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...
we can play 3 at the back with 3 fairly complimentary players (Bonucci is a natural sweeper and Musacchio and Romagnoli naturally fit either side) and 3 at the back makes up for all of their main weakness (pace). Meanwhile 3 at the back releases the FBs to do what their best at - attacking. It allows Biglia to sit and Kessie to run up and down knowing he's got 4 defensive players behind him. Who knows you might even get away with playing Çalhanoğlu and Bonaventura together as two trequartiste or
on the 7th January, 2018 at 9:29am
with a pacey player then you combine their strengths (passing) with another player's strength (pace) and voilà you have a combination. But what exactly is going to happen when Bonaventura passes to Çalhanoğlu or visa versa? Nothing. One of the many problems with 4-3-3 is we end up either player the mis-combination (made up word) of Bonaventura/Çalhanoğlu or lower to mid-table sensation Borini (whose only strength is hard work). While it's not ideal having 3 first choice CBs it does mean that
on the 7th January, 2018 at 9:24am
Cutrone we sign Kalinic. When we have Musacchio and Romagnoli we sign Bonucci. And of course when we have Bonaventura we sign Çalhanoğlu. There's simply no point in Bonaventura and Çalhanoğlu being on the pitch at the same time. They have the exact same strengths (technical, passing, playing between the lines, cut inside from the left with their right foot) and weaknesses (lack of pace and strength and lack of defensive cover). So in the end they cancel each other out. If you put one of them
on the 7th January, 2018 at 9:18am
Who-hoo scraped a win over Crotone....One of the many problems with Milan over the last few years is our tendency to sign players with too many similar characteristics. Since every player has strengths and weaknesses the idea should be that you combine players in a way that makes up for those weaknesses. Instead Milan tend to sign players with all of the same strengths and all of the same weaknesses. Clever, I know. So when we have Monty and Locatelli we sign Biglia, When we have Silva and
on the 7th January, 2018 at 9:12am
Whoever called Lazio surprise is totally ignorant of facts and truth for one and half year.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 8:59am
Of course when Napoli have decisions go their way, nothing is said. When it's Juventus, VAR isn't good enough.
And you call THAT a scrape? Then again:

"I’m cheering on Napoli this season"
Yep. Thanks for your input.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 6:49am
Well yeah....................... It was a huge surprise to see "LA DEA" putting one past Roma.........
Not that I mind!
On the contrary, I truly enjoyed the fall of the Romans...............
However, as it spoiled 2 of my 5 trebles for the Saturday's thrills & bets, it was a mega surprise for sure!
What can I say?
You can't win them all!
Still, I'm over the moon about Bernardeschi gollazzo!
So.......... shame that at Trigoria they are all as sick as a parrot.........
NOT !!!
on the 7th January, 2018 at 5:44am
If Cagliari want to complain, let them. They played the advantage when Pavoletti was "fouled" and then complain when Juve get possession and score. On the "Penalty" they thought they had. Two things, Berna was bringing his arm to his body, AND on the replay he wasn't in the box when it hit his arm. They went over all this with ex refs on Premium sport. Keep crying.
on the 7th January, 2018 at 5:40am

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