Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - Page 18 News List

SERIE A: ‘Scudetto’ favorites Juve begin title defense on a high

AFP, MILAN, Italy

Reinforced Juventus begin their defense of the Serie A crown with an away trip to UC Sampdoria tomorrow, when newly-promoted Hellas Verona host AC Milan in the opening match of the season.

Juventus were virtually untouchable last season as manager Antonio Conte led the Bianconeri to a second straight scudetto with a nine-point cushion on SSC Napoli.

The Torino giants have already fired a warning shot to their scudetto rivals by routing SS Lazio 4-0 in the Supercoppa at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino.

Former Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, one of Juve’s two major signings along with Fernando Llorente, marked his official debut for the Vecchia Signora with a second-half goal on Sunday and said Juve can go far this season.

“This Juve side can go far and win another scudetto, but we still have room to improve,” said Tevez, who took the bold step of likening Conte to former Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson. “In some ways Conte reminds me of Ferguson. He leaves nothing to chance.”

Conte’s only major absence for tomorrow’s away trip is injured midfielder Claudio Marchisio, although with Frenchman Paul Pogba in fine form that is unlikely to worry the Juve handler.

The 44-year-old is already considered one of Italy’s most astute coaches and Sunday’s victory has installed the Bianconeri as firm favorites to win Serie A.

Napoli, Milan and to a lesser extent, Inter — who finished a disappointing ninth last season and will miss Europe altogether — will be hoping all does not go Juve’s way.

Napoli face Bologna at home on Sunday still buoyed by their second-place finish under former coach Walter Mazzarri — now at Inter — which secured a long-awaited return to the Champions League.

However, the departure to Paris Saint-Germain of Uruguayan Edinson Cavani, whose league-leading 29 goals played a big role in that achievement, is likely to be felt.

New Napoli manager Rafael Benitez has signed Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain as a direct replacement and will expect results from the Franco-Argentine, who scored 121 goals in six years with Real.

Benitez, who also brought in ’keeper Pepe Reina on loan from Liverpool, as well as Real Madrid pair Raul Albiol and Jose Maria Callejon, said Napoli’s demanding fans are ready to get behind him.

“The side is evolving, the city is feeling buoyant and the fans are behind us,” the Spaniard said.

Milan’s third-place finish last year was impressive, given that they were in 13th place after only 12 games last season.

Massimiliano Allegri hung on to his job by the skin of his teeth and after a 1-1 draw away to PSV Eindhoven in the third qualifying round of the Champions League on Tuesday, the Rossoneri open the Serie A season at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in Verona.

Newly-installed captain Riccardo Montolivo, who replaced ACF Fiorentina-bound Massimo Ambrosini, believes the woes suffered by the seven-time European champions last season were merely a blip.

“We are more of a team than we were a year ago,” Montolivo told the Gazzetta dello Sport recently. “We are stronger and we feel ready for the season.”

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