Serie A Preview: Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain always scores against Cagliari, Verona's Alessio Cerci never does against Napoli - Three HOTS and NOTS

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Juventus and Cagliari kick off the 2017/18 Serie A season on Saturday night ahead of a packed Sunday schedule.

The match promises to be a fruitful one for Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain, who’s scored five goals in five games against Cagliari, with three of those goals coming since his move to Turin last season.

On the other hand, Alessio Cerci, who has returned to Italy after an unsuccessful spell with Atletico Madrid, would have wished for different opponents for his Hellas Verona debut. In 10 top-flight games against Napoli, Cerci has yet to find the back of the net.

Perhaps he’ll break his duck on Saturday night?

The video below looks at three Hots and Nots of the opening weekend.

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Juventus' air of vulnerability and need for reinforcements suggests this year's Serie A title battle will be one of their toughest

Adam Digby 15/08/2017
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Will anyone be able to stop Juventus from tasting a seventh straight Serie A title?

Our Italian football expert Adam Digby has previewed the new campaign by breaking down the champions, the challengers and the newcomers.

First up…

THE CHAMPIONS

Juventus have won six consecutive Serie A titles, but for perhaps only the second time in that reign, there is an air of unpredictability to the 2017/18 season.

In most of those previous years, the Scudetto race has been over before it has begun, but when the new campaign gets underway on Saturday evening, there is unquestionably an air of vulnerability surrounding the champions.

As Lazio proved in the traditional Supercoppa Italiana curtain raiser, the Bianconeri have a glaring weakness in midfield and can be beaten by a team willing to work hard to overpower them. The departure of Leonardo Bonucci (more on him later) means the three-man defence is consigned to history, but without the security of that extra man at the back, Sami Khedira looks positively pedestrian in the middle of the park.

Juve Director General Beppe Marotta – who has spent his summer chasing Corentin Tolisso, Blaise Matuidi and Emre Can – remains empty-handed, but promised at the weekend that reinforcements will arrive before the transfer window closes. For Max Allegri’s sake, they must.

Liverpool midfielder Emre Can has been linked to Juve

Liverpool midfielder Emre Can has been linked to Juve

The coach will otherwise be left without a way to make his wonderful array of attacking perform to their true potential. Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi have bolstered a unit which already contained Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca and Juan Cuadrado, but until the side behind them can provide a solid platform, they will continue to flounder as they did versus Real Madrid in Cardiff and against Lazio in Rome.

However, the reign of the Old Lady is still far from over, her championship pedigree embedded deeply in a squad that can call upon the experience of Gigi Buffon, Claudio Marchisio and Giorgio Chiellini to show the new arrivals exactly what is expected.

A seventh title remains there for the taking, and Allegri has already proven his own ability on the sideline, a tactical savant that very few domestic opponents have managed to overcome.

THE CHALLENGERS

Foremost among those looking to snatch the crown away from Juve is surely Napoli. For all the talk of Premier League interest in Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, they remain under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and are looking to claim the title for the first time since Diego Maradona’s spell at the Stadio San Paolo.

The southern club spent their summer locked away in a mountain retreat, star players voluntarily returning early from their holidays to make a “Scudetto Pact” and launch a genuine title challenge.

Maurizio Sarri’s thrilling brand of possession based football has had another year to bed in, while AS Roma are once again starting over.

Napoli attacker Lorenzo Insigne

Napoli attacker Lorenzo Insigne

With Luciano Spalletti now in charge at Inter and Francesco Totti officially retired, a new era beckons in the capital and the Giallorossi might take a backward step this term before rising again in the future.

Stepping into their place at Serie A’s top table are Milan. Buoyed by new Chinese owners, the Rossoneri have spent lavishly this summer to bring in a plethora of talent as they look to resurrect their ailing fortunes.

Snatching Bonucci – the world’s best central defender – away from Juve at a bargain price of just €42 million was a masterstroke, but so too were the signings of full-backs Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez.

That trio will vastly improve Milan’s backline, while the arrival of dynamic midfielder Franck Kessie provides Montella’s team with the same bite and energy so sorely absent in the very side they are looking to overhaul.

AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci

AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci

If a proven striker arrives in the coming weeks, a title challenge is not beyond the Rossoneri, but even without a regular goal scorer, they are almost certain to secure a top four finish and return to the Champions League.

That might prove to be beyond Inter, who despite the appointment of Spalletti still look to be prisoners of their same previous flaws. Matias Vecino and Brazilian full-back Dalbert will be solid options for the new boss, but relying on an ageing star like Borja Valero – particularly in a two-man midfield – is a mistake we have seen all too often from the Milanese giants in years past.

The Spaniard endured the worst season of his Fiorentina tenure in 2016/17, but his former club are equally unrecognisable. No fewer than 14 first team players have followed Coach Paulo Sousa through the exit door, with Nikola Kalinic and Milan Badelj perhaps still set to follow suit.

THE NEWCOMERS

New boss Stefano Pioli has arrived, while the signing of Torino Captain Marco Benassi heralds the start of a new era in the Renaissance city, but it is likely to be at least a year before the Viola trouble the top spots once again.

For now they will surely join Lazio, Atalanta, Sampdoria and Torino in midtable, while below them a growing group of poorer sides battle to avoid the drop. Cagliari, Udinese, Chievo, Bologna and Genoa will start the campaign each harbouring only the hope of finding three worse teams than them in order to survive another year.

Then there is plucky Crotone, arriving i n the top flight 12 months ago and staying up last term only on the final day. Perhaps that experience places them ahead of newly promoted sides Hellas Verona, Benevento and SPAL, each facing their own challenges in a bid to avoid becoming simply another brief footnote.

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Inter Milan unwilling to sell Ivan Perisic as Luciano Spalletti dashes Manchester United's hopes of signing him

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Perisic is playing a full part in Inter's pre-season.

Inter Milan boss Luciano Spalletti insists the “conversation is over” when it comes to a potential move away from San Siro for in-demand winger Ivan Perisic.

Croatian Perisic, 28, has been linked to Premier League club Manchester United this summer but Inter have taken him on their pre-season tours and appear unwilling to consider any sale.

Before Saturday’s friendly against Chelsea in Singapore, Spalletti said he “strongly opposed” the prospect of Perisic leaving Milan in the transfer window.

“There has been no more significant contact in the last few weeks,” he told inter.it. “So for me the conversation is over.

“The more days that go by, the more difficult it becomes for us to replace him and therefore I would strongly oppose his departure.”

Former Wolfsburg player Perisic scored 11 Serie A goals for the Nerazzurri last season.

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