Strength in depth is often cited as the key component for a successful team in modern football. With the fixture list so densely-packed, being able to rest, chop and change without losing quality is essential. Napoli having problems with this was entirely predictable, but few expected Roma to be the paragon of squad rotation virtue.
Eusebio Di Francesco has done an amazing job with the Giallorossi. It was assumed the level of the team had dropped and they replaced Luciano Spalletti with a Coach unaccustomed to balancing two or more tournaments, so surely this meant resting any stars would inevitably weaken the side so much that they couldn’t maintain results. Instead, Roma have rotated more than any other outfit and proved beyond doubt that when there is a specific game-plan, everyone who comes in knows what to do. All this has been achieved without Patrik Schick, Emerson Palmieri and Rick Karsdorp, who would provide even more alternatives.
Napoli simply do not have understudies for most of their key players and you cannot use the same XI every three days. It’s no coincidence that the Partenopei dropped points in Serie A this season only twice: both straight after a Champions League clash with Manchester City. Chievo were content to sit back, soak up pressure and plug every gap for 90 minutes, aware Sarri’s side didn’t have the energy left to move the ball around at their usual pace.
Inter have used the same starting line-up for the last five games and should really have made more of that massive advantage. Stalling at the Stadio San Paolo is one thing, but dropping points with Bologna and Torino is not the record of champions. In a way, Spalletti and Sarri are dealing with the same problem, as having players guaranteed a starting spot breeds complacency.
That’s not something you’ll see at Juventus, where Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi, Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado are constantly jostling for position. Yet while Max Allegri rotates, his players forever seem to be grumbling, whereas Roma, Lazio, Sampdoria and even Atalanta are like a big, happy family ready to share the work-load. They all look part of one unit with one way of playing. I don’t get that impression from watching Juve or Milan.
There are teams that are built on talent and others constructed around ideas. Combine the two and you have a winning side. No matter how much Vincenzo Montella says they are growing into their identity, his Milan is very clearly a collection of talented players with no idea what they’re supposed to be doing. For all the money spent, it’s Suso who keeps bailing them out and the winger was again instrumental in the 2-0 victory away to shambolic Sassuolo. Imagine how well he’d be playing if Milan stopped trying to crowbar him into this 3-4-2-1 system?
Having said all of this, the pessimism that has suddenly sprung up around Napoli is bizarre. Juventus moved to within a point of the leaders and already it’s talked about as a crisis, the fans and media throwing their hands up at the conclusion it’ll be a seventh straight Scudetto for the Old Lady. All rather premature, isn’t it? Sarri’s side will go out of Europe early and take that hit, because everyone knows they only care about the Serie A title. I’m still tipping the Partenopei to end the long wait for silverware.
The relegation battle won’t be as cut-and-dried as some may think. Crotone have already begun the climb back up the standings, while Sassuolo and Genoa won’t be in the bottom four forever. Verona were unlucky in defeat at Cagliari and SPAL continue to put in strong performances, giving Atalanta a real scare in Bergamo. Above all, if Benevento can just find a centre-forward who scores goals, they can still have their say this season, Amato Ciciretti’s free kick at the Allianz Juventus Stadium was only a taster.