The question that we’ve been asking for ten years now is whether Juventus‘ time as champions is done. There have been seasons when they’ve looked like racing certainties (sometimes at a useful price) and years where they’ve looked vulnerable, but never have I been so convinced that they will lose their crown. I’m not sure, in fact, that they will even come close to holding onto it.
After Juve finished well enough to win the League for the ninth consecutive time last season, they looked tired. Tired, and old, and short of ideas, and in need of regeneration. They had made some terrible decisions in the transfer market (Federico Bernardeschi, Aaron Ramsey) and needed to make some good ones. I’m not sure that they have.
Juve have lost Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona, and got Arthur in a sort of return, while Weston McKennie has come in the fill a Blaise Matuidi-shaped hole in midfield. Dejan Kulusevski had already signed, but the spine of the team will be largely the same, and while there is still quality in the shape of Rodrigo Bentancur, Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro, can you honestly look at that Juventus squad and say that they can challenge on two fronts? I’m not sure that you can.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t forgotten Cristiano Ronaldo, but he merits a paragraph of his own. The rumours from good sources at the club suggest that Andrea Pirlo has been appointed to pacify Ronaldo, and a group of senior players led by Leonardo Bonucci. Sick of being told to change by Maurizio Sarri, they want an environment in which their voices are the loudest. If all of that is even partly true, then it will cost them the title. Powers waning, unchallenged, they could even drift out of the top four.
Pirlo is an odd appointment, the parallels with Zinedine Zidane are a little ridiculous, and this is a project which looks doomed to failure. There’s much more to say, but many other different sources are saying it. Read those too, but rest assured that you should be laying Juve at [1.93] this season.
Inter ready to win Scudetto
I couldn’t back Juve at odds-on in a million years, and so the question turns to who will be the ones to topple them. Inter are the obvious answer, now that they’ve held on to Antonio Conte, and there’s a lot to like about their chances. It was only a typical tendency to throw away apparently strong positions and therefore points that cost them the title last season, and surely that Conte mentality will have seeped through enough to stop that happening.
Aleksandar Kolarov is an excellent signing, the kind of leader that may just make the difference, and Achraf Hakimi will bring flair and relentless energy and quality. They have signed well, and they have maintained well too, with the Lautaro/Lukaku partnership that was developing beautifully set to reap real rewards this season.
Nicolò Barella and Stefano Sensi should turn into the best midfield partnership in the country, and their defensive record looks likely to continue. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t, anyway. Inter are trading at [2.92] at the moment, and they have to be in our portfolio.
There are one or two other positions that I am keen to take. The relegation battle looks set to be fascinatingly tight, with Benevento, Spezia and Crotone all coming up, and some usual suspects involved in a battle again. Sampdoria will hope to improve, but Genoa may struggle again, as could Cagliari, with the former Samp coach Eusebio Di Francesco newly appointed. I think that’s worth a watching brief, and we can make a decision or two over the next month.
Napoli and Milan can challenge at the top
Napoli and Milan are the other two top clubs that interest me. Milan did well to appoint Stefano Pioli permanently, as it was the right thing to do in so many ways, and with last season still very fresh in the memory, the Rossoneri look set to get off to an excellent start. They face Bologna, Crotone and Spezia before the Derby against Inter on Matchday 4, and that could well be a top of the table clash, even though Inter have a slightly trickier start.
Napoli have recruited well, and if they can keep Kalidou Koulibaly, then I could see them making a run at the title, but that eventuality would still seem to be up in the air, and it’s impossible to advise backing them at around the [30.0] mark, without being sure that the best defender in the League is going to stay.
I’m a big fan of Victor Osimhen, who will lead the line in Gennaro Gattuso’s tweaked formation, and I could see him having a realistic run at the Capocannoniere crown that was won so spectacularly last season by Ciro Immobile. Osimhen’s 13 goals for Lille last season may not make him look like the most prolific of forwards, but he has pace and an awkward stature, and I could see him taking the chances that have been missed by Arek Milik in recent seasons. He’s certainly worth a small investment.
Atalanta seem to be suited by playing behind closed doors, and so this season could benefit them. They’ve signed really well defensively, with Cristiano Piccini and Cristian Romero arriving, and have taken the odd decision to add Aleksei Miranchuk up front. They may go close, but look short enough at [13.0], and so I’ll reluctantly swerve them. Roma look set to be talented but inconsistent again, frustrating and glorious to watch. That has been the burden of their fans for some seasons now.
I’m tempted to add Milan to the portfolio, but they have shortened in recent days, and I’ll be really interested in Napoli if Koulibaly stays, while continuing to cast a wondering and wistful eye over GPG and Atalanta.
The main thrust of our strategy though, has to revolve around Juve and Inter. I think that Juve will get worse and Inter will get better, and will be one of two or three teams snapping at the Champions’ heels. In recent seasons no one has quite had the belief or strength of character to get in front and stay in front, to believe and then keep believing. And, with an honourable mention to Milan, Napoli and Atalanta (all of whom may finish above Juve), I think that Conte’s Inter can be that team. They are far too big for the title at [2.9], and they must be the cornerstone of our punting strategy.
If you can get on, then back Victor Osimhen to finish as Capocannoniere, and maybe even look at laying Juve for a top three or top four finish. They’ll be a cheap lay, and this could just be the year that they fall apart completely.