With the threat of industrial action on the part of the playing staff in Italy now averted, Serie A returns with AC Milan v Lazio at Molino Dorino. What's the betting Milan can repeat?
Let's look at the teams one by one.
Atalanta look like they will come out in a 4-4-2 with a strengthened defence. Andrea Masiello has exchanged the sunny climes of Bari for the chilly foothills of the Alps.
Bologna are likely to utilize the Christmas tree with Di Vaio the angel at its peak. But will the formation lead to the lack of width that Milan discovered that they had two seasons ago? While Milan brought in Beckham to solve the problem, in my view it's rather unlikely he will be rushing over from LA to help the Bolognesi.
Cagliari, under Donadoni's watchful eye, may use Nene and newly-acquired El Kabir as two wide front men with Cossu breaking through the centre. With the dangerous David Suazo brought in from Inter they should be able to avoid relegation.
Catania have Montella as coach now, but have strangely unloaded Schelotto to Atalanta. The formation seems unclear – a lop-sided 4-4-2, perhaps. They might be heading even farther south - to the reaches of Serie B.
Cesena will place new boy Mutu in front of goal hoping € 5m Eder can help him in the scoring department.
Chievo have bought Perparim Hetemaj from Brescia hoping the Finn can finish like he did with his controlled volley against Roma. Does Jokic have what it takes on the left of midfield to help Pellissier?
Fiorentina's 12-goal hero Gilardino will be fed by Kharja, 26 year-old Andrea Lazzari (from Cagliari) and Montolivo, who stays in Florence (it's amazing that, despite years of his being often the best player on the park, it's only recently that bigger clubs have been taking serious interest in him).
Genoa have made an effort to improve their "goals against" column by bringing in the experienced Sebastian Frey, 31, from Fiorentina. The addition of Birsa (Auxerre), Pratto and Seymour (U. Catolica) provides evidence that Genoa plan to do more than merely survive this time.
Internazionale di Milano have managed to retain Wesley Schneijder (to Manchester United's detriment). So allenatore Gasperini has kept his defence and midfield intact. Up front, the decision to unload Samuel Eto'o seems odd indeed: the mobility of the attack may well be impaired. How long will it take Ricky Alvarez to adapt to the tiny spaces afforded by Italian defences, compared with the wide grasslands found in Argentina? But then they've now got Diego Forlan .. South American Champion as well as the best player in the 2010 World Cup.
Juventus, the creaky Old Lady, is going to be the most interesting team to watch this season, I predict. The fans (perhaps forgetting that he can land a ball on a one euro coin from fifty metres)
are already moaning about the acquisition of the elderly Pirlo from Milan. But the dangerous Vucinic will probably play in the middle of a front four (yes, you read that right: I understand it's a return to the 1960s with a 4-2-4!!). So expect goals, goals, goals ... at both ends of the field.
Lazio now have great experience in attack with Miroslav Klose (from Bayern Munchen) and Cisse (Panathinaikos) brought in as front men in a probable 4-3-1-2 with Hernanes and Ledesma behind as the spine of the team.
Lecce have brought in on loan Roma's goalkeeper Julio Sergio. Nearly all of their summer transfers are loan deals or frees, and the fact that they have spent only € 1.6m must reflect the state of their finances. One fears for their safety this season.
Milan (and/or the Italian press) have been keeping everyone on tenterhooks this summer by talking about a mysterious possible signing called "Mister X" (commonly presumed to be either Montolivo or Hamsik). In the end, former Liverpool player Acquilani has been brought in to cover for the loss of Pirlo to Juve. How long can Milan continue with the ageing Gattuso and Ambrosini in midfield? Perhaps it doesn't matter when you have such a stellar forward line.
Napoli, drawn in the same fascinating Champions League "group of death" (Group A) as Manchester City, with Villareal and Bayern, will provide serious opposition to any opponent this season. Confidence is high. Gokhan Inler and power-shooter Marco Donadel have been brought into midfield, and the team will continue with Cavani, Lavezzi, and Hamsik up front.
Novara might be favourites for the drop, but they have an all-new front three "attacco M": Morimoto, Mazzarani, and Meggiorini.
Palermo now have Eran Zahavi from Hapoel, who will possibly appear on the right of midfield in front of Cassani to support forwards Hernandez and the excellent Fabrizio Miccoli (what is it about the Italian national team selectors that they don't pick Miccoli automatically?)
Parma will hope Graziano Pelle (bought from AZ Alkmaar for a million) will help Crespo and Giovinco score more goals than the team lets in at the other end.
Roma have spent big this summer, and new coach Luis Enrique has managed to lure the sought after Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg to the Italian capital. Bojan Krkic (Barca) and Lamela (River) could be the wide men at the front of a 4-3-3. As yet we don't know whether this will be a true 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 (or even a 4-6). Where will Argentinian Pablo Osvaldo (Espanol) fit in? Roma will be interesting to watch.
Siena are expected to employ a traditional 4-4-2 with Zeljko Brkic in goal, D'Agostino in midfield, and Destro brought in from Genoa. Siena have been (on occasion) exciting to watch when at home. Can they survive this time?
Udinese's strengths and weaknesses were plain for all to see in their recent matches against Arsenal. Prior to the match in London the team looked relaxed as they were spotted strolling the gardens of Regents Park and were unlucky to lose to Walcott's solitary goal. In Udine, though, their over-reliance on the brilliant Di Natale was evidenced, despite Pinzi's great range of passing. Coach Francesco Guidolin is going to have to quickly stifle the psychological blow of losing Sanchez to Barcelona if Udinese are to emulate last term's excellent showing.
© Peter Rodd & Soccerphile.com