Despite the fixture list for this weekend’s Serie A action offering a dearth of top table match-ups, the top division of Italian football was not short on entertainment in what is fast becoming the league to watch in world football.
Dropped points at the top of the table meant movement and opportunity for the five clubs fighting it out over the Scudetto as Serie A continue to live up to its billing as Europe’s most hotly contested title chase.
Elsewhere, record-winning streaks were set and the famous managerial merry-go-round spun off its third boss of the season so far.
Kolby Kuwitzky’s four Talking Points bring you everything you need to know about the last weekend in Serie A before Italy’s crucial World Cup qualification playoff against Sweden.
1 Benevento give Juve a fright
When the six-time defending Serie A champions host a team without a point in any of the first eleven games of their first ever top flight season, we may perhaps be forgiven for not expecting much in the way of thrills or interesting subplots.
Benevento, hailing from the legendary home of Italian witchcraft, travelled to Juventus on the first Sunday after Halloween with a complete lack of expectation but with evil intent in their hearts.
The bianconeri dominated from the start but, despite constant possession, it was Benevento who opened the scoring. Amato Ciciretti’s left foot wickedly swept a free kick around the Juventus’ wall and past Wojciech Szczęsny to give the visitors the most shocking lead of the young season after 19 minutes.
They took that lead into halftime, conjuring up an increasingly implausible series of saves, blocks, and general hocus pocus in order to do so.
The second half began with Benevento fans, Juve haters and romantic neutrals beginning to dream of the kind of historic, generational, inexplicable upset that only football can produce.
That dream, sweet though it was, lived but a moment, as Gonzalo Higuaín contorted his body into a difficult shooting position and looped home a 57th minute equalizer. Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado’s back post header put the hosts ahead 2-1. So it would finish as we live in a bleak and fallen world.
Benevento’s 12 defeats in a row at the start of a season is now tied with Manchester United’s 1930-31 record for stumbling out of the starting blocks.
They will almost certainly go down but the hour or so of real time in which they found themselves ahead at the home of the most dominant team in the history of Italian football will endure as a memory to be savoured in an increasingly inequitable football world where what might have been will have to be good enough when the witch magic runs out.
2 Derby defeat drops the axe on Genoa’s Juric
Genoa manager Ivan Juric’s job hung by a thread heading into Saturday’s meeting with local rivals Sampdoria. They were more than willing to provide the final cut a let the axe fall finally on the long-suffering Juric.
This first instalment of this season's Derby della Lanterna, one of Europe’s most underrated fixtures, saw Sampdoria walk away 2-0 winners after the kind of controlled performance they have consistently provided during their excellent start to this campaign.
Genoa’s desperation showed early on and Adel Taraabt almost combined with Gianluca Lapadula for what would have been a remarkable goal, but the Milan-loanee’s swivelling volley didn’t connect.
Sampdoria’s Gaston Ramirez, formerly of Southampton, Hull City, and Middlesborough, kept his feet under duress and finished neatly in the 24th minute for the game’s first goal.
Genoa built intermittent pressure in the second half but were unable to create dangerous scoring opportunities, and Fabio Quagliarella’s tap in six minutes from time sealed the win.
Genoa announced Jurić’s termination on Sunday, with quick fix specialist Davide Ballardini coming in to replace him for a third stint in charge of Il Grifone. He will take charge of a reeling club that finds itself in the relegation zone.
3 Juve's rivals stumble
Juve’s chief rivals at the top of the table both faltered against mid-table competition on Saturday, allowing Massimiliano Allegri’s men to move past Inter into second and only a point behind league leaders Napoli.
Inter played host to Torino in Saturday’s early kickoff. A fairly open game allowed both goalkeepers to shine in a goalless first half.
The chances continued after the break, with Inter having more and better opportunities. Nevertheless, Iago Falque gave Torino the lead 59 minutes in after a dancing run in from the right wing past several defenders gave him space to blast a shot past Samir Handanovic from the top of the box.
Inter substitute Éder tied the game in the 79th minute when he found himself all alone in front of goal following a well-cushioned pass from Mauro Icardi. Matías Vecino struck the crossbar from distance late on, but Inter couldn’t find the breakthrough and will consider this two valuable points dropped.
Napoli found similar frustrations upon their journey north to face Chievo Verona at the Stadio Bentegodi. Coming just days after Manchester City put their Champions League dreams on life support with a 4-2 win at the San Paolo, the goalless draw at Chievo has Maurizio Sarri’s team on uncertain ground heading into the international break.
73% possession and 20 shots look like the sort of stats that should earn a result, but in reality clear-cut scoring chances were few and far between.
In Higuain, Icardi, Dzeko, and Immobile, Napoli’s rivals all possess classic centre forwards to spearhead their attacks. Napoli rely on more modern methods, converting wide players and secondary strikers like Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne into goalscoring focal points.
Sarri’s approach consistently provides Europe’s most aesthetically brilliant football, but whether it can produce enough goals in the key fixtures against elite competition remains to be seen.
4 Roma's big week
Coming hard on the heels of their 3-0 demolition of Chelsea at the Olimpico, the giallorossi avoided a weekend letdown by outscoring Fiorentina in a 4-2 thriller at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Brazilian starlet Gerson replaced Diego Perotti up front and he scored the first two goals of his Roma career in the first half. Former Aston Villa midfielder Jordan Veretout and marquee summer signing Giovanni Simeone each scored for the home side to level the score at halftime.
Greek international defender Kostas Manolas shouldered in Roma’s third without knowing much about it and Perotti sealed their Serie A-record 12th consecutive away victory with an 87th-minute goal on the counter.
Roma’s title challenge last season relied heavily on Capocannoniere winner Edin Džeko for goals but the last few weeks have shown signs of a broader, more reliable attacking cohort. Tuesday’s Champions League hero Stephan El Shaarawy, Perotti, and Gerson could provide Džeko with the scoring runs from wide areas that best utilize his distributive skills.
Both Roma and their local rivals Lazio have a game in hand on their title rivals, and three points from those games would see both Roman clubs only a point or two behind league-leaders Napoli. Their duelling Scudetto hopes will only add more heat to the season’s first Derby della Capitale on November 18th.
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