Serie A Season Preview: Will Ronaldo Lead Juventus to an Eighth Straight Scudetto?
Juventus FC. Cristiano Ronaldo
When it comes to the summer-transfer window across Europe, few tend to compete with the financial muscle of the Premier League when it comes to big-money, big-name signings. The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and PSG often splash the cash, but Serie A sides are generally more frugal.
This summer, however, has been different in Italy’s top-flight, setting up what should be a scintillating campaign as Juventus (-235) look to assert their dominance yet again.
The Old Lady
Juve undoubtedly enters the 2018-19 season as strong favorites after an emotionally charged window. The defending champions have bid farewell to Gianluigi Buffon, with Wojciech Szczesny tasked with filling the biggest gloves imaginable, while former fan favorite Leonardo Bonucci has returned to the Old Lady after just one season in what was a sensational swap deal with AC Milan.
However, the biggest arrival at Juventus, and among the very biggest in Serie A history, is of course that of Cristiano Ronaldo. For such an incredibly high-profile move, it was one that was secured alarmingly fast and caught so many off guard. Plus, the Portuguese forward’s capture has only strengthened the opinion that Max Allegri’s side will march to an eighth successive Scudetto (the Serie A title).
Their closest rivals from last season, and in truth the closest for some time, Napoli (+700) have lost the man who made them a bona fide challenger as head coach Maurizio Sarri left for Chelsea and took his brain on the field in pass-master Jorginho with him. The former boss would have brought a few more with him had club president Aurelio de Laurentiis not blocked any further moves, and last season’s runners-up have done well to keep hold of the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne in particular, whilst making some interesting acquisitions of their own.
The man tasked with sustaining the pressure that Sarri built is Carlo Ancelotti, whose honors list couldn’t be much stronger, but his approach is such a drastic departure from that of the former regime that one can’t help but feel concerned. Having replaced Pep Guardiola at Bayern in his previous role, the esteemed coach lost the respect of his dressing room considering the huge drop-off in the intensity of training in particular, and there’s every chance this stint could end in a similar fashion. The regard with which Ancelotti is held in his homeland should mean that the players find it harder to turn on him, but maintaining the same levels of performance that Sarri had established may prove difficult.
Elsewhere Roma (+850) have been busy in the transfer window and will almost certainly pose a threat to the top two despite the loss of two key players in the form of goalkeeper Alisson and versatile midfielder Radja Nainggolan.
There’s a lot of pressure on Swedish international Robin Olsen to make what is a substantial step up from Copenhagen to replace the former, but the acquisitions of Steven Nzonzi, Bryan Cristante and the classy Javier Pastore should prove shrewd in making up for Nainggolan’s loss. Meanwhile, the fans will be keen to cast an eye over teenager Justin Kluivert, who along with Cengiz Under represents the future for the side’s attacking threat from wide areas.
The two Milan clubs have been free-spending, too, and while Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara are impressive captures for AC Milan (+2000) — with the former keen to prove a point to his old employers yet again having been sacrificed following Ronaldo’s arrival — one can’t help but be impressed by Inter Milan’s (+800) business over the summer.
The Nerazzuri look strong in all departments and tactically flexible to boot following the free transfer of Stefan de Vrij from Lazio. They certainly looked primed to line up with a back three following the Dutchman’s arrival, joining Miranda and the impressive Milan Skriniar, while new signings Kwadwo Asamoah and Sime Vrsaljko would make more than adept wing-backs.
It’s the capture of Nainggolan that should really take the team to the next level, though, weakening a direct rival in the process and strengthening what was a modest midfield. If they could somehow add Luka Modric to that particular equation, you’d have to fancy Luciano Spalletti’s men to mount a challenge, with wonderkind Lautaro Martinez arriving to provide competition for captain and compatriot Mauro Icardi.
Lazio (+7000) have done well to keep hold of Sergej Milinković-Savić for now but have arguably been diminished over the summer and may struggle to maintain last season’s fight for a top-four finish that went right to the wire in the most dramatic fashion with Inter. The same could be said of Atalanta (+25000), who will miss Caldara, and Fiorentina (+35000) may challenge for a top-six finish if the likes of Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone and loan signing Marko Pjaca can fulfill their potential to forge an exciting front three.
Elsewhere Empoli (+200000) and Frosinone (+300000) are back in the top flight after brief stints in Serie B, with the former winning the title in impressive fashion and hoping to re-establish themselves among Italy’s elite.
The same could be said of Parma Calcio 1913 (+200000), forced to change their name having gone bankrupt three years ago, and successive promotions starting from Serie D have since passed to ensure the historic club are back in the big time.
It’s a tough league to call outside of the usual suspects then, but as far as the odds are concerned, despite some significant spending elsewhere, Juventus remain huge favorites for the title. There’s no great value in backing yet another Scudetto for Allegri’s charges following Ronaldo’s arrival, although Sky Bet’s price of -161 is very reasonable. Joao Cancelo and Emre Can are further upgrades on what they had last season, so there’s little question that Juve will be stronger this time around, even if a number of their competitors are too.
Even though they finished just four points adrift last season, I don’t think Napoli will come close this season. Instead, Inter would be my long-shot tip to make things interesting, though eradicating a 23-point gap from 2017-18 will likely be too much to ask. They, along with Roma and AC Milan, should be in the hunt for longer this time, but it would be no surprise whatsoever if Juventus have wrapped things up with time to spare, and not for the first time.
All odds current as of 5 p.m. ET on 8/14.