If the first few months of the season is any indication, the Serie A title race is going to be very wide open and very tight throughout.
After this week’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina, unbeaten Juventus are top of the table, one point ahead of fellow unbeaten side Udinese heading into the mid-week’s eight fixtures. Serie A statistics give a good indication as to why Juve are off to a good start this season, as they lead the league in goals and are near the top of the charts in least goals allowed.
However, no one has gotten off to a blazing start, and there have been ups and downs for top title favorites AC Milan, Inter, and Napoli, so there currently isnít a great deal of separation at the top. So for Inter, that means an opportunity to play their way back into the thick of the title race if they can get on a hot streak, while it also represents a potential opportunity for a new title contender or two to emerge.
Inter Recovering After Early Trouble
After dominating Serie A for several seasons, Inter took a step back last season after the departure of Jose Mourinho to Real Madrid, finishing six points behind arch-rivals AC Milan in second place.
So, they turned to former Genoa manager Gian Piero Gasperini to lead a quick return to the top. Unfortunately, what the Inter brass must not have accounted for, or decided to overlook, was that his 3-4-3 system and his desire to stick to it did not match up in the least with the personnel he inherited at Inter.
The end result of this very short and very disastrous experiment was a 4-3 defeat at Palermo after having been up 1-0 at halftime, a 1-0 Champions League defeat at home against Trabzonspor, a 0-0 home draw with Roma, and a 3-1 defeat at Novara, who are winless since. The defeat to Novara spelled the end for Gasperini, who was quickly replaced by the well-traveled Claudio Ranieri.
Things have been up and down under Ranieri thus far, but the Nerazzurri are a respectable 2-1-1 in Serie A matches under Ranieri, and they’ve also put that early European stumble behind them, registering back-to-back away wins against CSKA Moscow and Lille to move into top spot in Group B.
Inter are still closer to the bottom than they are to the top, as theyíre in 16th, nine points behind Juve and only three clear of the bottom three. But with the talent that they have and the right man now in place in Ranieri, there’s still plenty of time to fully dig themselves out of their early hole and mount a serious title challenge.
Title Favorites Deal With Inconsistency
While Inter have stuttered to start the season, reigning champions AC Milan havenít come flying out of the gate either. The Rossoneri were winless in their first three matches, with home draws against Lazio and Udinese sandwiched around a 3-1 defeat at Napoli. Their form has picked up recently, as theyíve won three of their last four matches, but the ups and downs continue.
Against current bottom side Cesena at home, Milan could only muster a 1-0 win. That was followed by a 2-0 defeat at Juventus in which they came unhinged at the end, allowing two late goals and having Kevin-Prince Boateng sent off. Against Palermo, they produced perhaps their best all-round performance of the season in a 3-0 win, but on Sunday at Lecce, they found themselves down by that deficit inside the first 40 minutes. However, they produced a stunning second-half rally, with Boateng’s hat trick and Mario Yepes’ 83rd-minute winner giving them an amazing 4-3 win.
Big things were expected of Napoli coming into the season, and they’ve shown what they’re capable of in their win over AC Milan and a 3-0 win against Inter at the San Siro. However, they’ve not shown up against beatable opposition, as was the case in a 2-1 home defeat against Parma. Perhaps the added load of Champions League football and the pressure of increased expectations have taken a toll, but they could be made to rue these early lost points if they fall a few points short of the title.
Ultimately, you’d have to back AC Milan to rediscover their best sooner rather than later, given the collection of top-class talent and experience in that side. Can Napoli do the same? The talent is certainly there to achieve greatness, and they’ve shown that they can produce big performances and results against the best of the best, but they need to be able to perform at that same high level against the likes of Parma if they’re to truly join the ranks of the best of the best.
Resurgence In Rome
There hasn’t been a title winner from Rome since the 2000/01 season, Roma edged out Juventus by two points to win their third title. That run may not end this season, but now appears to be as good a time as any for it to.
Lazio haven’t seriously contended for the title since that 2000/01 season, when they faltered at the end to finish third, six points behind Roma. But after three straight mid-table finishes, Lazio made a surge last season, missing out on fourth and a Champions League playoff round place to Udinese only on goal difference.
Lazio have started this season with a 4-2-1 mark, and if they beat Catania today at the Stadio Olimpico, Edy Rejaís side could move top. They’
ve on a roll at the moment, as they are unbeaten in their last five and have three wins on the trot, including a come-from-behind 2-1 win over archrivals Roma. Summer signing Miroslav Klose, who arrived on a free transfer from Bayern Munich, has been key to Lazio’s start. The experienced German striker has found the target four times already, including a late, late winner in the Rome derby.
Speaking of Roma, they’ve righted the ship after a rough start under Luis Enrique. Roma were winless in their first three matches, and they were shockingly dumped out of the Europa League in the playoff round by Slovan Bratislava. However, it looks like things are starting to come together, as they have three wins in their last four matches, and were it not for Simon Kjaer conceding a penalty and subsequently getting sent off early in the second half against Lazio, it could be four wins in four.
Just like Klose has had an instant impact for Lazio, a new striker has led the way for Roma, with Pablo Osvaldo repaying at least part of his Ä17.5m transfer fee with four goals in his last five games.
Whether or not either side can make a real challenge for the title this season remains to be seen, but they both possess the talent to push for a top-three finish and a place in the Champions League, and that is not only a good thing for the state of football in the capital city, but also for Serie A.
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