Sunday January 7 2018
Wk20: No surprises

We're into the second half of the season, so Lazio and Atalanta have earned the right not to be called surprises anymore, writes Susy Campanale.

There comes a time when teams and players stop being surprises and start getting treated as the real deal. Lazio and Atalanta, step on up, you’ve been promoted to the status of sides you expect to fight for a top four finish. Being a traditionally ‘big’ club is fairly irrelevant at this stage, because no matter how much certain Coaches might complain or strategically cover their ambitions, money does not buy success.

Atalanta sold half their squad over the last year, even sending Roberto Gagliardini to Inter in January 2017, and still grabbed fourth place. They’ve only built on that this time around, as losing Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti mattered not a jot to Gian Piero Gasperini. La Dea made a mockery of packed fixture lists and strength in depth, topping their Europa League group and reaching the Coppa Italia Semi-Finals.

Was it really a surprise to see Atalanta beat Roma at the Stadio Olimpico? They’ve earned the right to expect that kind of result over the past 18 months and Gasperini’s men will only get stronger after this two-week break to recharge the batteries. Dominant displays away to Milan, Napoli, Everton and Roma are no fluke.

The same goes for Lazio and Ciro Immobile, who flew to the top of the Capocannoniere charts with four goals in a SPAL thriller. Alright, the Aquile will win no awards for defending, but they can out-score anyone and entertain the crowds as they go along their merry way. Luis Alberto and Immobile were forgotten men, pushed by the wayside at bigger clubs, as they just needed to find their confidence again.

Simone Inzaghi, the tactician who wasn’t meant to be in charge of Lazio for more than a few weeks, has transformed a team that is going from strength to strength. Selling Lucas Biglia to Milan for €17m plus bonuses was a work of genius, or perhaps just Massimiliano Mirabelli getting fleeced yet again. Just like Atalanta, Lazio sold off big players such as Biglia and Wesley Hoedt only to push through in the Europa League and reach the Coppa Italia Semi-Finals after beating Juventus to the Italian Super Cup in August.

Lazio and Atalanta would do well not to set limits on themselves, because whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Some clubs, on the other hand, simply cannot handle the weight of expectation.

Inter and Roma must be eternal underdogs, otherwise they just don’t deliver. When little was expected of them, these sides surprised with strong performances, shock results and talk of being Scudetto contenders. The moment they are given the role of favourites in any clash, they crumble.

At least Eusebio Di Francesco is new to this level of scrutiny, but Luciano Spalletti has been through it all before at the Olimpico and repeating the same pattern now at San Siro. Why choose to go from one club with a similar ingrained mentality issue and go straight to another? Spalletti is like that girl in a romcom who keeps choosing the wrong man over and over again.

Speaking of the wrong man: Joao Mario. If the trip to Fiorentina was meant to be his shop window, he’ll end up in the bargain basement bin with House of Cards DVDs. We can only hope he played that badly to force a January transfer, because it’s genuinely disconcerting to see someone with so little regard for his profession.

Napoli were in the same boat as Inter and Roma when it came to crumbling under pressure, of course, but Maurizio Sarri may well be changing that. I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m cheering on the Partenopei this season, as I believe they’re worthy Scudetto winners and deserve at least some recognition for the scintillating football they’re capable of producing. The fact they haven’t been playing particularly well of late and are still winning is the attitude of champions, something this club hasn’t had for decades.

It’s no surprise to see Juventus scrape wins, of course, because that is their modus operandi. Cagliari were extremely unfortunate not to get a point out of their game, not least for that Federico Bernardeschi handball. I warned pre-season that VAR would only exacerbate existing paranoia in Italian football and I’ve unfortunately been proved right. We need clear guidelines on when it is used and the parameters for handling offences, but even then we’ll never get absolute agreement. Technology can ascertain offsides and whether a challenge was inside the penalty area, the rest is inevitably subjective and therefore open to debate.

I’m cheering on Napoli this season, but also Benevento. We’ve seen Crotone make that extraordinary comeback last term to secure safety on the last day, so imagine if Le Streghe could do it after scraping all of one point in the opening 18 rounds? And their hero is Massimo Coda, a 29-year-old striker in his first top flight experience following a career of bouncing around lower leagues. Now that really would be a surprise.

