Once upon a time, all Serie A games kicked off together and nobody had to play catch-up. Who knows if there have been Scudetto races decided simply by the order in which fixtures were played? Certainly Antonio Conte’s Inter gave a first indication that they might be psychologically stronger than recent Nerazzurri sides by seizing back the league leadership and seeing off Lazio a day after Juventus had toppled them from the summit.
Nobody is jumping to any serious conclusions after just five games, but it felt like an early hint of a bright day to come for the Milanese side. This was a stern test against Simone Inzaghi’s troops, who were regularly denied by Samir Handanovic. In days gone by, they might have folded, but this time around they showed the interior strength and resolve to get the job done.
They are not the finished article, by any means, and the gap to the Bianconeri last term is a conspicuous one to bridge. Nonetheless, there is a robustness about their approach which looks like their title dreams need not be as ephemeral as they have been of late. We need more proof, for sure, but the initial evidence is of a side that can deliver results rather than be blown off course by the first puff of an ill wind. Tougher times will come, but this suggested an ability to cope with adversity which has not been all that evident in recent years.
This was a significant victory against a good team and that will have pleased their new Coach most. He praised the strength of character they showed, particularly in the second half, to pick up the three points. One goal conceded in their opening five fixtures is a sign of that determination and mentality. There is still a lot of work to be done, for sure, but this is a club that looks to be on the right path at last. Anyone who has wished for more than one challenger to Juve’s hegemony will be grateful for that.
Mind you, the other most credited contender suffered an unexpected setback when it slipped to defeat at home to Cagliari. Carlo Ancelotti was quick to say he was not worried by the loss, but it was still something of a shock for Napoli. He has a squad which produces beautiful football, but that is not always accompanied by results. They will need to find consistency - and a dash of Inter’s inner steel - if they want to keep pace with those leading the pack right now. Maybe it was beating the reigning champions of Europe that made them take their eye off the ball against their more modest Sardinian visitors.
Exactly the opposite appears to have happened in Bergamo, where they have bounced back from a Champions League disaster in some style. Their comeback against Fiorentina was gutsy, but a victory in Rome was top class. This Atalanta team is a fine-tuned unit which seems set to continue with the quality performances it produced last season. Surely they will do themselves greater justice in continental competition in due course.
At the bottom of the table there was a sigh of relief in Florence as the Viola finally recorded a league win after 220 days. They were well worth their triumph, which sent their opponents Sampdoria into last place, but they did make supporters sweat by conceding a late goal against their 10-man rivals. Just the same, the double act of Franck Ribery and Federico Chiesa was in fine form. Some have dismissed them as over the hill and overrated respectively, but they looked pretty decent - admittedly against struggling Doria. Things won’t get any easier for the Blucerchiati when they host high-flying Inter at the weekend.
The other teams making progress up the table were Lecce and Parma at the expense of SPAL and Sassuolo respectively. It leaves a big lump of sides on six points who could see their season flip one way or another with a couple of good or bad results. Coincidentally, their number includes both Torino and Milan, who are the last outfits in action in this midweek round.
Who can say which one of those two teams will have the mental fortitude to take advantage of playing with the knowledge of the results of all those around them? They could do worse than ask Coach Conte for a few hints on how to handle such situations.