x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Italy ready to reclaim its crown

After falling behind England and Spain, Serie A is ready to fight back with style and substance.

Ronaldinho will play in Serie A for the first time this season after joining AC Milan.
Ronaldinho will play in Serie A for the first time this season after joining AC Milan.

A combination of the match-fixing scandal, crowd violence and the lure of top players to Spain and England has seen Serie A lose its sparkle and standing as Europe's premier league. But there is a buzz once again with big names on board and the prospect of a title race that could be one of the most open and exciting in recent years.

Inter Milan have claimed the Scudetto for the past three years, one by default after Juventus were stripped of their 2006 success for their involvement in the game-rigging allegations that rocked Italian football. Jose Mourinho's swagger and style will undoubtedly add a fresh impetus to the Nerazzuri, but will their players still have the same quality and hunger to match Torino's feat of four successive trophies 60 years ago?

Some magic from Mancini, the Brazilian winger who signed from Roma, and the combative Sulley Muntari will combat worries over an ageing and injury-troubled midfield, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic's powerful presence in attack will give the "Special One" confidence he can match his title triumphs at Porto and Chelsea. "An exceptional group of players," is how Mourinho described his side, but the same could be said of rivals Milan.

All eyes will be on the San Siro to see if the fallen idols can end their five-year wait for the title. Once the darlings of world football, a force to be feared, the Milan faithful will be hoping Ronaldinho and Andriy Shevchenko are not just there to relax, recuperate and repair their dented reputations and egos with cameo roles. Consistency is what Milan need after finishing fifth last season and missing out on the Champions League.

The duo of Mathieu Flamini and Philippe Senderos, and Gianluca Zambrotta will add some much-needed defensive stability to a side, rich in creativity and class. Mohamed Sissoko admits the arrival of Ronaldinho from Barcelona is particularly momentous and could help create a power shift in European football's pecking order. "Yes, this will help Serie A," said the Juventus midfielder, who has also tasted life in Spain with Valencia and then England with Liverpool.

"There are a lot of good players coming to Italy again like Ronaldinho and there are already many more here. I feel it is going back to being the best league in the world again. You play at a higher tempo in England than Italy, where it is much slower, but technically it is better in Italy. "Ronaldinho is a special player and it will be good to come up against him this season. Milan and Inter look strong, but we are confident we can do well at Juventus this season and have a chance. We want to win trophies and the league is one target."

Sissoko's side have the strikeforce to compete with the barnstorming Brazilian Amauri complementing David Trezeguet, Vicenzo Iaquinta and the wily old fox, Alessandro del Piero up front. @Email:akhan@thenational.ae