(Reuters) - A sixth successive title for Juventus appears inevitable as the new Serie A season gets under way this weekend -- even though they have lost one of the world's top players.
It is not a good sign for the health of a league when the champions poach the best players from their nearest rivals -- largely funded by the sale of Paul Pogba to Manchester United -- but that is exactly what happened in Italy during the close season.
Juve, who host Fiorentina on Saturday (1945 BST), nabbed Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain, whose record-breaking 36-goals led Napoli to second place last term, and have also signed third-placed AS Roma's top player, midfielder Miralem Pjanic.
Napoli did not want to sell Higuain but were left with no choice after the Turin side agreed to pay the 90 million euro (77.53 million pounds) buyout clause for the Argentine.
He will now link up with compatriot Paulo Dybala, a 22-year-old who scored 19 league goals last season and has arguably become the team's most important player.
Even taking into account the departures of forward Alvaro Morata and midfielder Pogba, for a record 102 million euros, those signings leave Juventus way ahead of their rivals.
The famous "BBC" defence of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini has remained intact and, with 38-year-old goalkeeper Gianliugi Buffon in goal, looks as impregnable as ever.
Napoli, who visit promoted Pescara (Sunday 1945 BST), are a different proposition without Higuain, although they have kept the rest of the team intact including Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik.
Elsewhere, it has been a turbulent summer.
Nine of the 20 teams have changed coaches, including Lazio where Marcelo Bielsa was appointed before quitting two days later because he said the club had failed to sign players they had promised.
Instead, Simone Inzaghi, who had been in charge on an interim basis, was persuaded to return despite having agreed to coach Salernitana in Serie B.
Both Milan teams have swapped coaches and owners.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi ended three decades of ownership when he agreed to sell AC Milan to a consortium of Chinese investors, although the deal has not yet been signed.
Milan, who host Torino on Sunday (1700 BST), have been left in limbo by the uncertainty and unable to make much-needed new signings to improve on last season's miserable seventh place.
They have, however, changed coach again with Vincenzo Montella, previously at Sampdoria, replacing Cristian Brocchi to become their sixth coach in two-and-a-half years.
Meanwhile, Chinese electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd bought nearly 70 percent of Inter for 270 million euros in June.
Coach Roberto Mancini failed to see eye to eye with the new owners and ended weeks of speculation when he left by mutual consent just two weeks ahead of the start of the season and was replaced by Dutchman Frank De Boer.
In other moves, Sampdoria replaced Montella with Marco Giampaolo from Empoli who in turn appointed Giovanni Martusciello.
Atalanta's decision to fire Edoardo Reja in June also provoked a chain reaction as he was replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini from Genoa, who in turn hired Ivan Juric from promoted Crotone who then brought in Davide Nicola.
The other newcomer is Sinisa Mihajlovic at Torino, who will face Milan, who fired him in April, in his first game.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne,; Editing by Neville Dalton)
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