SPI projects Serie A race
Italy's Serie A begins play Friday, with reigning league champion AC Milan in action against Lazio (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN3). ESPN'S Soccer Power Index (SPI) does not project there to be much of a race for the title this year, but it does think the race for the league's third Champions League spot will be very tight. With SPI's help, here's a look at the city rivals each vying for their 19th crown, as well as the race to avoid the drop to Serie B.
• SPI projects AC Milan as the favorite to repeat with a 52.7 percent chance to win the league. Milan has not won back-to-back league crowns since winning three in a row from 1991-92 to 1993-94. Milan enters the 2011-12 season tied with city rivals Inter Milan with 18 Serie A titles won, second-most all-time behind Juventus' 27.
• Inter Milan is the only other team in Serie A with at least a 10 percent chance of winning the title (according to SPI's projections), checking in at 16.7 percent. Inter Milan failed to win the league crown last year for the first time since 2004-05, breaking a streak of five consecutive seasons as champion. Inter has signed Uruguayan star Diego Forlan to fill the offensive void left by the departure of Samuel Eto'o, who led the club with 21 goals last season and recently completed a transfer to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.
• Napoli is third favorite to win Serie A this season at 8 percent. Napoli finished third in 2010-11 with 70 points, its best position in the table since winning the league in 1989-90. Napoli features striker Edinson Cavani, who was second in Serie A with 26 goals in 2010-11.
• SPI projects Udinese (7.5 percent) to finish fourth and Lazio (6.6 percent) fifth. With Italy receiving only three spots in the Champions League starting in 2012-13, the race for third has serious economic implications. Teams that qualified for the UEFA Champions League Group Stage in 2010-11 earned a base payment of $10.4 million while clubs that went to the Europa League Group Stage received only a base payment of $1.4 million.
• The relegation battle should feature at least one, and maybe only one, of the league's newly promoted sides (Atalanta, Siena and Novara), and Atalanta starts with a six-point deduction due to its alleged role in match-fixing. The last time more than one newly promoted side was relegated was when Napoli and Vicenza in 2000-01.