Mario Balotelli, Valentino Lazaro and the Serie A buys set to excite beyond Matthijs de Ligt

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More than €1 billion worth of fresh faces could take to the field this weekend when the 2019/20 Serie A kicks off.

The summer mercato (transfer market) has been a strong one for Italian clubs. Juventus’ emergence from a crowded pack to land coveted Ajax centre-back Matthijs de Ligt is the obvious highlight.

Talent and excitement, however, run deep throughout the division. Here are four other deals that have got Sport360 amped – with help from Opta and WhoScored.com – about the campaign ahead:

MARIO BALOTELLI

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Club: Brescia

Bought from (fee): Free transfer

Position: Striker

First, let’s get an unfortunate fact out of the way.

A suspension carried over from the tempestuous end of his short Marseille attachment means that Balotelli’s homecoming to promoted Brescia will be delayed until well into next month.

But such is the fanfare that surrounds Super Mario, only those of cold heart and dimmed imagination cannot be galvanised about the enticing prospect of what could come.

An unfulfilled search for meaning has, seemingly, defined Balotelli’s mercurial career.

This gifted attacker has flittered through both Milan clubs, Manchester City, Liverpool and the Cote d’Azur’s Nice and Marseille. Indelible impressions were often only left off the pitch, rather than on it.

Brescia offers a welcome anchoring point. It is the city in which he was raised by adoptive parents and gained a broad northern accent.

Will we see the one-goal dud from the 29-year-old’s last stint in Serie A four years ago at AC Milan, or the striker who subsequently netted 41 times in 73 Ligue 1 outings? As always, finding out provides essential viewing.

ISMAEL BENNACER

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Club: AC Milan

Bought from (fee): Empoli (€16m)

Position: Centre midfield

Another season and another new dawn for AC Milan.

Marco Giampaolo is the latest incumbent at the helm of a club that CEO Ivan Gazidis poetically declared to Gazzetta dello Sport will not repeat the “illusions and lies” about instant success promised by previous regimes.

This is where the impressive Bennacer comes into play. The ex-Sampdoria man is tactically wedded to a 4-3-1-2 formation, in which an elite regista (deep-lying playmaker) is fundamental.

The 21-year-old’s 312 ball recoveries was the most in Serie A last season and he sat third for most possessions won with 174. The Player of the Tournament from Algeria’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations triumph is, however, no mere destroyer.

A division-leading 77.7-per-cent success rate among players who attempted 50 or more dribbles was also registered.

VALENTINO LAZARO

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Club: Inter Milan

Bought from (fee): Hertha Berlin (€22m)

Position: Right winger/wing-back

Inter’s summer was dominated by a lengthy – and ultimately successful – pursuit of Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku.

This distraction ensured other promising business went under the radar. Ignorance that is exacerbated in Lazaro’s case by a nagging thigh injury that dogged pre-season.

Once he is fully fit and veteran Antonio Candreva is back on the substitutes’ bench, however, his profile is guaranteed to grow. It was no mistake that one of the first acts of new head coach Antonio Conte’s reign was to land the multi-faceted Austria international.

Wing-backs capable of making an impression in both halves are crucial in the ex-Juventus supremo’s trademark 3-4-3/3-5-2 formations.

Only three Bundesliga midfielders produced more assists than Lazaro’s 11 since November 2017. Defensive duties were not ignored at Hertha, where in 2018/19 he was in their top 10 tacklers (1.5) and clearance makers (1.7) per match.

TAKEHIRO TOMIYASU

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Club: Bologna

Bought from (fee): Sint-Truiden (€9m)

Position: Centre-back

The unflappable Tomiyasu’s breakthrough 2019 has exhibited no sign of abating.

A return to Japan’s fold in January witnessed the 20-year-old emerge, comfortably, as the Asian Cup’s most-accomplished defender. Further solid form when minnows Sint-Truiden finished seventh in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League was reinforced by a Copa America from which not even a cruel handball versus Colombia could diminish his notable impact.

The subsequent move to Bologna has brought Tomiyasu into contact with Sinisa Mihajlovic, an accomplished defender from his playing days. Early impressions have clearly been positive, judging by the call to start the new boy – at right-back – in this week’s 3-0 walkover of Pisa in the Coppa Italia’s third round.

Tomiyasu’s physicality is matched by a refinement in possession shared by few. This is a prospect who could blossom in the coming months.

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