After a full schedule of Serie A matches over the weekend and going into Monday, it’s time to reflect on what five things we learned from Italy’s top flight from this past weekend.
1. Juventus may have faltered in the Champions League, but their domestic dominance remains unstoppable. After Juve’s latest 4-0 victory over Sassuolo, the bianconeri are now leading the Serie A five points clear of second placed Roma who were held to a 2-2 draw against AC Milan at the San Siro. The easy home victory for Juventus showed that while they were unable to qualify from the Champions League group stages, Conte’s side still has a firm grasp on the scudetto. With his hat-trick over Sassuolo Tevez continues to prove himself as one of the best signings of the summer, and although the Serie A title undoubtedly remains Antonio Conte’s primary objective, the Europa League offers an opportunity of redemption for fans yearning to claim some European silverware.
2. Napoli and Inter Milan need to secure their defensive problems quickly if they aim to compete for a Champions League spot. Following Napoli’s 4-2 victory over Inter Milan, there seemed to be a pressing dissatisfaction for both Mazzarri and Benitez with the various defensive errors and disorganization in their sides. Just about every offender was present: poor clearances, stray defenders keeping a forward onside, and even some goalkeeping mistakes from the ever-shaky Handanovic (although he did save a late Pandev penalty to stop the score from being truly humiliating). While Benitez has earned an important victory against an Inter team previously unbeaten when playing away this season, Napoli struggled to keep possession even when Alvarez was harshly sent off for Inter in the second half. Only with their quick counter attacks and by taking full advantage of Inter’s mistakes, Napoli earned a victory without showing too much possessive drive throughout the match. Benitez left the sloppy six-goal encounter with three points, but Mazzarri’s Inter is now in 5th place after being overtaken by Fiorentina. Although new Inter president Erick Thohir said he was disappointed with the referee’s performance after the match, there are still numerous frailties in this Inter Milan side.
3. Giuseppe Rossi is looking more and more like Italy’s top striker as Fiorentina rise up to fourth. With the 2014 World Cup approaching at the end of the season an increasing amount of forwards are beginning to show their full capabilities, and Rossi (current top scorer of the Serie A with 13 goals) is cementing his position in Prandelli’s starting eleven. Fiorentina cruised to a clean 3-0 victory over Bologna with Ilicic opening the scoring early, followed by Rossi assisting Borja Valero for a curling finish, and the Spaniard returning the favour for Rossi to chip in the third. Currently fourth trailing five points behind Napoli, Fiorentina still has quite a daunting task ahead if they truly intend to claim a Champions League place by the end of the season. However with Rossi picking up some of the weight since Mario Gomez’s injury, Montella’s side is showing impressive solidity as the January transfer window approaches.
4. Newly-promoted Torino and Hellas Verona continue to show resilience in the top half of the table. It has been quite some time since I’ve seen two newly-promoted sides climb the Serie A with such ease. While it’s difficult to anticipate how long these two clubs can manage to hang on to the 6th and 7th places, Hellas Verona is just two points behind 5th placed Inter Milan. With the Milan derby next week, Hellas will be keen to claim victory when they host Lazio in hopes of taking advantage of any possible points dropped by Inter. Torino will be rooting for their Hellas Verona in hopes that Lazio drop points, giving Torino a chance to end 2013 five points ahead of 8th placed Lazio if they can defeat Chievo Verona next week.
5. AC Milan will scrape and fight until the bitter end. After their grueling 0-0 draw against Ajax to progress out of the group stages of the Champions League, AC Milan have managed to scrape out another important draw against Roma. A late goal by Muntari salvaged a point which sufficiently allows Allegri to continue treading water in the middle of the table. It has been an incredibly disappointing season for AC Milan, however there is a stubborn persistence which must be admired. The rossoneri continue to fight with a devilish freneticism, and with their backs against the wall next week’s derby with Inter is a chance to end the year on a positive note. After missing an easy chance to score the winner against Roma, Balotelli will have to be ruthless against his former club which hasn’t been the best at the back in their past few games.