By Kris Voakes
The fantastic start made by some of Italy's least-fancied clubs has provoked much talk regarding the potential for an absorbing title race ahead, with Juventus' trip to Fiorentina on Sunday marking just the latest huge clash between Serie A's finest.
But while seven rounds gives us a reasonable idea as to who may challenge, already there are some sides rueing the rotten luck which has forced them into significant changes to their first XI. The Viola are one of those, losing Mario Gotze and Juan Cuadrado among others, while AC Milan have a long list of injury casualties.
So who can cover best for such misfortune in the longer term? We've taken a look at the six biggest-hitting clubs in Serie A and picked a second-choice lineup for each side, using their current preferred system in each case.
Vincenzo Montella has already had to make a number of alterations to his side this term, and it is up front where they have their most notable shortfall when injuries strike. The losses of Adem Ljajic and Stevan Jovetic may have been covered by the return to fitness of Giuseppe Rossi and purchase of Mario Gomez, but already the lack of depth beyond their two big names is being felt.
Inter have a very deep squad on the surface, with plenty of Serie A appearances to boast. While skipper and club legend Javier Zanetti would not normally appear on this list, his permanent place in the first XI will have to be questioned after his return from the first major injury of his career. Elsewhere, there are names such as Ricardo Alvarez, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Walter Samuel and Luca Castellazzi who all have significant experience, as well as young Mateo Kovacic. The one question mark which remains over a number of those names is whether they could change the Nerazzurri's fortunes this term having been unable to have their say last season.
Juventus have arguably the most capable second XI considering the regular use of many of these players over the past two years. While Simone Pepe may have missed much of the last 18 months, he was key in the 2011-12 Scudetto win, and Claudio Marchisio has been a regular member of one of Europe's most revered midfields until recently, with he and Paul Pogba now battling for one spot. Up front are two players of great repute, with Fabio Quagliarella also a possible option for a striking berth.
Milan's lack of sheer quality in defence appears to be the only real letdown of their second string. In the attacking third there are players such as Valter Birsa, Riccardo Saponara and Mbaye Niang who don't even feature in the side even after Kaka, Mario Balotelli and Alessandro Matri are taken out of the equation, but behind them there are weak spots. The midfield depth is functional without being filled with flair, while the back four is even more unconvincing.
Rafa Benitez has a first XI of significant quality these days, and he has a number of great secondary options to go with them. All of the second choice back four have decent experience at first-team level, especially in the shape of former captain Paolo Cannavaro. Ahead of them the likes of Blerim Dzemaili, Goran Pandev and Dries Mertens are all set for plenty of game time this term as key squad members, but a handful of injuries may start to stretch the Napoli resources.
Roma's fantastic start has not only proved that the Giallorossi have a great coach at the helm this term, but also that Rudi Garcia has a significant amount of quality in his first-team squad. While Mattia Destro is no Francesco Totti, Michael Bradley doesn't boast the range of Daniele De Rossi and Nicolas Burdisso can't match up to Mehdi Benatia, all have plenty to give. Alessandro Florenzi could easily be interchangeable with any of Kevin Strootman, Miralem Pjanic or Adem Ljajic, helping to show that many of these players are knocking on the door for first-team football.
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