With many people bemoaning the fact that Serie A had become something of a one-horse race in recent years, this season has seen the top division of Italian football starting to return to its mid-90s glory.
Where Juventus had become used to being unchallenged at the top of the league, they now find themselves usurped by a rampant Napoli side who remain unbeaten so far this year. Add to this a summer in which the Milan sides spent heavily and it’s really starting to hot up in the upper echelons of Italian football.
Kolby Kuwitzky brings you four Talking Points from the weekend’s action to help you keep up to speed with recent developments in Italy.
1 Milan’s lack of game-changers shows in Juventus defeat
Despite winning the Summer Scudetto with their much-discussed €230 million spending spree, AC Milan clearly remain a work in progress. Vincenzo Montella’s outfit had a patchwork look from the outset in this weekend’s marquee tilt against Juventus at the San Siro, and the Rossoneri couldn’t turn a series of decent chances in the early minutes into an advantage on the scoreboard.
Juventus gradually gained control of the game, though it took a pair of exquisite goals from Gonzalo Higuain for the Turin side to return home with all three points.
Neither goal came via an obvious scoring chance, with Higuain in both cases taking a perfect touch to create enough room for the kind of finish Juventus thought they were buying when they splashed out €90 million for the Argentine in 2016. Paulo Dybala provided an assist on the first goal and a well-timed dummy on the second.
For all that Milan improved their squad with the arrivals of Leonado Bonucci, Franck Kessie and co., the lack of top-end talent in the striker and attacking midfield positions showed itself fully on Saturday. Milan’s summer striker signing Nikola Kalinić spurned a handful of chances at least as promising as Higuain’s.
With a top four finish likely beyond their capacity this season, the Rossoneri should focus on integrating Suso and André Silva into an attacking setup that can support the elite striker they will undoubtedly pursue in the coming transfer windows.
2 Anti-semitism in the stands clouds bright Lazio start
Racism and anti-semitism continued to mar the international reputation of both Lazio and Italian football more generally this week. The Rome club’s far right ultras compounded the controversy created last weekend when they placed stickers depicting Anne Frank in a Roma shirt around the Stadio Olimpico. This was, grotesquely enough, intended as an insult.
Both Lazio and Serie A authorities organised a high profile public relations response. Claudio Lotito, Lazio’s volatile owner, publicly laid a wreath at a Roman synagogue and the club wore Frank’s image on their shirts during the warmup prior to Wednesday’s game at Bologna. Additionally, a passage from The Diary of Anne Frank was read before each match of the midweek Serie A round this week.
Whatever the broad intentions of the Italian football establishment, a recording of Lotito disparaging the public displays of tolerance (including a bizarre and hardly believable promise to personally lead annual educational tours of Auschwitz for Lazio ultras) as a 'charade' undermined any chance of a quick and positive resolution. Adding further stench to an already foul affair, some Lazio ultras ostentatiously skipped the pre-match displays of tolerance and later sang fascist songs.
This throws a black cloud over a Lazio season with as much potential as any in recent memory. The well-balanced Biancoceleste, fired by Ciro Immobile’s torrid scoring pace and a deep, versatile midfield, have what it takes to compete for a spot in next year’s Champions League via both Serie A’s newly-acquired fourth qualification place and this season’s Europa League.
If both Lazio and Serie A are to move onward and upward in this globalised football world, they would be well advised to confront the small-minded bigotries that keep Italian football back.
3 Different tides pull Genovese clubs ahead of the derby
Next Saturday’s Derby della Lanterna brings together two Genovese clubs at opposite ends of the table with Genoa manager Ivan Jurić’s job hanging in the balance.
Defeat at unheralded Serie A newcomers SPAL on Sunday dropped Genoa into the bottom three. This left manager Jurić bemoaning his side’s bad luck after the 1-0 loss, claiming “there was only one team on the pitch” prior to former Leeds United striker Mirco Antenucci scoring the games only goal in the 55th minute. He received the dreaded vote of confidence from the Genoa board on Monday, but few believe that confidence would survive a defeat to their crosstown rivals on at the Marassi on Saturday night.
Sampdoria’s high flying early season form only compounds the Genoa fans’ misery. Marco Giampaolo’s outfit extended their home record to a perfect five wins from five on Sunday with a 4-1 win over Chievo Verona. Columbian striker and Napoli loanee Duván Zapata’s 44th minute goal concluded a thrilling first half with the home side 3-1 ahead.
Lucas Torreira added a fourth goal, his second of the day, in the 84th minute. The Uruguayan midfielder, one of Serie A’s top rising talents, won the video headlines with his first goal against Chievo. His dipping, swerving, inside-out free kick from long distance put his name in lights across the football world for the first time and is sure to be one of the goals of the season in Serie A.
Reports coming out on Monday suggest he may not be long for Liguria, however, as a fee thought to be in the range of €40 million has been agreed with Atletico Madrid for a move in January.
4 Relegation battle takes shape
With Benevento threatening Manchester United’s 87-year-old European top flight record for season opening futility, the final two relegation slots will likely be contested by a six club cluster of Cagliari, Crotone, SPAL, Sassuolo, Hellas Verona, and Genoa.
SPAL’s win over Genoa and Crotone’s shock 2-1 triumph against an in-form Fiorentina saw the six teams placed between 14th and 19th in the table separated by only three points.
Both weekend winners were preseason favourites to go down. SPAL, playing in Serie A for the first time in 49 years after back-to-back promotions, will look to experienced forwards like Marco Boriello and Alberto Paloschi to see them over the line. Crotone escaped the drop by beating Lazio on the final day of last season. Lacking a consistent source of goals, the Calabrians hope to continue the comparatively strong defensive record that facilitated their great escape.
Eusebio di Francesco’s summer move to the Roma managerial suite has Sassuolo still looking for an identity. New manager Cristian Bucchi would do well to focus his energies on getting the Neroverdi’s all-time leading scorer Domenico Berardi back into top form.
With only a 95th minute winner against lowly Benevento to show for their last seven league fixtures, Cagliari’s precipitous slide into the bottom third means a repeat of last season’s comfortable mid-table finish is unlikely. Marco Boriello, now of SPAL, scored goals most reliably for Cagliari in the 2016-17 campaign, and his absence means Napoli loanee Leonardo Pavoletti shoulders a burden of expectations yet unmet up front for the struggling Sardinians.
Hellas Verona battled Inter Milan to the final whistle, but the Gialloblu fell 2-1 to the Milanese side at an electric Stadio Bentegodi on Monday night. Substitute Giampaolo Pazzini scored with his first touch of the game after Hellas were belatedly awarded a contentious penalty after a video review. The former Inter man converted from the spot, but his tally was sandwiched between a delicate goal by Borja Valero and a sweetly struck rocket from Ivan Perišić that left Hellas goalkeeper Nicolas with no chance.
The Veronese outfit possess plenty of Serie A experience throughout their lineup, though the 17-year-old Juventus loanee Moise Kean could bring the pace and power to complement the veteran wiles of Pazzini and Alessio Cerci.
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