Napoli were crowned Serie A’s winter champions on Sunday following their 5-1 demolition of relegation fighters Frosinone. Despite Napoli’s current form under first-year coach Maurizio Sarri, the Partenopei are looking over their shoulders at arch-rivals and reigning Scudetto holders Juventus as they close in.
The Scudetto Race
Although Napoli and Inter Milan have shown their title credentials, Juventus cannot be overlooked, as Massimiliano Allegri’s men have coolly adjusted to life without Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal. A poor start saw the Bianconeri win once in their opening six matches. Since then, Juventus have lost only once, reeling off nine consecutive wins. Paulo Dybala’s nine goals have led the way as the Argentine’s scoring has made up for Tevez’s departure.
Roberto Mancini’s Inter are outside favorites, but three losses in their last six matches have put a major dent in their championship push. More goals are needed from the Nerazzurri’s front men. Captain Mauro Icardi has scored eight in 16 matches. He needs to find the back of the net more often, however, for Inter to overtake both Napoli and Juventus.
Inter have been built on a stingy defence, keeping 12 clean sheets and giving up a mere 12 goals in 2015/16, a clear change to last season’s team. Inter recently terminated the contract of central defender Nemanja Vidic, which could save the club around €9.6 million –a hefty sum that may help Inter add reinforcements this month.
Maurizio Sarri wasn’t expected to get Napoli to the top of Serie A by many, yet the Italian coach has got the best out of his top players, something his predecessor, Rafael Benitez, continually struggled to do. Losing just twice in all competitions, both times in Serie A, Napoli have soared to the top by playing some of the most attractive soccer in Europe. With 38 goals, the most in Serie A, Napoli will need Gonzalo Higuain (18 goals) to continue his brilliance for the club to bring home their first Scudetto since the days of Diego Maradona.
At the bottom end of the table, Hellas Verona look up at the rest of the league, obtaining a meager eight points from 19 fixtures. Andrea Mandorlini was replaced in December by Luigi Delneri after a winless start to the season. However, nothing has changed, and Hellas are still looking for their first win in a desperate attempt to save their season. Minnows Carpi and Frosinone have given themselves a fighting chance at la salvezza, but they will need Palermo and Genoa, 16th and 17th respectively, to continue to drop points in the season’s second half.
Teams to Watch
Sassuolo have been one of the most exciting teams in Serie A this term. Their attacking brand of football goes against Serie A stereotypes. The Neroverdi are a definite team for neutrals or new fans of Serie A to follow, as Eusebio Di Francesco’s men are making a run at Europa League qualification. Sassuolo don’t score many goals (23), but have come up with timely wins, including last weekend’s late goal against Inter to push them up the table.
Empoli have quietly climbed to seventh on the back of the ageless Massimo Maccarone (eight goals) and future star Riccardo Saponara (five). Like Sassuolo, they are a surprise package built on good coaching and talented players.
Meanwhile Roma have just sacked the much-maligned Rudi Garcia after two and half years of ups and downs. Former Roma coach Luciano Spalletti has been reappointed after over four years in charge of Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg. Spalletti won back-to-back Coppa Italia trophies at Roma, and the club’s fans and hierarchy will expect him to push the team toward another trophy as he takes over a team of underachievers. The Giallorossi are currently seven points behind top place Napoli.
Finally, Fiorentina and first year coach Paolo Sousa are only three points back of Napoli. However, hanging onto a top-three place is nearly as important for the club as winning their first title since 1969. Nikola Kalinic’s 10 Serie A goals have been a revelation, while Josip Ilicic has chipped in nine. Yet, despite their current fourth place, Fiorentina will need to do even better in the season’s second to finish top. A run a third is more likely.
With the Serie A season kicking off its second stage on Saturday, the race for this season’s Scudetto is a close one that will no doubt give fans plenty to talk about.
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