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Serie A Season Preview

They say a week is a long time in football, so just imagine what a difference two years can make.

In 2006, the off-season in Italy was marred by a match-fixing scandal which rocked the national game to its very core, while on the field the Azzuri ruled the globe after lifting the World Cup in Germany.

Two years on and the summer of 2008 could not have been more different.

The three months that have passed since a sublime performance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic handed Internazionale their third consecutive Scudetto on a rain-sodden pitch in Parma have seen a reversal of the situation.

Thankfully the pink pages of the Gazzetta Dello Sport have been free of any further scandal while on the pitch, the world champions have fallen from grace after a series of dire performances in Austria and Switzerland.

Nevertheless, the start of the new Serie A season has been as eagerly anticipated as ever, if not more so this time round with the title race promising to be a far tighter affair than in previous seasons.

At least three teams are capable of lifting the Scudetto come next May – here we gaze into our crystal ball and tell you who they are and who will top the table.

Campione: Inter – Despite having fallen away at the end of last season, it is hard to see past the Nerazzurri taking a fourth consecutive title. That would be quite some feat, considering it has only been achieved twice before in Serie A history – Juventus won five on the trot in the 1930s while Torino won four on the bounce in the immediate post-war era of the 1940s. But if any man can take Inter to the next level, it is Jose Mourinho. The former Chelsea boss is set to take Italy by storm after having replaced Roberto Mancini at the helm and with his experience, charisma and ability to get the best out of his players, a fourth title is very much within reach. The Portuguese has brought in Mancini – the Brazilian one – and Sulley Muntari, both of whom appear to be astute purchases while the Nerazzuri back line, when fit, is by far the most miserly in Italy. And up front, in Ibrahimovic Inter possess a player who is capable of the kind of sporadic acts of genius that can elevate a team from title contenders to title winners.

Star man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pictured) – Arrogant, moody, exceptionally talented the Swede could be Mourinho’s long-long younger brother and is set to flourish under his new boss.

Emerging talent: Mario Ballotelli – The 18-year-old was a revelation last season and if he can build on that promising start, he will go far.

Runners-up: Juventus – In their first season back in the top flight, the Bianconeri proved they belong in the upper echelons of Serie A, although a title triumph after a year-long absence in Serie B was ultimately too much to ask for. A year later and this time round Claudio Ranieri has assembled a stronger squad and his side are being tipped to push Inter all the way for the Scudetto. The addition of Brazilian Amauri from Palermo is set to give the coach a real selection headache with four world-class strikers now to choose from, the 23 million euro (£18.5m) Brazilian having joined Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Vincenzo Iaquinta. But with so little to choose from in terms of personnel between Inter and Juve, this season’s title race could yet depend on their respective coaches. And in that department, Ranieri loses out to the mastery of Mourinho.

Star man: David Trezeguet – Came second only to Alessandro Del Piero in last season’s scoring chart and will threaten to take the capocannoniere title again this campaign.

Emerging talent: Sebastien Giovinco – Back with the Old Lady after a loan spell with Empoli, the 20-year-old is one to watch this season.

Third place: Milan – The arrival of Ronaldinho and Andriy Shevchenko in Milan has given the Rossoneri a huge boost ahead of the start of the season and with Kaka looking like he is going to stay despite the usual summer interest from elsewhere, that attacking trident should see Milan back into a Champions League spot. Only persistent questions over their ageing defence will deprive them of a top-two finish. Boss Carlo Ancelotti has attempted to address the problem, but the signing of Philippe Senderos has done little to instil confidence. Mathieu Flamini will bring some much needed youthful vigour to the midfield, but expect Andrea Pirlo to again be a major player for the Rossoneri.

Star man: Ronaldinho – Who else? The Brazilian has not been at the top of his game for two years now, but Milan fans hold high hopes he can rediscover his form at the San Siro.

Emerging talent: Alexandre Pato – Emerging or already emerged? The Brazilian, still only 18, starred for the Rossoneri when he was introduced in January this year but with so much more potential to fulfil he can go even further.

Fourth place: Fiorentina – It promises to be a close run thing for fourth place but Fiorentina have the quality to edge out Roma, especially considerin the Giallorossi are even more toothless up front than before having lost Mancini to Inter. The Viola’s acquisition of Alberto Gilardino from Milan is interesting but question marks remain over the Italy international’s form – should he be given a decent run in the side, he could form a fruitful partnership with the always dangerous Adrian Mutu.

Star man: Adrian Mutu – If Romania striker can shake off his off-field troubles, he will again pose the Viola’s main goal threat.

Emerging talent: Stevan Jovetic – An eight million euro (£6.4m) summer signing from FK Partizan, the Montenegro international striker looks a bright prospect for the future.

In the shake-up for a UEFA Cup place: Roma, Napoli and Sampdoria.