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2013-14 Serie A Season Preview: Five Burning Questions

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Mike Beauvais, TSN.ca
8/23/2013 9:46:50 AM
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With Serie A kicking off on Saturday, TSN.ca asks five burning questions heading into a season that will see the new signings at Napoli and Fiorentina try to prevent Juventus from hanging on to the Scudetto.

How will Carlos Tevez fare at the Old Lady?

Title holders Juventus begin their title defence with a new look first choice strike pairing to head their offence, one now very deep at forward. Spanish international Fernando Llorente comes over from Athletic Bilbao after signing a pre-contract agreement in January. Partnering him will be Argentine international Carlos Tevez.

In the past few seasons, Tevez has found his name in the headlines just as often for actions off the pitch as he has on. The notoriously mercurial former West Ham and Manchester United man comes to Italy after an acrimonious four-year spell with Manchester City that saw a falling out with manager Roberto Mancini lead to a decreased role with the first team.

For their part, the Bianconeri and manager Antonio Conte don't foresee previous attitude issues rearing their heads in Torino, going so far as to handing Tevez Alessandro Del Piero's iconic No. 10 shirt. Make no mistake, Carlos Tevez is not anticipated to cut anything close to the talismanic figure of the legendary Del Piero, but the Argentine must understand quickly the significance of the shirt and conduct himself in a manner befitting of it.

If Tevez were to misfire, the likes of the in-form Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri (if the latter two aren't sold) will be chomping at the bit for more playing time.

The quality of Carlos Tevez has never been in doubt. The question has always been and still remains whether or not that quality outweighs the headaches that come along with it. Goals will be expected from Tevez, but so will be proper comportment. This enfant terrible will need to become a man.

Is Napoli ready to take the next step?

Napoli's summer began with departures, but since then, it's been all about additions.

For the second straight offseason, Napoli sold the man perceived to be its best player to moneybags Paris St-Germain. Last year's runners-up sold Serie A's Capocannoniere winner (leading goal scorer) Uruguayan international Edinson Cavani to PSG, who will join former teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi in the French capital.

Manager Walter Mazzarri also left the club to take the reins to the rebuilding project going on at Inter.

But then Napoli opened the doors, first installing Champions League and Europa League-winning manager Rafael Benitez at the helm of the club and then making a triple swoop from Real Madrid, bringing in strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon, as well as defender Raul Albiol. The club also turned to the Eridivisie to add to its attacking contingent through PSV Eindhoven's pacey Belgian international winger Dries Martens. Benitez then secured a familiar face in goaltender Pepe Reina on loan from Liverpool.

The club also wrapped up an extension for star midfielder Marek Hamsik, locking the Slovakian international up until 2018.

Expectations will be high for Napoli this season both domestically and in Europe with a Champions League appearance on the horizon. With increased depth almost across the board, the club should have no trouble spearheading both campaigns and look to be the biggest obstacle in Juve's way of a third-consecutive Scudetto.

Which new coach will have the greatest impact?

This was the summer of coaching turnover across Europe with giants like Manchester United (David Moyes,) Barcelona (Gerardo Martino) and Bayern Munich (Pep Guardiola) all featuring new gaffers manning their respective touchline.

All in all, there are 21 new managers in the big four European leagues with five of them in Serie A including Benitez at Napoli.

Elsewhere, former Palermo manager Giuseppe Sannino takes over at Chievo. Fabio Liverani became the first player of African-descent to play for the national team in 2001 and he is now the first African manager in Serie A at Genoa. Hoping to replicate the success he had at Lille, including winning the Ligue 1 title in 2011, Rudi Garcia makes his Italian bow at Roma.

The highest profile appointment, though, is Walter Mazzarri heading to the San Siro to take over from Andrea Stramaccioni at Inter after four seasons at Napoli, where he brought the club back to relevance.

Mazzarri will have his hands full with the Nerazzurri, a team coming off a horribly disappointing ninth-place finish in a season ravaged by injury. Diego Milito, Rodrigo Palacio and Dejan Stankovic headed the list of players missing significant time in a season that saw Inter lose 16 matches and cost Stramaccioni his job.

