Inter collected more points than any other team in the second half of last season and also lifted the Coppa Italia - their first silverware since the UEFA Cup in 1998. Mancini has built on that success, recruiting Walter Samuel, Luís Figo and Santiago Solari from Real Madrid CF, while David Pizarro adds further flair to the midfield.
The new faces have fitted in well. Inter enjoyed a comfortable passage through the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round and hope to carry that form into Serie A. "Last season we learnt how to win trophies and we have to continue on that path," Mancini said. "But we need to avoid the mistakes we made in the first part of last season."
Even owner Massimo Moratti, who has experienced more than a few false dawns, is quietly optimistic this could be Inter's year. "This is surely the strongest Inter team since I bought the club [in 1994]," he said. Inter signalled their intent by defeating Juve in the Super Cup last Saturday, but Bianconeri coach Fabio Capello won't be reading much into that result, not after seeing how well Patrick Vieira has adjusted to life in Italy. "The Emerson-Vieira partnership is the best - and not just in Italy," beamed Capello. "Vieira is an important signing, a natural-born leader." The former Arsenal FC talisman will have a crucial role to play if Juve are to retain their crown.
Milan, meanwhile, are desperate to make up for the disappointments of last term after finishing second in both Italy and Europe. The arrivals of Christian Vieri, from rivals Inter, and Alberto Gilardino will ensure the Rossoneri are not short of goals despite the departure of Hernán Crespo. Gilardino scored 23 times in each of the past two campaigns for Parma FC and Milan expect much from his partnership with Andriy Shevchenko. "Gilardino represents Milan's future," coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
Milan defender Paolo Maldini, who is just three games away from breaking Dino Zoff's record of 570 top-flight appearances, is one of a handful of players still in Serie A who were playing when Inter last won the Scudetto in 1989. Only S.S. Lazio, in 2000, and AS Roma in 2001, have interrupted the Juventus/Milan duopoly of the past 16 seasons, but neither are expected to challenge this year.
A Champions League return would be considered a success for Roma who have appointed Luciano Spalletti to get them there. Spalletti masterminded Udinese's rise to fourth spot last season, but it is Serse Cosmi who will now try and consolidate the northern side's place in the division's upper echelons. UC Sampdoria will push both Roma and Udinese hard, and Cesare Prandelli's ACF Fiorentina will also be a threat following the summer arrivals of Sébastien Frey, Stefano Fiore and Luca Toni.
Unfortunately, the main talking point of the summer was the match-fixing scandal that led to Genoa 1893's demotion from Serie A. Torino Calcio were also due to return but miss out for financial reasons, opening the door for Treviso FC to make their élite debut, along with Ascoli Calcio 1898 and Empoli FC.
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