New coaches but Inter still tipped to triumph

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MILAN - Inter Milan are hot favourites to retain their title when the Serie A season starts this weekend, despite a wholesale change in coaches among the big three teams.

Jose Mourinho led Inter to an unprecedented treble of Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup titles last season before leaving for Real Madrid but new Spanish coach Rafael Benitez has barely tinkered with the ageing team.

Apart from the sale of Mario Balotelli to Manchester City and the return of loans including exciting Brazilian youngster Coutinho, Inter have been quiet in the transfer market.

Benitez often clashed with Mourinho while both were in England but he has latched onto the winning mentality cultivated by the Portuguese at Inter and is loathe to try anything different -- especially following his dreadful last season at Liverpool.

"We must play a way the players know well, then we'll start to do things to improve a system that already works," he told reporters after playing the same side from May's Champions League final in Saturday's 3-1 Super Cup win over AS Roma.

Forward Samuel Eto'o hopes the improvements Benitez talks about include moving him closer to goal after he sacrificed himself for the team in a wide right role last season.

Diego Milito netted a remarkable 22 league goals last term in his first season at Inter and a repeat performance this year needs Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder to also shine again.

The loss of the charismatic Mourinho, who fell out with Italian media in a way Benitez is unlikely to, will have some impact on Inter but they are still even money favourites with bookmakers for a sixth straight scudetto.

A fifth trophy this year could follow against Atletico Madrid in Friday's European Super Cup, an appointment which means their Serie A bow will not come until Monday at Bologna.

AC Milan could only dream of such silverware after another barren season, which led to coach Leonardo's departure.

Massimiliano Allegri, little-known outside Italy, has been recruited from Cagliari but it is again a case of the Rossoneri hoping low-profile signings can pay big dividends.

Owner Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, is keeping a very tight lid on spending but unless a deal for Barcelona's Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes off, Milan look to have little chance of overhauling Inter.

DANGEROUS DABBLE

Juventus, twice European champions but still affected by a 2006 match-fixing demotion, finished a lowly seventh last season and have made wholesale changes in a bid to challenge again.

Luigi Del Neri performed wonders taking Sampdoria to fourth spot last season and then immediately left for Juve, who have made several major signings including Serbia's Milos Krasic and seen flops Fabio Cannavaro, Christian Poulsen and Tiago leave.

A dangerous dabble with differing formations cost Juve dear last season and Del Neri has returned to a 4-4-2 for their Europa League qualifiers.

But whether the new side can really gel in time to threaten Inter remains to be seen.

Either way the season will be a momentous one for Juve, given that 35-year-old talisman Alessandro Del Piero is poised to leave at the end of the campaign when they also move into a new stadium - which like their away kit has yet to find a sponsor.

Roma recovered remarkably from an early wobble to run Inter very close and finish second last season but financial constraints, with the club up for sale, will hamper them this time.

Brazilian striker Adriano, who quit Inter last year because of personal problems, has been their main signing but with Roman gladiators Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi in their side a top four finish at least still looks on the cards.

Of the rest, Genoa have spent big and could push for a Champions League place while the three promoted clubs Lecce, Cesena and Brescia are likely to go straight back down.

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