Football

Napoli have best shot at toppling Juventus

Ancelotti's side unaffected by coaching shuffle among leading contenders

As the sole survivor of a coaching shuffle among the leading challengers, Carlo Ancelotti could have the best chance to end Napoli's 30-year wait for the Serie A title.

Yet Antonio Conte's arrival at Inter Milan has also raised expectations of an end to Juventus' long domination in the season that kicks off on Saturday (Singapore time).

Serie A runners-up Napoli have not held the Scudetto aloft since Argentinian legend Diego Maradona inspired them to their only titles in 1987 and 1990.

Ancelotti's campaign begins in Fiorentina on Sunday morning (Singapore time), after Juventus, now coached by Maurizio Sarri, open their quest for a ninth consecutive title in Parma.

Chinese-owned Inter have also changed coaches with former Juve and Chelsea boss Conte back home in Italy. Marco Giampaolo takes over at AC Milan, who missed out on Champions League qualification, and Paulo Fonseca at AS Roma.

Sarri came close two years ago when he guided Napoli to the runners-up spot, just four points behind Juventus, before moving to Chelsea.

At 60, he returns to Italy to coach Juve as the champions look for a new direction despite five trophy-laden seasons under Massimiliano Allegri.

The decision by Napoli native Sarri to move north has caused hurt in his home town.

"For us Neapolitans, that was a betrayal. Now we have to try to beat him at all costs," said captain Lorenzo Insigne.

Ancelotti embarks on the second year of his three-year contract, and wants silverware this campaign.

The 60-year-old has won titles in Europe's five biggest leagues. His Serie A title came with Milan back in 2004.

He arrived in Naples boasting three Champions League trophies from his spells with Milan and Real Madrid, and an English Premier League title from his two-year tenure at Chelsea.

The veteran coach insists he has learnt from his "transitional" first season.

"We drew back the arrow, now we are ready to fire," Ancelotti warned.

He has bolstered Napoli in all areas with the arrival of defender Kostas Manolas, midfielder Elif Elmas and winger Hirving Lozano.

Inter are being remodelled by former Italy boss Conte, who won three Serie A titles in a row with Juve from 2012 to 2014, and the EPL with Chelsea in 2017.

Forward Romelu Lukaku arrives from Manchester United, with young midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella joining the Belgium international at the San Siro.

Uncertainty remains, however, over the future of Argentinian forward Mauro Icardi amid reported interest from Napoli.

Inter last won the title in 2010 under Jose Mourinho and face newly promoted Lecce at home on Tuesday morning (Singapore time).

But even amid doubts over how Sarri, who could miss the Parma opener with pneumonia, will adapt to life at Juventus, the Cristiano Ronaldo-powered champions remain favourites.

The Turin giants have made many signings, including highly rated Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and Turkey's Merih Demiral.

The midfield has also been strengthened with Paris Saint-Germain's Adrien Rabiot and former Arsenal star Aaron Ramsey, both on free transfers.

The only non-Italian involved in this game of musical coaching benches, is Portuguese Fonseca, working for the first time in Italy at Roma, who finished sixth last season.

Gian Piero Gasperini remains at Atalanta after leading the unheralded northeners to a Champions League berth with a third-placed finish.

The side from Bergamo open their Serie A campaign against Spal on Monday morning (Singapore time). - AFP

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