There is a school of thought in Italian football that you lift the championship by disposing of the so-called minnows. “I’ve always said that you win the Scudetto by defeating the small clubs,” Roma idol Francesco Totti once famously remarked. Juve legend Beppe Furino mirrored that view earlier this season when he said: “You win the title in the provinces.”
There is some truth in such a theory. After all, you need to keep the three points ticking over if you have serious ambitions of ending the campaign at the top of the pile. Yet, it would be naïve to mistake cliché for fact. It would also be wrong to ignore the counter-argument that if there are so-called relegation six-pointers at the bottom of the table, then there has to be Scudetto six-pointers at the top.
Games against your direct rivals are clearly an opportunity to not only gain points for yourself, but to deny points to your opponents. Added to that is the reality that a superior head-to-head record at the end of the season, rather than goal difference, could also decide League placings in the peninsula. Are three points against a team like Novara really more important than three against a side such as Milan?
Whatever your view, the results from the first half of this season make for some interesting reading when you manipulate them to focus on just the games involving the top seven clubs at the halfway stage – Juventus, Milan, Udinese, Inter, Lazio, Roma and Napoli.
The Old Lady, crowned Winter Champions on Saturday night, would be top of a hypothetical League table involving these modern day Seven Sisters. They amassed 12 points from their six games, consisting of wins against Milan, Inter and Lazio. But what is even more impressive from that set of games is that five of them came away from home. They’ll only have to visit the Rossoneri in the second half of the campaign.
Sitting just behind the Bianconeri in this mini-table are, perhaps surprisingly, Napoli. Currently struggling in seventh place and a massive 12 points behind the leaders, the Azzurri have collected three wins, two draws and just one loss – to Roma. Their problems domestically this term have come against the other 12 sides in the Division [yes, the smaller ones…] and in light of their and Coach Walter Mazzarri’s inexperience of juggling Serie A with Champions League commitments.
Udinese have also performed well in the big games. Francesco Guidolin’s boys collected triumphs against Roma and Inter, draws with Juventus, Milan and Lazio, while they suffered their only defeat at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples. Nevertheless, they should be content with nine points from a possible 18 when you consider that they are punching above their traditional weight.
While Roma’s record of picking up only five points is perhaps to be expected given their initial struggles under Luis Enrique, it’s the statistics of the Milan clubs in these fixtures which stand out for all the wrong reasons.
Reigning champions Milan may be widely considered as the most technically gifted in the land, but they’ve struggled badly to impose themselves against sides who are around their level. They amassed just five points from their six ties and their only win came against Roma. Nevertheless, one has to treat the Rossoneri’s results with some caution.
Milan’s problems at the start of the campaign were evident. They had injuries, out of form players and they were a shadow of the side who won the Serie A title last term. It was during their period of unwanted abstinence that four of their first five League games of the campaign came against Lazio, Napoli, Udinese and Juventus. Those ties yielded two points.
The reading doesn’t get much better across the San Siro divide. Inter may have beaten the Rossoneri in Week 18, but games against Roma, Napoli, Juventus and Udinese before that had delivered just a single point. Only Sunday’s unconvincing win over Lazio saw their points tally in this engineered table rise to a respectable seven.
Worryingly though for the Nerazzurri is the fact they’ll face five away games between now and the end of the championship, while their ‘home’ tie will not hold as big an advantage as it usually would when they entertain Milan at their shared Stadio Meazza. That tie will take place in May during the penultimate round of the campaign, a game whose three points could just prove to be the biggest of the season.
|Club||P||W||D||L||PH||PA||Pts||% of total pts|
PH – Matches played at home
PA – Matches played away
*Roma’s total points come from 18 games after their abandoned match at Catania