If there was an actual trophy awarded to Serie A’s Winter Champions then it would be made of ice. Initially durable enough to be lofted into the cold January air as a statement of intent, but ultimately so tenuous that it could slowly melt into the annals of triviality. The real Scudetto, as we all know, is usually won in the sunshine of May.
Nevertheless, the Scudetto d’Inverno does have its psychological and statistical uses in mounting a serious title bid. Of course it doesn’t guarantee victory at the end of the season and statistics are there to be contradicted, but Juventus, Milan and Udinese won’t mind ending the first half of the campaign this weekend at the top of the standings. History clearly tells us that.
In the 79 girone unico championships which have taken place – and not considering the sentences of Calciopoli – 54 teams managed to do the alternative double of being top at the half-way stage and at the conclusion of the campaign. That’s a 68.4 per cent conversion rate.
That ratio increases to 75 per cent when one considers that of the 16 championships played since the introduction of three points for a win, 12 have followed up their winter crown with a Scudetto shield being stitched on to their jerseys.
Juventus currently lead the standings and they will be capped as ice kings with a win at Atalanta this weekend. It would be a remarkable achievement for a side who started the season with finishing in the top three as their priority. Instead, they could be Campioni d’Inverno for the 25th time in their history. On the previous 24 occasions, they went on to win 18 titles – that’s three in every four.
The Turin giants, whose 18-game unbeaten start to the season surpasses the club record of 17 set by the 1949-50 outfit, could also match the achievements of Inter this weekend. Roberto Mancini’s side in 2006-07 took the glory at the half-way stage while also remaining undefeated – the first side to do so during the three-point era. They turned for the last lap with a massive 51 points, crossing the line with 97.
Milan, who took last year’s theoretical winter trophy with a win at Cagliari, have, like Inter, 17 half-Scudetti to their name. The Italian champions should collect the three points at Novara on Sunday, but they’ll need a favour from Atalanta if they are to leapfrog Juve. Only on 17 occasions from 79 has the second placed team at the season’s half-time managed to rein in and then overtake the leaders.
Udinese, who play Catania, also have a hypothetical chance of becoming winter champs for the first time in their history. But they’ll need a win, Juve to lose and Milan to not collect more than a draw. For the team that finishes Week 19 in fourth – that could be Udinese, Lazio or Inter – that position has only delivered a Scudetto winner on four previous occasions.
Not since January 2003 has the title for Winter Champions come to the last game of the first half of the season. Back then it was Milan, Inter and Lazio fighting for the cold war. But it was fourth-placed Juve, six points adrift when the Rossoneri took the imaginary title nine years ago, who ended the term as campioni. What will happen this time around? We’ll have to wait until the spring to find out.