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Having produced 12 European Cup winners - second only to La Liga (15), Italy's Serie A deservedly ranks amongst the top professional football leagues in the world. Although formed in 1898, it wasn't until 1929 that the Italian top division adopted its current round robin format.

The league began life with 16 teams and whilst that has varied over the years, there are currently 20 teams competing for the Scudetto annually over the course of a season that runs from August to May.

It is home to three of the world's most famous clubs with Juventus, AC Milan and Internazionale also representing Serie A's most successful teams, winning 68 league titles between them.

Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC in action (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

European Qualification

The top two sides in Serie A at the end of the Serie A season gain automatic entry into the group phase of the UEFA Champions League, whilst the third placed finisher progress to the qualifiers for Europe's premier club competition.

Fourth and fifth offer places in the UEFA Europa League, as does winning the Coppa Italia.

Relegation

The bottom three teams in the Italian top flight at the end of the campaign face automatic relegation to the second tier.

They are replaced by the top two in Serie B at the end of the term and the winners of promotion play-offs, which features teams finishing from third to eighth.

Serie A's Golden Era

The golden era of Serie A was undoubtedly a period spanning the late 1980s and the 1990s. The Italian top flight produced six European Cup winners in 12 years and international stars flocked to play in the country, where money seemed to be no object.

It was during this spell that the inspirational Diego Maradona led Napoli to their last Scudetto success in 1990 and the likes of Roberto Baggio, Marco van Basten, Rudd Gullit, Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann all graced our screens donning the shirts of Juve, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Interest in the league was massive globally, particularly after the 1990 FIFA World Cup, which was hosted in Italy and made famous by the tears of Paul Gascoigne (who would later play for Lazio), the celebrations of Cameroon's Roger Milla and the Republic of Ireland's heartbreaking exit at the hands of Toto Schillaci and Italy in the quarter-finals.

Financial constraints have meant that Serie A hasn't reached the heights of that era since the turn of the century. Clubs came to rely heavily on television revenues and until 2010 TV rights were sold on an individual club basis rather than collectively, which widened the financial gap between bigger and smaller outfits.

It is hoped that the current package of around 1 billion euros per annum reached between Lega Serie A and broadcasters Sky Italia and Mediaset, and which is distributed amongst the league's 20 clubs, will lead to a more level playing field and greater competition.

The Big Three

Juventus F.C. was established in 1897 in Turin and would eventually become the most successful team in the history of Italian football. Their 32 Scudettos is 14 more than nearest rivals AC Milan and Internazionale, and they are the only side in the Italian top division to win five Serie A titles in a row on two occasions.

AC Milan, founded in 1899, boast 18 Serie A titles to their name but top Juve in Europe's premier club competition. Their record of seven European Cup triumphs, compared to Juve's two, is second only to La Liga's Real Madrid.

Inter Milan are level on 18 league titles with their bitter city rivals despite being formed 11 years later in 1910. They boast three European Cup successes, their most recent coming in 2010 some 45 years after their previous win with the 'Special One' Jose Mourinho at the helm.

Famous Derbies

The Derby della Madonnina between AC Milan and Inter is one of the most hotly contested fixtures in world football. It was named in honour of one of the most famous sights in the city, a statue of the Virgin Mary situated on the top of the Duomo, which is commonly known as the ‘Madonnina’. A veritable who's who of football's elite have graced this game including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who represented both clubs. Former AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko is the top scorer in the history of this fixture with 14 goals.

Rome's Derby della Capitale features AS Roma and Lazio and is no less of savagely contested affair. In fact, the levels of passion and pride and the severity of frequent crunching tackles can often exceed that of the Milan derby. Former England international Paul Gascoigne endeared himself to the blue half of the city when he scored his first goal for the club in the Rome derby in 1992.

The Derby D’Italia was introduced into the football lexicon by journalist Gianni Brera in 1967 to describe the fixture between Juventus and Inter Milan, who were the two sides with the most international and national honours in Italian football at the time.

This fixture had added glamour as Juve and Inter were the only sides never to have been relegated from Serie A until 2006, when the the Old Lady was relegated due to her part in a scandal involving match rigging.

Top Transfers

Hernan Crespo's move to Lazio from Parma in 2000 for €55million remains a record in the Italian top flight. The biancocelesti had just won the Scudetto and were hoping to retain the trophy with the help of the powerful Argentine forward. Crespo finished the campaign as top scorer in Serie A in his first season with the club with 26 goals but they couldn't hold on to the title, finishing the campaign in third behind champions AS Roma and Juventus.

The legendary Gianluigi Buffon comes in a close second with his move to Juventus from Parma in 2001 for €54.3millon making him the most expensive goalkeeper in football history. Buffon played behind one of the best defences the bianconeri have ever assembled - Lilian Thuram, Ciro Ferrara, Paolo Montero and Gianluca Zambrotta - and his arrival paid immediate dividends as Juve won the title in his first season at the club.

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