The international break gives us a chance to take a look back at this early part of the Serie A season and see what we can take from it. Five game in to 2011-2012 and only one thing is certain, and that is nothing is certain. While it may be a bit early to pass judgement, what we can say is that this season’s scudetto is there for the taking. We are used to having the same few team competing at the top of the table, but that group could be much bigger this year. Here is a look at the the standout stories from the first five matches.
No discussion on the start to this season can begin without first speaking about Milan’s two clubs. AC Milan sit in 15th with five points and a minus three goal differential, while Inter are 17th with 4 points and a minus 4 goal difference. Both clubs have their issues. Milan is dealing with a terrible rash of injuries, while Inter have had just about everything possible go wrong for them, including giving up 11 goal, most in the league. Is the balance of power on the peninsula finally shifting away from Milan? Or can these two clubs right the ship and work their way back up the table? It may be only five games in, but if these two giants do not start improving their results, that climb can quickly become a daunting task.
Bianconeri shirts seems to be the trendy fashion for this early season, as both Juventus and Udinese sit on top of the table. Juve has played well under new coach Antonio Conte, and the atmosphere at their new stadium looks to be a real boost for the club’s on-field performances. And they have done it with very little contribution from expensive new signings Mirko Vucinic and Eljero Elia. If those two can begin to contribute, and if Fabio Quagliarella can return to fitness, Juve will be a deep and dangerous squad.
Udinese appear to be defying their critics, many of whom were expecting them to take a step back this year, myself included. After a heroic loss in the Champions League qualifiers, Udinese responded with some terrific results, including a 1-1 draw with AC Milan at the San Siro. They lost some key players this summer, and their depth will be questioned as the season progresses, but it is hard not to be impressed with how well they have played so far.
Up to now, Napoli have handled the dreaded “european hangover” with ease, scoring emphatic wins home to AC Milan and away to Inter in the league games directly following their first two group-stage matches. They will undoubtedly be stretched as the autumn progresses, but the worst is behind them. In their final four Champions League matches, they play home to Juventus and away to Cagliari, Atalanta and Novara, all winnable games for a team flying high. If they can get through the group-stage still near the top of Serie A, they will be a force to contend with.
Rome’s two clubs are knocking on the door of the top four, and both teams seem to be settling in their new players. Lazio can score goals, that’s for certain. But can they defend well enough to maintain a serious title challenge? Roma’s new coach Luis Enrique appears to be getting his ideas through to his players, but it is hard not to feel like he is always just one bad spat with Francesco Totti away from total disaster.
New boys Novara have certainly attracted some attention in Serie A so far this season. Their 3-1 win at home to Inter has already become a legendary moment in the club’s history, as well as in the history of the league. They have scored a stunning 10 goals this season, making them the scoring leaders of Serie A. But at the same time, they have conceded 10, second most in the league. Regardless of whether or not Novara have what it takes to stay in the top flight, they certainly seem ready to entertain.
We also can not review these first five games without mentioning Atalanta. Handed a six point deduction at the start of the the season, many felt they were prime relegation candidates. But after five games they look nothing of the sort. With a 3-1-1 record, Atalanta would be in sixth were it not for the deduction. They have put in some terrific performances and look to be a step above their relegation competition.
We can only hope this wide-open season in Serie A will continue. At this point, it looks as though we can have 8 to 10 clubs seriously competing for european places next year, and that can only make for a fascinating and exciting year in Italy.