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Serie A: Appraisal of Opening Results as Juve Grind Out Win While Milan Faulter

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Serie A: Appraisal of Opening Results as Juve Grind Out Win While Milan Faulter
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
After almost three years out, Giuseppe Rossi made a goal-scoring return at the weekend

It's had a lot of buildup: After all the summer transactions, all the managerial changes and all the speculation, the 84th edition of Serie A began in earnest last weekend.

Twenty-two goals were scored in the opening episodes as all 20 teams in Italy's premier division did battle. Bearing in mind that 37 goals were scored in the closing set of games last season, this was a cagey opening to 2013/14 life in Serie A.

Going into the opening round of fixtures, several things were seemingly set in stone: Juventus would win their third consecutive title, both Milan teams will challenge, while the three promoted teamsSassuolo, Livorno and Hellas Veronawill experience an immediate return to Serie B.

By the close of play on Monday, following Fiorentina's vanquishing of Catania, none of the above could be deemed as inevitable, particularly the relegation candidates as the latter pulled off the result of the weekend.

The Serie A deities threw up a feast of football which had all calcio soothsayers amending their predictions.

To begin with, Juventus wonbut only just. A 1-0 win over a Sampdoria team who were not only playing Serie B football two seasons ago but were also bereft of their star strikerInter Milan's purchase of Mauro Icardi robbing them of their focal pointis not a start which will strike fear into the hearts of their would-be usurpers.

The torrential rain may have played a part in slowing down Juve's normal slick approach, but the Bianconeri looked sluggish. While they dominated possession, their three shots on target was only one more than the hosts.

Although fans of the Old Lady will be pleased to see Carlos Tevez get off the mark, it was a laboured win made even more frustrating by head coach Antonio Conte's reluctance to use the other new boy, Spanish striker Fernando Llorente.

The apparent imminent arrival of Nani from Manchester United may provide further spark: Charles Perrin of The Express reports that the Portuguese winger will soon be Juve-bound as Paddy Power Italy has already paid out.

Another team who has invested heavily in their strikeforceas well as a new manager, Rafael Benitez, with proven European pedigreeis Napoli. Last season's runners-up, they submitted a convincing 3-0 win over a Bologna team who last season finished 13th.

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"We can, and must, get better" (via The Guardian) was Benitez's verdict following a game where the Partenopei looked dominant from start to finish. Even if the former Chelsea manager did not want to say as much, the Naples team are a real threat to Juve's crown.

The only caveat being that if they do challenge, it is paramount they keep big money signing Gonzalo Higuain away from boats and rocks. Signed from Real Madrid in the summer, the Argentine frontman had to have 10 stitches to his face following a fall when on a boat trip in Capri the following day.

That aside, the press were effusive with their praise: "Cavani who? Mazzarri who?" was the headline in La Repubblica. Following this Marek Hamsik-inspired win, the since-departed 29-goal Uruguayan frontman did not look missed.

Nor did former coach Walter Mazzarri. Now at Inter Milan, however, he has also began this new chapter of his career with gusto and aplomb: Despite the ongoing ownership travails off the pitch, the man from Tuscany steered the Nerazzurri to a steady 2-0 win.

Tipped as being able to break back into the top four, the Milan side will hope Mazzarri can continue to deliver gritty and determined performances which he has become renowned for.

The result of the weekend came, indisputably, in Verona. Despite being the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, there was no love lost between AC Milan and Hellas Verona as the latter, last season's runners-up in Serie B, performed a virtuoso smash and grab on a Rossoneri team with title aspirations.

The plaudits for this game truly belong with enigmatic Italian veteran, Luca Toni. Now at his 16th club, the 36-year-old has played for Fiorentina, Roma, Juventus and Bayern Munich, but a debut brace which defeated an AC Milan team he has never revered will surely live long in the memory.

"There are certain sensations that only football can give you," Toni told Gazzetto dello Sport (via The Guardian) prior to the game. With such an innate love for the game, the puritan now hopes he can realise his dream of scoring 300 career goals. Currently on 271 goals, however, he may need to move on from relegation favourites Verona.

Another contender for hero of the weekend was Fiorentina's Giuseppe Rossi. At only 26 and with a proven goalscoring record in La Liga for Villarreal, the striker should be in his pomp. After being struck down with a serious knee injury in October 2011 though, the Italy international made only his second appearance since.

It took him only 14 minutes to revert back to his predatory ways and find the net as he helped secure a 2-1 win.

Whether La Viola can improve on their fourth-place finish last season remains to be seen. But, like the majority of their competitors, this win did not necessarily cover them in a glory and with just 56 percent possession, they will hope to improve on this in their next game against Genoa.

 

What are your thoughts? Is the Serie A title bound for Turin? Will Napoli be the biggest threat (providing Higuain stays away from nautical crafts)? Can Luca Toni surpass 300 career goals? Let me know either in the comments section below or via Twitter: @LeRowley

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