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Preview: Who will contend for the Serie A title

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Juventus remain favourites, but can Napoli or Inter push them?

The 118th Serie A season starts next Saturday, and given how clubs like Juventus and Inter have improved this summer, we can expect an exciting race for the Scudetto. Let’s take a look at the top three contenders to win the league:

Juventus

Juventus captured its eighth consecutive Scudetto last year, finishing 11 points clear of Napoli and 21 points ahead of Inter and Atalanta. Juve again return with a stacked squad, making them favorites to win the league.

One of Juve’s biggest problems at the end of last season was its aging center backs. Girgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who are 35 and 32 respectively, no longer have the pace to keep up with quick forwards. To combat that, Juventus brought in center back Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax for €75M plus bonuses.

The 19-year-old de Ligt, who is comparable to Barcelona’s Girard Pique, is regarded as the best young defender in all of Europe. He has great defensive instincts -- he averaged one interception and four clearances per game last season, according to WhoScored. De Ligt looks to lead the defense in 2019 and beyond.

An advantage Juventus has over its Serie A competitors is attacking depth.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns after scoring 28 goals in all competitions last year, and he doesn’t show any sides of slowing down. Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain remain on the squad amidst a summer of transfer rumours, and Juve boasts talented wingers like Douglas Costa and Juan Cuardado.

Having such a wealth of attacking resources will make it easy for manager Maurizio Sarri to keep players fresh between the Serie A, Coppa Italia, and Champions League competitions. Other teams like Napoli do not have this luxury.

Last season, Juve had no forward play over 42 games, while Napoli, Inter, and Atalanta each had at least two players play over 45 games. Juventus enters the 2019-2020 season with plenty of attacking resources to handle a long season.

Napoli

After finishing in second place for the fourth time in seven years, Napoli is intent on overtaking Juventus and winning the club’s first Scudetto since the 1989-1990 season. So far this summer, the Partenopei have not lost anybody major off the roster, so expect them to content once again.

Napoli had one of Serie A’s best attacks last year, finishing second in goals scored with 74.

The trio of Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, and Arkadiusz Milik, however, accounted for 43 of these goals, or 58%. Without the attacking depth of a team like Juventus, Napoli faded in March and never recovered its top spot in the league.

Things are likely to be different next season. Napoli starts the year with a deeper group of forwards. Not only will the club’s top goal scorers return next season; Napoli also adds Hirving Lozano to the mix, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. On top of that, Napoli continue to push for Mauro Icardi, even offering Milik in a swap deal with Inter. Having Lozano and Icardi in the squad, even if Milik leaves, will give Napoli the depth to finish the Serie A season strong.

Kalidou Koulibaly emerged as one of Serie A’s best center backs last year – perhaps the best in European football - and now he will partner with newcomer Kostas Manolas to give Napoli a dynamic duo on defense. Manolas averaged one tackle, one block, two interceptions, and over four clearances per game last season for Roma, per WhoScored. He, like Koulibaly, is strong and athletic. Napoli should be able to handle opposing forwards like Ronaldo, Higuain, and Romelu Lukaku. Napoli only conceded six more goals than Juventus last season. Expect that gap to shrink in 2019-2020.

If there’s one spot where Napoli has an advantage over Juventus, it’s in the midfield. Fabián Ruiz and Piotr Zieliński return after looking like stars last year, and they are joined by 19-year-old Elif Elmas from Fenerbahçe. Allan is the veteran of the group, and he continues to be one of the most well-rounded midfielders in Serie A. With such a strong midfield, Carlo Ancelotti’s side can maintain possession against any team in Italy.

Inter

No Serie A team had a more active summer than Inter Milan. After Antonio Conte took over as manager in May, Inter have spent over €150M on transfers. With a deeper squad, Inter is poised to improve on its fourth place finish.

Inter will again rely on its defense to challenge Juventus and Napoli at the top of the table.

Last season, Inter conceded 33 goals, which was the second fewest in Serie A. Goalkeeper Samir Handanović led the league with 17 clean sheets, and center backs Milan Škriniar and Stefan de Vrij starred defensively. All three return for the upcoming season, and they are joined by veteran Diego Godín from Atlético Madrid and possibly Cristiano Biraghi from Fiorentina.

Inter’s defenders will have adjust to Conte’s rigid 3-5-2 formation, but the formation itself is more defensive-minded than Inter’s formation last year. With a more structured defensive system, a world-class goalkeeper, and experienced center backs, Inter starts the season with Serie A’s most formidable defense. Do not be surprised if Inter, and not Juventus, finishes the 2019-2020 campaign having conceded the fewest goals in the league.

Inter’s biggest weakness last season scoring goals. The Nerazzurri only managed to score 57 goals in Serie A, 20 fewer goals than top scorers Atalanta and 17 fewer than Napoli. To solve this problem, Inter brought in Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United. Lukaku scored more goals than any other United player over the past two seasons, so he brings a lot to an Inter squad that desperately needs consistent scoring. Lukaku should thrive in a league that is less physical than the Premier League.

Sky Sports reports that Lukaku’s former teammate Alexis Sanchez is also close to joining Inter. Sanchez has been a letdown for Manchester United, but he does bring with him obvious talent and experience in Serie A. Even with Mauro Icardi destined to leave the squad, expect Inter to finish the season with more goals scored than last season.

Which of the three Scudetto favorites is most likely to finish at the top of the 2019-2020 Serie A table? Juventus returns again with one of the best squads in all of Europe, but Napoli and Inter have made some important moves to close the gap.

Both squads will challenge Juve for the title, but expect Napoli to finally break through and win the league. Napoli improved its depth with the acquisitions of Lozano, Manolas, and Elmas, so the Partenopei will not fade towards the end of the season like last year.