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Have your say...
Week 20 shone in particular thanks to the great performance of Bernardeschi.
It just goes to show, and prove, the amazing depth and excellence of the Juventus squad.
Truly TOP "spogliatoio" in Italy!
on the 13th January, 2018 at 3:22pm
(5) The last time Milan played a back three was when Stam came circa 2004-06. And Milan looked totally lost. It was him, Nesta and Maldini at the back and even with these world class players, they were playing miserably – it just didn’t suit the players. What happened was that they moved Maldini to LB. And restored their back 4 once more. The only coach right now I would feel comfortable applying a back 3 is Conte. Even your boy Montella has abandoned back 3s at Sevilla.
on the 11th January, 2018 at 7:19pm
(4) This idea that CBs shouldn’t rotate is a faulty one. If one of your three CBs gets injured what happens? You just throw on someone who hasn’t played any games, isn’t match fit or dare I say …. rotated? It’s so silly. Man Utd have been doing this for years. We’ve seen when Blaily got injured, Jones or Rojo can fill in. Most proper squads do this to prevent burn out, injuries and to deal with suspensions/absences.
on the 11th January, 2018 at 7:18pm
(3) I can also say Barca, City, Madrid x 2, Man Utd, PSG all play a back four and are successful with it. Therefore we should adopt it. All those team with 2 CBs have a capable back up. Barca’s Umtiti and Pique backed up by Masch. City’s Mangala and Otamendi backed up by Kompany/Stones. All teams which could effectively play a back three if they wanted to, right? Easy peasy. Jeez talk about insight
on the 11th January, 2018 at 7:18pm
(2) Milan have the problem on both ends – frequent change of coaches and frequent change of players. The idea that other squads are successful with a back three – therefore we should be able to play a back three is a foolish one. I can make the same argument for a back four. Namely, I could say all of the teams which are leading the top 5 divisions in Europe are playing a back four and we should play that too.
on the 11th January, 2018 at 7:17pm
(1) @Maldini first of all "..I think your posts are as insightful as your username" how ironic, right?
Second, all the squads you named (Lazio, Atalanta, Juve, Chelsea, Tott and Arsenal) have one thing in common - they have been together for a very very long time - the latter 4 moreso than the formers. They also have coaches (with the exception of Lazio) who have been with the squad training the same players for a very long time.
on the 11th January, 2018 at 7:15pm
Not worth the trouble, but funny nonetheless.

So by your logic, Juventus are the best CL team for losing it fairly while Real must have bribed their way to so many wins? Or do you actually believe no club other than Juventus bribe when others are so much richer with so much more trophies? And the real winners aren't the champions but the ones who don't get crowned?

Anyway, whatever helps you sleep at night.
on the 10th January, 2018 at 9:09pm
So Juve bribe all their way to the CL final. Then suddenly at the final game UEFA is beyond corruption or Juve run out of money.
I think the correlation a sane person would see, is you have a team that can match it Europe and the rest of serie A, except for a couple of unlucky runs by Napoli, struggle in Europe. Some struggle to qualify. This year the capital sides and Atalanta have been doing Serie A proud.
on the 10th January, 2018 at 2:03am
@Pina nope losing just means you are a loser and losing all the time just means you are consistently lame. Complaining about losing bec of cheating all the time just means you are a weird idiot that does not know anything about who started match fixing in the first place. Jeez you fools are really boring now. Anyways its the age of social media so i cant really blame you for whining and crying. Stop being ignorant,sad and stupid just bec you really want to win something and can't.
on the 10th January, 2018 at 1:49am
Where's the love for Lazio and Crotone not getting penalties against Inter and Napoli respectively. Everyone has biases but some consistency keeps yourself sane.
I don't think Inter should have got a penalty against Juve. The very similar instance in Inter-Lazio I don't think Lazio should have got a penalty. The key word is "deliberate" handball.
Keep yourself sane PINO.
on the 10th January, 2018 at 1:42am
@Anon Losing fairly is better than cheating to win, the only way Juve wins anything!
on the 9th January, 2018 at 9:44pm
@ pina what a great response we have only heard it 1000000 times before and the only reason is because your team is probably sucking and you cant see a way out for them because you cant even remember the last time they won anything at all.
on the 9th January, 2018 at 8:49pm
Coincidence that Juve keeps losing the CL? Of course not! It's the only trophy they can't bribe their way into winning!
on the 9th January, 2018 at 6:03pm
Nobody, but nobody, can argue the fact that Juventus has a formidable squad. We are doing very well, especially considering what has happened to our co-finalists in the CL Final.
Infact Real Madrid alternate great matches to quite a few unexpected defeats. Juventus has consistency and a winning mentality to match.
on the 9th January, 2018 at 2:33am
@ PrimoCalcio Our worst results this season have all come playing 433. We lost 3:0 to Verona playing 433. If I really thought that Gattuso would be with us until the end of the season I'd probably back him but I don't see him lasting beyond the Roma game in February. We'll be lucky to get 9 points out of the 18 available between now and then. The main reason I'm bashing Gattuso is because I actually blame Fassone and Mirabelli. It's not Gattuso's fault he's unqualified.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 11:07pm
Yo Maldini's Heir and PrimoCalcio!

