cdo you beat Serie A with reheated soup? That is to say in ordinary Italian reheated minestre it never tastes as good as you expected. But Internazionale and Juventus are pulling Tupperware containers out of their freezers this summer, looking for the recipes that earned them titles before.
The IS Nerazzurri it didn’t take much digging. They finished just two points behind Milan last season and knew exactly what ingredient was removed from a champion’s dish. Romelu Lukaku was Inter’s top scorer and assist provider in 2020-21. His return on loan from Chelsea, less than 12 months after being sold for €115m, was brilliant business.
He received a mixed reception, with Ultras from the Curva Nord warning in a written statement that he could not be celebrated as the “king” he was before. The crowds that came to greet him disagreed, as did thousands who shared a video of him being crowned in front of the San Siro in a viral edit of the Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King.
Will Lukaku defeat Inter’s enemies a second time? His season at Chelsea was disappointing, with eight goals in 25 Premier League appearances, but he returns to a team that still has most of the pieces that allowed him to thrive before.
Inter still have Lautaro Martínez to join Lukaku up front, as well as Nicolò Barella and Marcelo Brozovic in midfield, now alongside Hakan Calhanoglu and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ivan Perisic and Achraf Hakimi are gone from the side, but Denzel Dumfries grew into his role on the right last season, while Robin Gosens has shown his quality for Atalanta and Germany before.
The manager is the biggest difference. Antonio Conte brought the best out of Lukaku two years ago. Simone Inzaghi has not reinvented the wheel after taking over but has tried to make Inter more unpredictable, less reliant on pre-rehearsed moves.
Lukaku showed his enthusiasm for his approach last summer, before Chelsea came with an offer too big to ignore. Inter may be forced into another reluctant sale at the end of this window, with reports that Dumfries or Milan Skriniar could leave to balance the books, but there is hope for now.
The same may not be true for Juventus. Paul Pogba’s return initially sparked the imagination, reminding supporters of a time when their team won titles and played in European finals.
No one was kidding themselves that this was the same player who left in 2016, but even in six frustrating years at Manchester United there were at least flashes, chances created, moments to get you there. Meanwhile the midfield of Juventus became a football vacancy, a place that moves to die. The man expected to fill Pogba’s role, Adrien Rabiot, provided two assists and no goals in 32 appearances last term.
At least that last player was reliably available. Having missed 80 games in the past three seasons, could anyone at Juventus be surprised when Pogba picked up a knee injury that is expected to keep him out for at least the first month of the new campaign?
The IS Bianconeri they have made other additions. Ángel Di María will bring experience in attack and Gleison Bremer will be an excellent signing in defence, although there are big shoes to fill following the departure of Giorgio Chiellini and Matthijs de Ligt. It will be interesting to see how Filip Kostic fares in Serie A, a year after his proposed move to Lazio collapsed amid furious counter-claims about a misspelled email.
However, it was Pogba whose arrival was supposed to change the dynamics of this team the most, especially because of the close relationship he developed with the manager, Massimiliano Allegri. They used to stay after training during their previous time together in Turin, challenging each other in shooting competitions and basketball games.
The gap to Milan was 16 points last time out, with the champions strengthened. Where Inter and Juventus are reheating an old soup, the Rossoneri back from the market with something brand new: the 21-year-old Charles De Ketelaere. A 6 foot 4 in No. 10 with experience of playing around the world, he scored 14 goals for Club Brugge last season and has been tipped as the next thing in line for Belgium.
Divock Origi and Yacine Adli provide additional options up front. Questions remain as to who will take the top scorer if 35-year-old Olivier Giroud fails to repeat last season’s scoring in the biggest games of all, but Milan will feel confident above all because they have kept the core of the young squad. He should continue to improve under the leadership of Stefano Pioli.
Are there any other title contenders to consider? Napoli finished third in May but have since said goodbye to their captain, Lorenzo Insigne, his deputy, Kalidou Koulibaly, and fan favorite Dries Mertens.
The mood around the club is toxic with ongoing protests against the owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis. Napoli continue to be linked with Sassuolo’s Giacomo Raspadori and Verona’s Giovanni Simeone, while new arrival Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has impressed in pre-season, but the hole left by Koulibaly, in particular, will not be easily filled.
At the other end of the spectrum are Roma, for whom the thrill of winning a European trophy has not yet worn off. Almost 10,000 fans turned out for Paulo Dybala’s unveiling, and not even comedically awful corner they could see their enthusiasm to see the former Serie A MVP integrated into an attack that already features Tammy Abraham, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolò Zaniolo. Andrea Belotti may still add further depth.
With Georginio Wijnaldum bolstering the midfield, is it inconceivable that Roma could emerge as dark horses for the Scudetto? A place in the top four, at least, must be the goal. For that reason, they could also face competition from Fiorentina, who have progressed to seventh place under Vincenzo Italiano and are looking to take a step further by bringing Luka Jovic back to the player in it was.
Lazio and Atalanta have had low-key summers but will also compete for Europe. Behind them, the likes of Sassuolo, Torino and Verona must work to reinvent themselves without Gianluca Scamacca, Bremer and Simeone (if he leaves, as expected) respectively. Bologna hope to hold on to Marko Arnautovic after interest from Manchester United cooled.
The relegation battle could be wide open, with two promoted clubs making interesting moves. Cremonese have acquired Cyriel Dessers, the 10-goal hero of Feyenoord’s run to the Conference League final, as well as Venice’s David Okereke.
Even more impressive are the movements of Monza, acquiring Matteo Pessina, Stefano Sensi, Andrea Petagna and Gianluca Caprari, as well as a new defense – Marlon Santos, Andrea Ranocchia and Andrea Carboni – composed of players with high-level experience. The IS Biancorossi was in League D as recently as 2017.
Silvio Berlusconi owns them, and Adriano Galliani is the vice-president, a partnership that has brought Milan 29 trophies in 31 years. They can’t afford the same quality of ingredients as they once did, but the interest in seeing what they cook is the same.