Serie A approaches Christmas with the table delicately poised. Napoli, perhaps surprisingly, lead the way, with Juventus and Inter both within a game of the Partenopei and Roma not much further behind. The standings mean Saturday’s Juve-Roma fixture could be one of the most pivotal games of the season.
One or both of Juve and Roma will drop points and Napoli or Inter could be the real winners. The former host Sampdoria, far from a straightforward game itself, while Inter go to Sassuolo and will feel confident about taking a victory, though probably not as confident as they did before they were routed at home by Udinese. But Juventus are now predicted by some sources at 7/5 to win Serie A as they trail Napoli and could be even longer by Christmas Day.
The winter break this year doesn’t come until January 6 so the winter champions won’t be crowned until early 2018, but any psychological advantage Napoli can gain over Juventus will be welcomed at the San Paolo. Likewise, should the Old Lady return to the summit in time for Christmas then they will feel more positive about their situation. Everyone knows the table will twist and turn throughout the season but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle losing top spot.
Indeed, even if Juventus do beat Roma on the same weekend Napoli drop points against Samp, it could all change again on December 30, when Napoli are at Crotone and Juve go to Verona. Inter host Lazio that weekend while Roma are visited by Sassuolo. In such a tight title race, with four teams genuinely in contention with almost half the season played, each weekend brings a new dynamic.
Few could have predicted Inter would lose at home to Udinese this past Saturday. It was always unlikely that the Nerazzurri would go the season unbeaten so they had to lose some time, and in hindsight it was always going to be when it was least expected. Udinese, who have lost more than they have won this season, not drawn a single game and hadn’t beaten Inter in three years, shocked the San Siro. Napoli, Juve or Roma could all fall victim to something similar at almost any time.
It’s arguably in games pitting the Scudetto hopefuls against the Serie A also-rans where the title will be decided - just look at Juventus’ win over Napoli back in early December. Juve went to Naples, entered a disciplined performance and came away with the victory, but a few weeks later are still in second place. All Juve - and the rest of the chasing pack - can do is keep winning their games and hope Napoli slip up. Then the roles will be reversed and the pressure on someone else.
No team in recent Serie A history has handled that pressure better than Juventus - you don’t win six straight Scudetti if you can’t stand the heat. But this is a new situation for Juve, and for Napoli too. Roma, meanwhile, can lodge themselves firmly in the title race if they win in Turin this weekend, while Inter, having been embarrassed just a few days ago, could wake up on December 25 in the best possible position. It’s all to play for, and will be for a while.