Why a Serie A Team Will Win the Champions League 2013/14
The main noise this summer has been made by the European champions Bayern Munich—acquiring Pep Guardiola as their new manager—along with Barcelona, with the monster signing of Brazilian Neymar.
French side PSG have flexed their financial muscles—as have Ligue 1 rivals Monaco, who have not qualified for the Champions League this season—spending heavily on Napoli's Edinson Cavani for a fee in excess of the €63 million buy-out clause in El Matador's contract.
But the challenge from Italy has grown somewhat.
Juventus stand out as not only Italy's strongest threat in Europe, but probably one of the top five sides in the competition.
The additions of Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez bolstered their attack. They will be able to contribute equally this season to their formidable defence and midfield that will rival anything else in Europe.
That defence will be marginally stronger, with the added option of Angelo Ogbonna—newly signed from city rivals Torino, as the club announced on their website—bringing more speed to Juve's back line, which is one thing that it potentially lacks, if anything.
The midfield will be equally as strong with the emergence of Paul Pogba towards the end of last season and his continued development internationally with France's under-20 side. Not only do Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio need to remain on their toes to keep their place in the side, but Conte will be able to deploy a 3-6-1 formation, which could be useful away from home in Europe.
The added experience of last season's adventure in Europe will also give the group added composure when they advance to the knockout stages in next season's competition.
Right now, Bayern Munich—who completely outclassed the Bianconeri in the quarterfinals last season—are the only team that one could legitimately argue are superior right now, which is a major boost for Italian football as it strives to regain a fourth qualification spot that was seized by the Bundesliga two years ago.
Italy also possess a second threat in Europe, with Napoli qualifying for a second time in three years.
The Partenopei will be largely different from that side that took Europe by storm in the 2011/12 season, with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, in all likelihood, leaving the club.
But the addition of Rafael Benitez as manager will add great experience and know-how in the competition, with Napoli likely to face the challenge of being favourites and underdog in the group stages.
Benitez will have more than €63 million (Cavani's buyout clause), as well as additional funding from Aurelio De Laurentiis, to strengthen the side.
Dries Mertens has arrived from PSV. Jose Maria Callejon has arrived from Real Madrid, as reported by SkySports. They will give Benitez great options as support strikers alongside the mercurial talent of Lorenzo Insigne, who will develop further next season.
Replacing Hugo Campagnaro—who departed for Inter on a free transfer—remains the second obstacle to overcome after Cavani's impending exit. But Napoli will represent a stern test for anybody in Europe.
Lastly there is Milan—provided that they progress past their qualifying round—who do not appear to be much of a threat at all. But Adriano Galliani is likely to do plenty more in the transfer market, which could alter their ambition in this competition.
With a striker of Mario Balotelli's caliber, Milan will always have a puncher's chance if they are able to progress from the group stages. But the squad is rather fragile and Europe appears to be a premature ambition for the club that is in a state of rebuilding.
So while Bayern Munich will start as favourites, it will take time to adjust to Pep Guardiola's new methods, and no side has retained the Champions League (European Cup) since 1990.
Barcelona will have to integrate Neymar into their lineup and hope that it does not affect the best player in the world. Lionel Messi is used to being the focal point of his side. While Neymar is perfectly capable of performing a support role, his talent is too big to be utilised only in that way.
Which leaves us with Juventus, a side that is settled and experience with two title-winning seasons under Antonio Conte—something that the remaining contenders cannot boast.
It will be four seasons since an Italian side won this competition, a period that has not been exceeded since 2002. No country has reached more finals in the history of the competition either, so Italy are due another finalist.
Juventus look to be ready for that next step, and there is nothing to suggest this won't be the year they add a third European title to crown three magnificent years of success under Conte.
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