Chairman Massimo Morratti's trigger finger is notoriously itchy with this now Inter's seventh managerial hire in only five seasons, meaning that Mazzarri will need to hit the ground running. The transition could be a bumpy one, though, as he likely attempts to institute a 3-5-2 to a side that has had little success with that formation in recent years. But Mazzarri - having never been fired in his Serie A managerial career - has a track record that speaks for itself and should be able to put his mark on the 18-time Italian champions, led by burgeoning star Mateo Kovacic, if given the time.

Can two former Azzurri stars replicate past success with new clubs?

Everyone loves a good comeback story and there are a couple of fascinating narratives to watch out for in Serie A with two former national team players looking to reestablish themselves in time for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

The fact that Antonio Cassano is about to embark on his 15th professional season is a small miracle in itself. Less than two years removed from heart surgery, the diminutive forward finds himself playing for his fourth team in five years as he joins Parma after a season at Inter.

Cassano has cut a controversial figure over the course of his career, including high profile clashes with coaches both at the club and international level, but his skill and ability to finish are undeniable. Left off Italy's Confederations Cup roster earlier this summer, Cassano hopes that a solid showing on a side looking to break out of the mid-table will put him back in the Azzurri conversation.

Roberto Donadoni's Parma might be the perfect situation for Cassano to reassert himself. Parma scored only 45 goals last season with just Amauri reaching double figures. Not only could Parma sorely use Cassano's nose for the net, but Cassano will want to prove to Donadoni - the man who named Cassano to the Azzurri's 2008 Euro team, but left him off of the 2010 World Cup team - that he still has plenty left in the tank.

Fiorentina's Giuseppe Rossi is also looking for a fresh start, having lost the better part of the last two seasons with ACL injuries.

Signing a pre-contract agreement with the Viola in January and coming over from Villarreal, the American-born Italian international will be making his first appearance in Serie A since playing 19 games for Parma in 2007 while on loan from Manchester United.

Rossi tallied 32 goals in 56 matches for Villarreal in 2010-11 before getting hurt and hopes that a return to full fitness will mean a return to bulging the twine for Fiorentina's new look forward contingent.

Last year's leading scorer, Stefan Jovetic, is now plying his trade for Manchester City and second-leading scorer Adem Llajic's long term future is up in the air with Milan sniffing around the Serbian international all summer.

Rossi joins German international Mario Gomez up front, as Vincenzo Montella's side looks to build on last season's fourth-place finish and push for the Scudetto.

How will Mario Balotelli react to being the man?

Mario Balotelli finally has the chance to be the man for AC Milan.

For the first time in his career, Balotelli will be an out-and-out first choice player, no longer having to fight for playing time and grouse about being left on the bench.

It's not unfair to suggest that much of Milan's title contention hopes are riding squarely on the back of the enigmatic Italian international and Balotelli wouldn't have it any other way.

Balotelli, along with Stephan El-Shawaary and the newly signed Andrea Poli, is among the young core of Massimiliano Allegri's third-place finishers last season who, like their eternal rivals Inter, are in the midst of a transitional period. With stalwart captain Massimo Ambrosini now with the Viola, Allegri would like nothing more than his young players to display maturity beyond their years under new captain Riccardo Montolivo.

Just as capable of flashes of sheer brilliance as he as sheer stupidity, the full scope of the 23-year-old's talents has yet to be put on full display and with the Rossoneri's quiet summer and relative lack of transfer activity, there would be no better time for them to emerge.

As Balotelli goes, so does Milan. A strong year for the Palermo native entering his first full season at Milan and the Rossoneri can expect to be fighting for a Champions League spot in the spring. If Balotelli falls back into his old habits of petulance and selfishness, the gap between Milan and the likes of Juve, Napoli and Fiorentina might just be too great without Super Mario's full, concerted effort.

Predicted finish: 1. Juventus 2. Napoli 3. Fiorentina 4. AC Milan

Mario Balotelli  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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