MILAN (AP) — Five things to know about the Italian league as it prepares to kick off this week:
NEW LOOK NAPOLI Napoli not only has a new coach but has also overhauled its squad since finishing runner-up to Juventus last season. Walter Mazzarri left for Inter Milan at the end of the season and was replaced by former Liverpool and Inter coach Rafa Benitez. The departure of Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain was a blow but Napoli has been busy spending the 64 million euro ($84 million) transfer fee — and more — on the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol, Pepe Reina, Dries and Rafael.
BATTLE OF THE STRIKERS Juventus has reinforced its attack significantly with the arrival of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City and the signing of Fernando Llorente from Athletic Bilbao. If Antonio Conte's team has had any weaknesses in previous years it has been up front, with the lack of a world-class striker. At AC Milan, Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy are used to playing together for club and country. Balotelli has excelled since returning to Italy from Manchester City in January and scored 12 goals in 13 games for AC Milan.
JUVE HAT TRICK? Juventus has been the standout team in Italy since Antonio Conte took over as coach in 2011, guiding it to two consecutive Serie A titles. It is again favored this season and has been reinforced further with the addition of top strikers Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. Juventus had a poor preseason, sparking hope in its rivals, but as soon as the competitive matches started it blew its opponent away in devastating fashion, crushing Lazio 4-0 to win the Italian Super Cup. Paul Pogba broke the deadlock less than three minutes after coming on as a substitute. The match was a warning of intent to its rivals that it will be hard to prevent Juventus from completing a hat trick of Serie A titles.
LIKELY CHALLENGERS AC Milan is the team likeliest to challenge Juventus. Last season was one of transition after a complete overhaul of the squad but it still finished third and secured a Champions League spot. With an added year of experience, expect Milan to once again be serious title contenders. Napoli is also set to challenge again after spending heavily in the offseason. However, the new team and new coach Rafa Benitez will take time to settle and Napoli struggled to deal with combining the exertions of the domestic campaign and the Champions League two years ago. Fiorentina could also be a dark horse under promising young coach Vincezno Montella. The team narrowly missed out on the Champions League last season, finishing fourth, and has done shrewd business in the transfer market.
TROUBLE OFF THE FIELD Match-fixing is still a plague in Italian football and this is the third consecutive offseason in which Serie A clubs have been up in court. Lazio and Genoa could still be docked points for the role their players had in the scandal, while Lazio captain Stefano Mauri has been banned for six months — and possibly more if the prosecutor wins his appeal. Racism also continues to be a scourge on the national game. AC Milan player Kevin Constant walked off the field during a preseason friendly at Sassuolo following alleged racial abuse, while the Italian Super Cup was marred by racist chanting.