After six years of absolute Juventus domination, we’d almost forgotten what it was like to have a genuine title race. Now everything is on a knife edge and needs only the tiniest nudge to go one way or the other.
It’s so tight at the top that Inter can slide from first to third in 24 hours, despite it being their first defeat of the season. Milan can go from beating Verona 3-0 in the Coppa Italia to losing against the same side by an identical scoreline in the space of four days. Roma can go from disastrous result to much-needed victory in the final 90 seconds.
When the situation is so finely-balanced, the key is keeping your head and not going over the edge at the first sign of a wobble. This is something Inter have famously failed at over the years and we have the first real test of Luciano Spalletti’s side. Udinese were not the team anyone expected to inflict the first loss on the Nerazzurri, which is also probably why they achieved what no other side had managed thus far. Complacency was already setting in during the midweek Coppa Italia stalemate with Serie C outfit Pordenone – who funnily enough are also from the Friuli region – and it took hold a few days later.
What everyone is waiting to find out now is will Inter react by rediscovering that early season determination or go on their traditional December-January slide?
Napoli have already had their wobble and seem to have recovered admirably. It was the old Partenopei tearing Torino apart and 3-1 is a very flattering scoreline in the circumstances. Even Marek Hamsik found the net and finally put paid to that Diego Maradona record weighing on him. We were almost beginning to feel nostalgia for the days of yore, when Hamsik didn’t blast everything over the bar.
Unfortunately, it was the same old Milan at the Bentegodi, proving the last couple of outings were a mere blip rather than the norm. When push comes to shove, this is a side that clearly has no plan. The movements are random, the tactics abandoned at the first sign of trouble and using right-sided striker Fabio Borini as a left-back is just taking the mickey. Anyone can spend €200m and fling players on to the field like Subbuteo pieces, but it doesn’t make them an effective team.
The great thing about Lazio is that even with top scorer Ciro Immobile suspended, they still play the same way and get similar results. Their dropped points increasingly look like freak occurrences rather than the norm and that is the sign of a side with an identity.
Roma have a very specific shape too, but shoe-horning Patrik Schick into it isn’t proving quite so simple. He’ll get there in due course, it’s just a matter of whether the Giallorossi can afford to wait for it to happen without dropping too many points. The performance against Cagliari was almost as dire as that Diego Perotti penalty and a last-gasp Federico Fazio bundle over the line won’t change that fact.
It’s not just at the top of the table where the situations are this tight, because SPAL fought back to beat doomed Benevento and catch Genoa in the standings, while Crotone earned their first victory under Walter Zenga. Even Sassuolo have been revitalised since the arrival of Beppe Iachini, inflicting another shock setback on a Sampdoria side that had a perfect home record until a couple of weeks ago, but has now lost two on the bounce at Marassi.
The neutrals were very glad to see it was the same old Atalanta-Lazio, which ended 4-3 last season and was only one goal shy of that this time around. It’s never dull between two of the most attack-minded, well-organised and impressive teams in Serie A. They both represent a marvellous advert for Italian football in the Europa League and provided another welcome showcase for Calcio.