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AC Milan started pre-season in the same way they ended their title-winning campaign, with two goals from veteran striker Olivier Giroud.
The goals in the 2-1 victory at Cologne in a friendly count for much less than the double against Sassuolo that Milan received the Serie A title 55 days before, but it was a good sign for Giroud and his teammates.
Title rivals Juventus and Inter Milan managed to get back Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, respectively, making Milan’s challenge to retain the title more difficult.
A 20th Serie A title would be a successful run for Milan, earning another star on their shirt as every Italian team is awarded a star for every 10 league titles.
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The team would also beat local rival Inter, who won the title 19 times. Juventus, with 36 league titles, have no more.
“The aim is to get the second star and therefore the 20th title, it was one of the first things that (directors Paolo) Maldini and (Frederic) Massara told me,” said Milan forward Divock Origin. “We will do our best to do it and obviously there would be a great result.”
Origi is Milan’s only new signing so far in the offseason, although the club have permanent loan signings Alessandro Florenzi and Junior Messias and French youngster Yacine Adli is back from his loan spell at Bordeaux.
More significantly, however, Milan appear to be on the verge of completing the signing of talented young playmaker Charles De Ketelaere from Club Brugge.
While the 21-year-old Belgian midfielder may not be as big as the players signed by some of his rivals, he sees Milan clinging to the blend of youth and experience that has helped them stay on the title for so long. Zlatan Ibrahimović, who will turn 41 in October, has also renewed his contract for another year.
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Ibrahimović and Giroud have already won several trophies. But for many of Milan’s young team, the league title was their first taste of success. And such is their desire to get more, with many cutting short their holidays and returning to pre-season training earlier than scheduled.
That seems to have worked with some impressive results in friendlies, including a 5-0 drubbing of Wolfsburg and a convincing 2-0 win over French league runners-up Marseille on Sunday.
“We finally realized our worth and we realized how important it is to prepare ourselves well, how difficult it is to win, what we need to stay at the highest levels, so I see the boys easier for the season this, even more. prepared and even more attention to detail,” said Milan coach Stefano Pioli. “I am sure that this is a cycle that has just started and not one that is about to end.”
Massimiliano Allegri returned as Juventus coach last year – two years after being sacked – but the Bianconeri ended the season without a trophy for the first time in 11 years.
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The storied club won nine straight league titles until 2020 and even under the disappointing leadership of Andrea Pirlo, the team still won the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup.
The Bianconeri were hoping that Pogba could bring back the glory days after his return from Manchester United. But the France international continues to be plagued by injuries and could be out until the new year, missing the World Cup as well as a significant chunk of the season.
Pogba picked up a knee injury during one of his first training sessions back at Juventus and now has to decide whether to opt for surgery which should definitively fix the problem but see him undergo less invasive treatment until 2023 and would have a shorter recovery time. it may not be as effective.
Juventus also signed midfielder Ángel Di María as a free agent after seven years at Paris Saint-Germain and defender Gleison Bremer from city rivals Torino as they aim to improve on two straight fourth-place finishes place
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Inter looks set to be Milan’s main rival.
Having lost the title to their city rivals, having ended their own long wait the previous season, Inter moved quickly in the transfer market to fulfill coach Simone Inzaghi’s aim of having his squad ready for the start of the seasons.
Inter signed midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kristjan Asllani, and goalkeeper André Onana but most notably brought back Lukaku a year after his acrimonious departure to Chelsea.
And Lukaku will be quickly forgiven if he guides Inter to the title again.
Lukaku scored 47 goals in 72 Serie A appearances in the previous two seasons with Inter and formed a formidable partnership with Lautaro Martínez – nicknamed “LuLa” by the Italian media – that helped the Nerazzurri win the league in 2021 for the first time once in 11 years.
Napoli, Atalanta and Roma could also be dark horses for the title, although the three have just five scudetto wins between them, the most recent being Serie A Roma in 2001.
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In Jose Mourinho’s first year in charge, he guided Roma to the Europa League title – the club’s first trophy in 14 years.
Mourinho and Roma have higher ambitions this season. After finishing sixth in Serie A last season he will be aiming for a top four finish and a place in the Champions League.
But quietly the capital club could expect even more, especially after the marquee signing of former Juventus forward Paulo Dybala.
Napoli cannot be ruled out either, if the team manages to keep up their title challenge for the entire season.
The team looked to crush Milan all last campaign before a mid-season slump dashed their title hopes. The team eventually finished third, seven points behind the Rossoneri.
However, Napoli will also have to contend this year with the departure of players such as captain Lorenzo Insigne and top scorer Dries Mertens and defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
After three straight third-place finishes, Atalanta’s eighth-place finish last season will be a disappointment to some. But that leaves the team coached by Gian Piero Gasperini free to focus on Serie A without the distraction of the Champions League – or any European soccer.
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Atalanta, who won Serie B in 2011, have never claimed Italian soccer’s top prize and a place in the Champions League was already seen as an incredible achievement for the team from the small city of Bergamo, less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Milan. .
Most fans would be surprised to see their more illustrious neighbors take the Serie A title.