It has often been the case that in one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues, that by this time of the year, the Old Lady are well on their way to sewing up the title. This season however, as Christmas is upon us, there is a different tale that has certainly thrown up a few surprises. At the turn of the year there may well be a new team in town, especially after Juventus and Napoli clash this Friday and the result of that game may give a clue as to where the Scudetto is heading.
Juventus are serial title winners, six in a row as it stands, and they will not be wanting to loosen their grip on a possible seventh. Despite losing players of substantial note, they have simply adapted and with consummate ease retained their crown. This ability to win the title, often in second gear, has been built on a solid base of experience, tactical intelligence and the undying hunger to consistently prove that they are Italy’s biggest team.
In recent years the ability to tie up the domestic championship has allowed them to concentrate on their Holy Grail, the Champions League. This is almost an obsession within the club and at times the focus has seen them slip up in the league. This has often been met with a huge reaction, as they destroy their next opponent, but things seem to be changing.
There is no disputing that certain players are getting towards the end of their career and that means they are transitioning again. They have lost twice, unlike Napoli and Inter, and conceded 14 times, a goal per game. They are however the league’s top scorers with an astonishing 40 goals and if they can beat the Partenopei, then it will be hard to write them off.
Napoli will be aware of this impending threat as they look to get their hands on their first title since 1990. If this can be achieved, then the celebrations in Naples will last well into next season and only Vesuvius erupting could trump it for noise.
It is this absolute need to win the title that could be their Achilles Heel, as the pressure from now on will only increase. Maurizio Sarri will be aware that whilst his team are flying right now, the mental strength of his team will be tested as the season progresses and the San Paolo becomes even more electric.
Napoli so far are unbeaten and have won 12 times, drawing only twice. They also, along with Roma, have the best defensive records, but don’t let this fool you. Sarri’s team may have more steel compared to their cavaliering exploits last season, but that doesn’t mean they are less entertaining. On the contrary, they are one of the best teams to watch in Europe and this ‘Sarri-style football’ has many gripped, as their collective brand of utilitarian football which sees all in the team working as a cohesive unit, gloriously transitioning from attack to defence with a poetic fluidity, also has a razor-sharp edge.
Perhaps like Juventus, however, European ambition may hamper the domestic campaign. Whilst the Old Lady seem distracted by the Champions League, it’s arguable the Neapolitans don’t have the strength in depth to cope with it.
No title race can be talked of this year without mentioning both Inter and Roma in dispatches. The Nerazzurri started the campaign looking to break into the Champions League, but find themselves at present unbeaten and not at all ‘Pazza’. Luciano Spalletti is revelling in his new appointment as, whilst not playing the most entertaining brand of football, they are becoming ruthless and pragmatic, almost like the Juventus of old. Their main issue is the health of their assassin-like striker Mauro Icardi. His goal tally has carried the squad and if he were to suffer an injury then the goals may dry up.
Roma are perhaps the dark horses this year. They started slowly but efficiently under new Coach Eusebio Di Francesco, they have the joint best defence and were very unlucky to lose against both Inter and Napoli. They are now adding style to their game and, whilst they are seven points off the top of the table with a game in hand, they will be happy to quietly go about their business.
With one of the most open races for the Scudetto in years, perhaps head to heads between the contenders could prove key.