Serie A Spotlight: Calhanoglu at His Best, Pioli at His Worst & More

It was an uneventful weekend in Serie A, which started with plenty of promise but offered too little overall. Fans will not remember Gameweek 34 for long as stalemates and low-scoring matches rarely make for good reading in football. 

But it wasn’t all bleak. While the highly anticipated meeting between Juventus and Milan resembled a chess match rather than a game of football, Derby del Sole between Napoli and Roma kept the Diego Maradona Stadium crowd on its feet until the final whistle. 

Let’s look at the main talking points. 

Free-Scoring Calhanoglu Puts His Stamp on the Inter Title

Inter refused to let complacency creep in despite confirming their 20th Scudetto with a 2-1 derby win against Milan last Monday. The newly-crowned Serie A champions celebrated their well-deserved success in front of a sold-out Giuseppe Meazza with a 2-0 win against Torino.

You’d put your money on usual suspects Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram to help Inter break down one of the best Serie A defenses. But it was none of them. The division’s most prolific midfielder, Hakan Calhanoglu, inspired Simone Inzaghi’s team to victory against 10-man Granata.

After scoring a thunderous half-volley to open the scoring at the start of the second half, the Turkey international slotted home another penalty to take his tally for this Serie A campaign to 13 goals. Only five players have been on the scoresheet more frequently than Calhanoglu this season.

But as all of them are forwards, the ex-Milan ace can be proud of his immense contribution to Inter’s cause. 

Pioli Gives Milan Another Reason to Sack Him

As if Milan didn’t have enough reason to part ways with the Scudetto-winning manager Stefano Pioli, Saturday’s derby against Juventus poured more misery on the fire-fire tactician. Rossoneri might have avoided defeat in a fifth consecutive meeting with Bianconeri in Turin for the first time in history. But fans had nothing to cheer for at the Allianz Stadium.

Lucky to get away with a 0-0 draw, largely thanks to Marco Sportiello’s superb showing between the sticks, Milan left Turin undefeated but outclassed. Amid wild speculation surrounding his future at San Siro, you’d expect Pioli to offer some response on the pitch to boost his chances of avoiding dismissal.

However, after an abysmal Europa League exit to Roma and an equally disturbing derby defeat to Inter, Milan delivered perhaps their worst performance against Juventus. Zero shots on target probably best illustrate their flagrant attitude in the front third, suggesting there’s fighting spirit left in this squad.

Changes are often welcome. But in this case, they are necessary. 

Serie A Forgotten Man Back with a Bang

As stated by Daniele De Rossi in the aftermath, Roma didn’t perform well against Napoli and must improve vastly on Sunday’s showing to navigate the upcoming Europa League semi-final tie against Bayer Leverkusen. Despite holding the former Serie A champions to a 2-2 drawGiallorossi were second best all match. 

In a game of few positives, Roma supporters had a sight to behold. In the 89th minute, when it looked like Napoli would take three points, Tammy Abraham scored his first Serie A goal in over ten months to salvage a draw for De Rossi’s top-four hopefuls, pouncing on Evan Ndicka’s layoff to send traveling fans into their dreamland. 

With Romelu Lukaku injured and Sardar Azmoun proving incompetent to lead the line, Abraham’s first goal since recovering from a long-term injury can put a smile on De Rossi’s face ahead of a mammoth European contest against the new Bundesliga champions. 

The Worst Title-Defending Serie A Campaign in History

Though they did deserve more than just one point against Roma, Napoli have no one but themselves to blame for failing to win for the sixth time in their last seven Serie A outings. As a result, they finished this matchday in ninth, five points adrift of the European spots. 

What’s truly demoralizing is that they sit a whopping 30 points behind the new champions, Inter. A team that evidently lacks energy and motivation seems incapable of repairing their image down the final stretch, which could make Napoli the worst defending champions in Serie A history. 

Francesco Calzona has four rounds to spare Napoli from further embarrassment, but not many people want to be in his skin these days. 

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