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Ambitious Napoli set to mount title challenge

Published: Friday 23 August 2013, 9.00CET
Juventus face stern competition in their bid for a third straight Serie A title from a SSC Napoli team bolstered by the signing of Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuaín.
by Paolo Menicucci
from Milan
Ambitious Napoli set to mount title challenge
Gonzalo Higuaín has been tasked with filling Edinson Cavani's boots at Napoli ©Getty Images
Published: Friday 23 August 2013, 9.00CET

Ambitious Napoli set to mount title challenge

Juventus face stern competition in their bid for a third straight Serie A title from a SSC Napoli team bolstered by the signing of Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuaín.

Having re-established themselves as the pre-eminent force in Italian football, Juventus face stern competition from the likes of SSC Napoli and ACF Fiorentina to retain their title.

Serie A runners-up last term, Napoli experienced a summer of change, starting in May when coach Walter Mazzarri departed for FC Internazionale Milano. Their prized asset, Edinson Cavani, who registered 78 goals in 104 league appearances during a three-year stint in Naples, subsequently sealed a French record €64m move to Paris Saint-Germain FC.

New boss Rafael Benítez swiftly quashed any suggestion that the club lacked ambition by recruiting experienced goalkeeper Pepe Reina on loan from Liverpool FC, Spain defender Raúl Albiol and midfield schemers José María Callejón and Dries Mertens.

Perhaps the Partenopei's strongest signal of intent is the €37m capture of Real Madrid CF poacher Gonzalo Higuaín, who was afforded a memorable reception by almost 60,000 supporters at the San Paolo Stadium ahead of a friendly against Galatasaray AŞ last month.

"The clock was turned back to 5 July 1984 when Diego Maradona was unveiled in front of a packed-out stadium," wrote Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I'm here to score goals and win the title," added the latest Argentinian to set Neapolitan pulses racing.

Fiorentina also added to their attacking riches by luring Germany striker Mario Gómez from FC Bayern München. Vincenzo Montella's team dazzled with aesthetic qualities last season but lacked potency in front of goal as they narrowly missed out on a UEFA Champions League berth.

"I won everything with Bayern, so I wanted a new challenge. I had the option of moving to Spain, but I opted for Fiorentina because of the passionate fans and the great attacking football this team is capable of," explained Gómez.

The Viola may have been weakened by the loss of Stevan Jovetić to Manchester City FC, but can count on the services of Giuseppe Rossi as well as new recruits Massimo Ambrosini, Josip Iličić, Oleksandr Iakovenko and Joaquín.

AC Milan cannot be discounted, either, with Mario Balotelli showing more than glimpses of his undoubted talent by scoring 12 goals in 13 Serie A outings in the second half of last season. As for the Bianconeri, they sent out an ominous warning by tying up deals for Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tévez, who marked his debut with a goal in last weekend's 4-0 Italian Super Cup defeat of SS Lazio.

Coach Antonio Conte is under no illusions about the enormity of the task that lies ahead, saying: "Teams will prepare traps for us in every game. I have told my players to be prepared for a tough season. We need to believe in ourselves and show that on the pitch."

Last updated: 05/09/13 17.24CET

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