The Serie A weekend just behind us brought some unexpected development of things, especially as all the teams from the top failed to make a significant impact. It looks like things are heating up in Italy. Here are the Top 5 topics for discussion we inherited from the last round:
1) Are Milan Finally Back?
Yes, they played some bad opponents, and yes, the actual performances weren’t as good as they should be, but Milan are now on a three-match winning streak, and it doesn’t look like they are willing to stop anytime soon.
So, where did all this come from?
All clues point to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede brought some winning mentality into the side, despite scoring only against Cagliari so far. Nevertheless, it seems that Stefano Pioli has finally managed to steady the ship for the Rossoneri.
However, there’s more than just Zlatan’s arrival that prompted a positive change. The defense is looking as stable as ever, with the team conceding just two goals in the four last outings in all competitions. Gianluigi Donnarumma saved the day more than once since his blunder against Udinese, thus showing a top-class mentality that allowed him to quickly bounce back.
Perhaps the latest hard-earned 1-0 win against Brescia speaks volumes. The Rossoneri did not “deserve” to win, and yet they did. If this same match happened a month or two ago, would have anyone been brave enough to bet on Milan? Ante Rebic was the hero of the day once again, and it looks like Samu Castillejo’s performances put the final nail in the coffin of Suso’s career at Milan – with the Spanish winger likely to depart before February.
2) Atalanta’s Mean Machine
They score often, and they score against everyone. Atalanta look to be back to their best after thrashing Torino 7-0 with Josip Ilicic confirming his status as one of Europe’s best players this season.
The Slovenian is playing beautifully, with moves than only a player in peak confidence can offer. One of those resulted in his second goal of the match, as he punished Salvatore Sirigu’s complacency and produced a moment of magic by netting the ball from his own half.
Atalanta scored 57 goals this season, leaving everyone else in the dust – even mighty Lazio are 10 goals behind. They say that if you don’t shoot, you don’t score. Well, Atalanta do shoot a lot, being best in the league with 20.3 shots per match, standing above Napoli at 19.
Just to highlight how “democratic” the Bergamo side is, here’s an interesting fact: Despite leading the league in shots per game, none of Atalanta’s players are individually in the top five in shots per game. This means that everyone has a license to give it a go. Also, you won’t be surprised to find Mario Balotelli on the list of players with most shots per match, just behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lautaro Martinez. Some things never change, right?
One thing is for sure: Gian Piero Gasperini’s fairytale lives on and the Champions League spots are, once again, up for grabs for La Dea.
3) Inter – When It Rains, It Pours
Inter slipped up once again this weekend, as they dropped two points against Cagliari. To make things just that much worse, Radja Nainggolan was the solitary scorer for the Rossoblu, thus serving Antonio Conte with cold revenge for letting him go in the summer.
Conte’s system is showing more and more cracks as the season goes on. The Nerazzurri had problems creating play against realistically inferior sides like Lecce and Cagliari. Marcelo Brozovic’s injury could completely derail Inter’s Scudetto ambitions, and CEO Giuseppe Marotta will have to act quickly in order to bring over Christian Eriksen from Tottenham to help.
Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud will have to speed up his agreement with Conte’s side as Lautaro Martinez did the worst thing he could’ve done. After receiving a probably undeserved yellow card, he lashed out onto the referee, earning himself a direct red. The Argentinian’s blood boiled and there was no stopping it: Lautaro continued his angry burst, which may very well earn him a suspension and force him to miss the crucial games with Milan and Lazio.
4) Napoli Taking Down the Champions
Napoli are one weird team.
After weeks of underwhelming results, players’ disappointment, and turmoil within the club, it looked like President Aurelio De Laurentiis might as well lock the stadium up for the rest of the season. In the recent weeks, the club captain and cornerstone Lorenzo Insigne looked like a version of Garrincha without dribbling skills – completely useless. The brightest moments in a match for the fans at San Paolo were the half-time breaks and nothing seemed to be working for the Southern pride.
But then, something clicked.
Insigne led his side to a surprising win against Lazio in the Italian Cup before Napoli hosted the Serie A defending champions at San Paolo. The atmosphere, despite the recent disappointments, was spectacular as usual. Only this time, the team performed like they were the champions. Playing confident, disciplined, and above all, with vision, Napoli kept Juventus at bay just enough so that Piotr Zielinski could score the opener. The team celebrated in relief, Insigne maniacally pointed to the badge on his chest before scoring a goal himself to make it 2-0 against the Bianconeri.
However, Napoli wouldn’t be Napoli if there wasn’t a major goalkeeping mistake. It came a bit later than most expected, but Alex Meret didn’t disappoint, mistaking a run for the ball and turning it into an easy strike for Cristiano Ronaldo. Perhaps he took inspiration from his colleagues in the Derby della Capitale earlier in the afternoon?
Whatever the case may be, the Azzurri held onto the lead, promising a better future for their fans with the Champions League spots still within reach.
5) Sarriball Not Working at Juventus?
There’s something in the air at Juventus these days. Ever since Maurizio Sarri took over, there has been a growing feeling that the players didn’t fully commit to his ideas, although he proved his worth more than once in the past.
Juve are still at the top of the table but have been showing much more a Massimiliano Allegri‘s industrial-style type of football than Sarri’s promised glittering colors.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s record-breaking nine-match scoring streak may fulfill his ego, but it’s far from the wishes of Juventus’ fans, who now see their status as the undisputed champions threatened – not so much by the number of points, but by the overwhelming feeling that something’s not quite right.
Sarri being Sarri, he couldn’t mask his honesty behind the PR talk, only making things worse in his post-match remarks by saying that he’s “glad” the defeat arrived against Napoli if it did have to come. Obviously, his intentions were clear, but such a statement won’t buy him any new friend in Turin.
Honorable mention of the week goes to Verona, which confirmed they’re the real deal by smashing Lecce 3-0 at home, rising to ninth place in the league table. The Derby della Capitale between Lazio and Roma, on the other hand, didn’t offer much aside from some beautiful choreography and goalkeeping blunders. Perhaps the only aspect worth mentioning is that Paulo Fonseca confirmed he indeed knows what he’s doing and that Cengiz Under could be a worthy replacement for Nicoló Zaniolo.
Read more from Nedim Maric on http://www.whatafinish.com