Juve's Pirlo gamble adds Serie A intrigue

Andrea Pirlo's first Serie A game as coach of Juventus will be at home against Sampdoria.
Andrea Pirlo's first Serie A game as coach of Juventus will be at home against Sampdoria.

The decision of Juventus to hand the coaching reigns to Andrea Pirlo promises to make this season's Serie A title race one of the most open in years with a queue of clubs waiting to pounce should the Italian champions' remarkable gamble backfire.

The Turin giants will be bidding for a 10th successive league title this season, which kicks off on Saturday, but will do so under the leadership of a man who, for all his undoubted ability as a player, has never coached at senior level.

Pirlo, who makes his debut at home to Sampdoria on Sunday, only received his official coaching badge on Monday after presenting his thesis at the Italian federation's coaching school in Florence and it remains to be seen how he will adapt to the new role.

There are further question marks over Juventus, who were less than impressive in closing out last season and their dependence on Cristiano Ronaldo.

The league appears more open than it has in years with the transfer window open until Octover 5, two weeks after the opening fixtures.

Inter Milan, who finished one point behind Juve in second place last season, are the most dangerous and obvious challengers if they can overcome the inconsistency which exasperated coach Antonio Conte last season.

Their neighbours AC Milan are equally intriguing.

After years of mid-table mediocrity, the seven-times European champions came to life in the second half of last season, partly inspired by the presence of 38-year-old forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Coach Stefano Pioli seemed to have found the right blend of youth and experience and they were unbeaten for their last 13 matches of the season.

Yet most observers agree that none of those three played the best football last season.

That honour belonged to Atalanta who blasted 98 goals on their way to finishing third.

Although clubs of Atalanta's size often struggle to keep their team together after a successful season, the Bergamo-based team appear to have escaped that fate.

Lazio were outstanding for part of last season and led the table shortly before Serie A was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Their small squad struggled with the heavy fixture list after the break but they finished fourth as forward Ciro Immobile equalled the Serie A scoring record for a single season with 36 goals.

With a few reinforcements, they could launch another challenge.

AS Roma, after exchanging one American owner for another finished strongly last season under Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca.

Meanwhile, Napoli, who have been Juve's main challengers for the past decade, overcame a mid-season crisis and finished with a trophy after winning the Coppa Italia.

With the feisty Gennaro Gattuso at the helm they can not be written off.

Australian Associated Press