Benevento Coach Marco Baroni said it all after a 6-0 defeat at the Stadio San Paolo: “There was simply too much Napoli for us to deal with.” Maurizio Sarri’s men are a handful for most opponents, but this weekend saw the line blurred between minnows and cannon fodder. It’s the first time since 1960-61 that three teams have a perfect record after four rounds in Serie A. This is not a positive statistic.
Back in October 1960, it was Inter, Juventus and Roma who were out in front at this stage. This time around, Napoli have replaced the Giallorossi in that trio, but the basic problem remains the same. Are they just that much better than the chasing pack or are their opponents that much worse?
Statistics aside, when looking at the performances in Week 4, they made sorry viewing. Benevento were decimated by injuries and never had a chance, but Hellas Verona were granted no such excuse for their truly execrable showing against Roma. This was a side beaten 5-0 by Fiorentina last week and should by rights have lost 8-0 at the Olimpico, had Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko taken even half their chances.
This Verona outfit is genuinely worse than the Pescara that was swept aside last season. Like the Delfini, they were promoted from Serie B and celebrated by changing most of the team and their playing style. It’s a recipe for disaster. Fabio Pecchia’s days are numbered and the players even managed to tackle each other in the box, which has to be some sort of first.
What is the point of having these teams in the top flight? They just take up time, space and money. We’d be doing everyone a favour – including Hellas – if they just handed over the points along with the pre-match pennants and went home, sparing us the 90 minutes of football massacre. The way they played on Saturday, I think they’d actually take that offer.
It is often said that the reason for Italian teams struggling in Europe is that Serie A doesn’t make them accustomed to tough tests. I always shrugged off this idea as ridiculous, but on the strength of the last few weeks, they may well have a point. We don’t have the resources or committed fanbase of the Premier League, so stop trying to copy their business model. There are too many clubs in Italy and not enough money or consequently talent to go around. Serie A must be reduced to 18 teams, or ideally the 16 it was in the league’s heyday, therefore cutting out the cannon fodder, spreading the resources more equitably and reducing the packed fixture list.
At least calcio is once again a haven of impressive hitmen. You can’t accuse Serie A of being boring when there are 34 goals in one round, hat-tricks for Paulo Dybala and Dries Mertens, plus Ciro Immobile and Nikola Kalinic proving an old-fashioned centre-forward can make a huge difference to a team. The Capocannoniere race is going to be more fascinating than ever this season, even if it means having to look at Mauro Icardi’s bleached bonce.
Here again, the quality gap just keeps growing. Look towards the foot of the table and you’ll see some pitiful numbers. Crotone are yet to score a single goal, Sassuolo got two, Verona and Benevento have one apiece. Dybala alone has scored as many goals as the bottom five clubs put together.
This situation benefits nobody. Verona fans aren’t simply glad to be in the top flight again, they are embarrassed at being put through 38 weeks of humiliation. It’s just too much for the smaller sides to handle and too little to really test the big guns.