches in Europe, expects results and won't easily settle for second place. This team also knows how to win on the road, which is vital in the Scudetto race. With Juventus the only visible threat, the Rossoneri should expect little opposition in their march to the title. Expect Milan to win Serie A and challenge for the Champions League.

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