“I am satisfied.” That’s the phrase that we keep hearing from Coaches and directors after games, even when the results very clearly do not warrant such an attitude. Then again, one can only be satisfied if expectations are met and it would seem we all have very different ideas of what those are.
Ivan Juric declared himself satisfied with the performance as Genoa fell 1-0 to Bologna. Vincenzo Montella said he was satisfied after Milan suffered a second consecutive 2-0 Serie A defeat, this time to Roma in a scrappy affair at San Siro. Director of sport Massimiliano Mirabelli was satisfied they had “dominated Roma for 70 minutes.” I’m not sure what game he was watching, but it can’t have been the same one I witnessed.
The Rossoneri were chaotic, didn’t work as a unit and finally got their first shot on target after 181 minutes of Serie A football. It’s probably to be expected of a side with nine out of the starting XI being summer signings and only recently switching to a system with three at the back. It’s amazing how many assumed Milan would be top of the table by now, simply because they spent €200m, and now believe Montella should be fired for not achieving that unrealistic expectation.
Ultimately, are Milan playing that much worse than Inter, who now sit in second place? I’d argue not really. Benevento, who scored just one goal in the opening weekend, found the net and rattled the woodwork twice at the Stadio Vigorito, as the Nerazzurri scraped the three points thanks to a Marcelo Brozovic brace. You could be satisfied with the results under Luciano Spalletti so far, but certainly not with the performances.
Napoli put in a display of total dominance against Cagliari and it’s remarkable it only ended 3-0. Yet Maurizio Sarri was still complaining at the final whistle, even a clean sheet not enough to quell his incessant desire for football perfection. At the same time, he repeatedly warns the Scudetto is a dream rather than a target and won’t even glance at their position as sole Serie A leaders. Don’t tell him that they are the first Serie A team ever to win the opening seven rounds with at least 25 goals scored, a minimum of three in each game. That would raise expectations and Sarri fears the comedown should they not be met.
Maybe expectations should be raised. That’s what Simone Inzaghi has done at Lazio, where despite trailing Sassuolo and suffering from an injury crisis, they retained their identity to fight back for a tennis-style 6-1 result. The Aquile used to crumble in these situations because they lacked self-belief. Now the Biancocelesti, their fans and their opponents all know full well what they’re capable of and that can tip the psychological balance of a game.
Atalanta have made a habit of fantastic comebacks not just because of their skill and the tactics of Gian Piero Gasperini, but above all their confidence. In the past, the Orobici wouldn’t have recovered from 2-0 down against Juventus in the opening 25 minutes, but now they are not satisfied to simply be sacrificial lambs. Similarly, it’s not the kind of lead Juve used to fumble, but this season their certainties have been shaken a little. Max Allegri insists he’s satisfied with the performance, but his angry storm off the field at the final whistle suggests otherwise, as well it should. The Old Lady can’t just do the bare minimum and expect to get three points. Not anymore.
People expected VAR to satisfy everyone, but it remains a subjective medium. You can show 100 people the Andrea Petagna ‘handball’ footage and they’ll all come out with different views on whether it was a penalty. It was unrealistic to think it would solve all ills, but it certainly has helped. As with the lengthy gap between goal disallowed and then decision overturned in Torino-Verona, it needs to be streamlined and tweaked, but there’s no going back now. VAR is here to stay.