Both of you are correct. Milan can't play 3-5-2 atm and the reason is coming from the coach and the players. Just take a look at Juve, 4-2-3-1 is a failure this season no matter how much Allegri want it to work out since he's too afraid to bench Mandzukic which begins to look lazy. Now Juve is playing 4-3-2-1, 3-5-2, and 4-3-3. It works and now Juve are back in business.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 4:04pm
@MaldiniHeir Bonucci has excelled in a back 4 too. So has Romagnoli, Rodriquez, Musacchio.
352 is still theoretical because the back 3 hasn't produced results for Milan this season.
We're stuck with Rino for the rest of this season, and in that context I think it makes logical sense to go with the formation that is getting us the best results atm, which is the 433.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 3:40pm
Susy, go back to eating lemons. Your bias is embarrassing and beneath the standard for Football Italia journalism. 6 league titles on the bounce and 2 CL finals in 3 years. Yes, scraping wins...obviously.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 11:34am
@ PrimoCalcio But it's not theoretical because the likes of Bonucci, Rodriguez, Kessie and Biglia have all excelled in teams that played with 3 at the back. Before they joined Milan. And this is the crux of the issue, Once again we see players come to Milan and their careers fall to pieces. How many times is this going to happen? I'm sick of hearing about formations and players, it all comes back to the manager. We have the worst manager in the league ATM.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 11:16am
@MAldiniHeir but don't you think he's raised some good points? Just because 3 at the back works well for some other sides doesn't mean it'll work for Milan. I agree, in theory we have some players well suited to 352, but that is only theoretical and not what we've seen on the pitch this season.
352 also hurts Suso, our most reliable attacker, without doubt.
Leo and Alessio are our starting CBs, Musa is competition and cover! This is ideal. Nobody said rotate.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 6:19am
The embarrassment is all yours Pino. If that is what you truly believe don't watch. Find a pure amateur league, no betting scandals there.If you are so disgusted at corruption, campaign against organised crime, protection money, human trafficking etc. The commentary I watch said Cagliari had the ball so they themselves could have put the ball out for Pavoletti. Berna was ball to arm so not deliberate. A VAR appeal quota might stop all the arguing on the pitch. VAR needs to be more efficient.
on the 8th January, 2018 at 1:26am
@ Maldini's better heir Apart from the fact that Lazio and Atalanta (and Juve, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal) are able to playing 3 at the back, 3 at the back suits nearly every player in the squad, Milan's biggest defeats this season have all come playing with a back 4 and CBs should never be rotated, I think your posts are as insightful as your username.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 11:10pm
Before VAR:
Juve, you cheat! We need VAR! I believe Juve won't win in Italy with VAR on.

After VAR:
Juve, you cheat! You are suppossed to lose many games with VAR on. You must buy referees to win your matches, what an embarassment.

Loosers always complain and Juve keep movin.

P.S: Giancarlo, my son, Where are you hiding? I know Milan are embarassment but you don't have to hide yourself only because you thought Milan will win Serie A and Europa League with Bonucci's arrival. lol
on the 7th January, 2018 at 10:30pm
Susy is so anti-Juve, that it is not even funny anymore :) There have been the same episodes in favor of Napoli, read this very same webpage a couple of weeks back.

Napoli - out of CL, out of Coppa = mesmerizing football

Juve - fighting on three fronts, having the best attack and goal difference and integrating successfully 6-7 new players a year = scraping through

What kind of logic is that?
on the 7th January, 2018 at 10:11pm
@Pino Berna 'handball' non-existent. Benatia elbow should have been carded. But you really want to go down that route of incidents that have gone against Juve? Whatever, from your post you have nothing to bring to the table, just like the rest of the whinging brigade.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 9:30pm
No surprise Juve has to rely on cheating to win games either.

Keep buying those scudetti, boys! 33 Bought and purchased from bribes, 0 won on the field.

What an embarrassment.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 7:09pm
the new players, Milan had to play an entirely new formation which they clearly did not look comfy in…game in game out every week.And it was horrible to watch. So, to suggest going back to a back three is just nuts. There is no reason why Milan cant play a back 2. We have three proper CBs that can rotate (Bonucci, Romag and Muss).The rest are just deadweights tbh. If you play a 3, when one gets injured you have to play one of Zapata, Gomez or Paletta…all of which lowers the quality significantly
on the 7th January, 2018 at 6:10pm
If that was the case everyone should be playing a 4-3-3 like Barca, right? No, it’s not just the formation but the interpretation of the formation. But let’s say formations matter and they do to a certain extent, it is clear Milan is more comfortable with 4 at the back. That was the one mistake Montella made that cost him his job. He forgot what made the team successful in the first place last year. This year, on top of all the new players, Milan had to play an entirely new formation
on the 7th January, 2018 at 6:08pm
@Maldini's heir, every damn article on FI we have to read the same thing over and over again. We get it, you want Milan to play 3 at the back. Dumbest thing boggles my mind how one can be a proponent of a back three, did you not see how badly Milan played with three at the back for like the entire first half of the season??? You guys who like to throw up formations like that is the be all end all simply dont know football.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 6:06pm
with Suso so that you play 3-4-3. That only leaves a choice between one of Cutrone, Silva and Kalinic. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. So Gattuso has managed to scrape enough to keep his job before the break, I predict a maximum of 4 points from the next 3 games and then I can't seem him doing any better than Montella during the really tough run of fixtures against the top teams. That will leave us in the bottom half of the table. What a season.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 9:32am

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