The Return of Serie A
After six straight Scudetti, could it be Unlucky No.7 for Juventus. The market doesn't think so and makes the Old Lady favourites @ 1.79. But it was interesting to see La Gazzetta dello Sport throw their support behind Napoli on the eve of the season.
The 10 goals Juventus have conceded in five games over the summer has left the impression that Juventus are more vulnerable now Leonardo Bonucci has pushed through a move to rivals Milan. They looked all over the place at the back in the Super Cup against Lazio last weekend.
Incidentally big spending Milan are priced @ 7.80 to win the title for the first time since 2011. But it remains to be seen if an entirely new team can come together quick enough to launch a sustained and credible challenge straightaway.
Napoli look a much smarter bet. They set a new club record points total last season and, despite losing Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus, finished as the league's top scorers. The Partenopei lost fewer games than any team, even the Old Lady and here's the thing...
Three of Napoli's four defeats came before the end of October. This was when they were still coming to terms with Higuain's exit and lost his replacement Arkadiusz Milik to a serious knee injury. Sarri then reinvented Dries Mertens as a striker and Napoli never looked back.
A little like Tottenham in England, Napoli have done next to nothing in the transfer window this summer, focusing instead on tying their best players - Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne - to new deals.
Continuity is why the pink is not alone in seeing Napoli winning the title for the first time since the days of Diego Maradona, and they definitely seem worth your while @ 5.00.
La Liga is back
The title race seems more clear-cut in Spain. Last season already indicated Barcelona are no longer the force they were and that sensation has only intensified following the departure of Neymar and their listless performances in the Super Cup.
The psychological impact of losing Neymar seems to have hit Barcelona in much the same way as the heart-wrenching losses of Ronaldo and Luis Figo in the past. More generally, their recruitment - even under Pep - has, with the obvious exceptions of Neymar and Suarez, been definitely more hit than miss.
To compound matters, La Masia is either not producing the same talent as it did or being trusted as much as it was in the past, and consequently Barca look in the worst state they've been in since the tail end of the Rijkaard era.
With Luis Suarez reportedly out for a month with a knee injury, a lot falls on the shoulders of Lionel Messi. His continued brilliance and status as the best player of all-time ensure that the market isn't as down on Barca as many Culés. They're available @ 2.54 to win La Liga.
Right now it looks like a tall order, particularly bearing in mind how well Real Madrid have recruited. In contrast to Barca's, their succession planning couldn't have been better and Zinedine Zidane's reigning Spanish, European and World champions are @ 1.75 to retain their crown.
For a second week in a row, Kylian Mbappé will watch Monaco from the sidelines. It's for his own good, says coach Leonardo Jardim, who insists he is protecting, not punishing the 18-year-old striker whose desire, after a long hard think, is to follow Neymar and sign for PSG rather than put pen to paper on a new contract at the Stade Louis II.
Mbappé isn't in the right frame of mind to play and Jardim understands. It's human nature. "If another paper offered you 15 times what you make now, you probably would type as well at your computer." Monaco had hoped Mbappé would commit his future to them, at least for another year. A World Cup year. But PSG have turned Mbappé's head.
How they plan to pay for the transfer after already sending €222m Barcelona's way for Neymar is another matter, even if the sales have started at the Parc des Princes. Blaise Matuidi and Jese have left, and Grzegrorz Krychowiak, Serge Aurier, Hatem Ben Arfa and maybe even Julien Draxler could follow.
The prospect of Mbappé leaving for their biggest rivals is hard for Monaco fans to swallow in a summer in which they have already sold Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Their title-winning side has been broken up. Not that it has affected their league form. Last week's 4-1 win at Dijon was Monaco's 14th in a row stretching back to last season in Ligue 1 and encourages the notion that Jardim's team will not give up their crown without a fight.
The recruitment department has bought well - see Youri Tielemans - and Radamel Falcao is back to his Atleti best. Scoring goals for this team isn't a problem even without Mbappé. Monaco are @ 14.00 to retain their title.
Close the Window
Mbappé isn't the only one to be iced by his team amid speculation about his future. Philippe Coutinho was left out of Liverpool's squad for Tuesday's Champions League play-off with Hoffenheim, as Barcelona continue to circle. Staying in Germany, Borussia Dortmund will kick-off their Bundesliga season on Saturday without Ousmane Dembele whose head has also been turned by the Catalans.
In Italy, it's the same story at Lazio with Keita Balde Diao and Fiorentina with Nikola Kalinic. They were no-shows at training this week, hoping to force through moves to Juventus and Milan.
It's an annual problem: key players are distracted, their teams suffer and so does the competition as a result. It's why the transfer window should close earlier. Premier League clubs are due to meet and discuss the matter in September but a debate on this subject has already been had in Italy.
Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri thinks the summer window is too longand has recommended that it be shut on July 15 as teams head into training camp. With their future decided by that date, players would then focus for the duration of pre-season and better prepare for the campaign ahead.
Situations like those of Coutinho and Dembele would be resolved before they threaten to have an impact on what team you can field in a league game or European tie. Allegri would also like the January transfer window to be brought forward to November.
That way players who aren't getting regular football can find a new club earlier in the season while managers would also receive more time to work with and integrate them into their teams. Arrive late in January and the season is already over by the time most players find their feet.
Of course, all this would only work if the rest of Europe fell into line and agreed on re-aligning their windows to start and finish at the same time. No league wants to leave itself unable to buy and therefore vulnerable when other leagues can still entice their players away. However, we seem to be reaching the kind of consensus that makes reform possible. In the meantime, Coutinho is currently @ 1.77 to join Barcelona and @ 1.84 to stay at Liverpool.
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