For the first time since 1998/99 Italy have only two teams in the UEFA Champions League group stage. One of them, AC Milan, are facing their biggest rebuilding phase in decades; the other, Juventus, return to the competition for the first time since 2008/09.
Rebuilding is a concept that people in Milan are well used to ever since the city was chosen to host Expo 2015. In football terms, however, the Rossoneri took that notion to a different level this summer. Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark van Bommel, Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Antonio Cassano have all left since the end of last term.
If the city of Milan is changing its skin ahead of the next Universal Exposition, the same can certainly be said for Italy's most successful club in European competition. "We have to take into account the reality that this squad has changed a lot," said captain Massimo Ambrosini, one of the few survivors from the team that won the UEFA Champions League twice in the last ten seasons. "There is something new to construct, but this should be a motivation, not an excuse."
Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy, both 19, and the 17-year-old MBaye Niang look to be not only the future of the club, but also the present. Write the seven-time European champions off at your peril, though for the time being, qualification from a tough Group C – featuring FC Zenit St Petersburg, RSC Anderlecht and Málaga CF – would be considered a good achievement.
Juventus, meanwhile, have the most difficult start of all – against reigning champions Chelsea FC – yet the classy Andrea Pirlo turned a side which had finished seventh in the two previous campaigns into an invincible force in Italy last term. After winning the Scudetto without losing, Juventus have reinforced their squad with players such as Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla, Lúcio, Paul Pogba, Sebastian Giovinco and Nicklas Bendtner.
The Bianconeri may lack a truly prolific goalscorer like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal should contribute their fair share. "Juventus may surprise many in Europe this season," warned Paris Saint-Germain FC coach Carlo Ancelotti. It is difficult to disagree.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.