Antonio Conte sees an ‘improved’ Juventus this summer, as he reflects on how they and the likes of Roma, Napoli, Inter and Milan look for the new season.
Since leaving the Bianconeri and taking over as Italy Coach, the 45-year-old has been busy visiting clubs across the country to build relationships and to see first-hand what his options look like for the Azzurri.
On from visiting the likes of Milan and Inter this week, the former Juventus tactician has spoken at length about the upcoming Serie A season, and about who he sees as Italy's top clubs.
“Juventus have definitely improved from last year and are still the favourites,” mused Conte to the Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Unless there are some big upheavals in the 11th hour, the squad has been improved. All of the senior starting players are still there, and they've added talent with Roberto Pereyra, Romulo and Alvaro Morata, not to mention the great experience brought by Patrice Evra.”
Conte sees Roma as close contenders, however, and praised the capital club for their efforts in the transfer market.
“Roma is coming off the back of an important season and has done very well in the market. I think that Rudi Garcia has been given several options.
“Then there is also Napoli, who will have to quickly get over the disappointment of their Champions League elimination.
“And keep an eye on Inter. The Nerazzurri have reinforced a lot of positions with good players, well-known and potentially decisive. Inter could really bother everyone in the title race.”
He also warned people not to write off Vincenzo Montella’s team.
“Pay attention to Fiorentina. The Viola play well, they have a great Coach and it looks like they'll be able to keep Juan Cuadrado. I think that they could be an important outsider this season.”
Lazio will also be among the teams challenging for European qualification, according to the Azzurri boss.
“I was at Formello, and I found a good atmosphere. Their squad looks good to me. Up front, Antonio Candreva, Miroslav Klose and Keita promise sparks, but there are also players of value in the middle, like Marco Parolo and Lucas Biglia among others. I think these will be seven teams playing for the positions that count.”
The seventh team discussed is Milan and, having met with new Coach Filippo Inzaghi at Milanello, Conte is holding off passing judgement until the transfer window had closed.
“I think Milan will still do something in the transfer market, so at the moment I'm suspending judgment.
“Obviously, if Fernando Torres comes then many perspectives would change. The Spaniard is devastating in open play and I think that he would be perfect for the kind of football that Inzaghi wants to implement.”
There were some words of encouragement for individuals, too. Conte went on record saying that he expected ‘explosive’ seasons from Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy and Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne, and offered support for Fiorentina's injured Giuseppe Rossi, who if fit will almost certainly form part of the coach's plans for the national team.
“I told him not to hurry his recovery,” revealed Conte about his conversations with Rossi.
“Because often when a player is less than perfect they end up doing damage elsewhere as well. If Pepito is in good shape, he'll be trouble for any opposing defence.”
Gigi Buffon was also singled out for mention. The Juventus and Italy captain isn't getting any younger, but the 36-year-old remains key to both sides, according to Conte.
“Gigi is still the strongest goalkeeper in the League. He and Handanovic are a cut above everyone.
“And Buffon still has the enthusiasm of a kid, and waits with the same eagerness for every call-up to the Azzurri, despite having won everything.
“It is people like that that I want with me in the national team.”
Conte still sees Serie A as one of Europe's top leagues, even if it can no longer compete with the financial clout of the continent's biggest clubs.
“Tactically we still lead. The organisation here is at the highest level. Maybe there is less intensity, but winning in Italy is always very difficult. And this season will be very balanced, and hard, as always.”