There has been something seismic going on in Italy of late. After a Juventus Scudetto monopoly which has lasted longer than many marriages, we suddenly do not appear to have a single dominant side in the division. That might be the source of regret to a few Bianconeri but, for fans of other sides and most neutral observers, it has felt as refreshing as opening a window in an attic full of decade-old cobwebs.
We all knew, deep down, that this would be an unusual championship anyway. Coronavirus, no crowds and its belated beginning have meant that the background to our favourite game has become somewhat unfamiliar. It is no surprise, then, that the established order has been shaken up a little in Serie A, a phenomenon echoed in a number of other major leagues across the continent.
It could, of course, all be just as transitory as the flakes floating in a snow globe. Maybe, by the time summer rolls around, all the old superpowers will be settled back where they belong. But, in the meantime, we are allowed to enjoy this unusual arrangement to the placings at the top of the table. There is rarely a weekend goes by when some side with a big reputation is not cut down to size by a less illustrious rival. It has made the whole thing, whisper it, a little less tedious.
I think I can hear, perhaps, a little bristling sound at all of this preamble emanating from the city of Milan. If there has been any preeminent side this campaign then it has surely been the Rossoneri who sit proudly on top of Italy’s footballing spaghetti bowl. Their followers have been understandably, and perhaps justifiably, irked by the doubts being piled upon their title credentials. Yet their league record suggests, in these opening salvoes anyway, that they could be the real deal.
However, it is only fair to say there have to be some reservations about whether they can last the course, even among diehard fans of the San Siro side. This squad looks the strongest in a while but we have seen previous recent revivals of this great club disappear in the Lombardy mist. And, despite an undeniably strong finish to last season, they were still a good distance adrift of a Juve outfit who chucked away points in the closing weeks. It would be a turnaround rarely witnessed in Calcio if they could walk away with the Scudetto this time around. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, simply that we are allowed a dash of dubiety about whether Stefano Pioli’s men can go the distance. It is a statement which is surely no slur on the history of a club which clearly has plenty of silverware in its pedigree.
These question marks have made every round of Serie A so far like something of a mystery tour. You would think Juventus were guaranteed a win at Crotone, but think again. You might expect Inter to cruise past Parma, but you would be wrong. And teams that dish out a thumping one week seem just as likely to receive one themselves a few days later. The proverbial coupon-buster has become a commonplace occurrence in these opening exchanges.
That has allowed a little revelation like Sassuolo to climb so high that their fans must be getting dizzy. Nobody seriously believes they could take the title but they are playing nicely without any pressure of expectation. That is not the case for a lot of the sides round about them.
It is Juventus, of course, who have left this power vacuum but only a fool would write off their prospects. Despite a sluggish start under Andrea Pirlo they remain the strongest squad in the division by some margin and, if they begin to click, will surely set the bar higher than they do at present. But the longer it takes for them to find an identity under one of the greatest players of his generation, the more others can take advantage. Who knows what state La Vecchia Signora will find her house in when she finally wakes from her slumber?
You could definitely make a case for Napoli and Roma’s title prospects on the strength of their results so far, while Atalanta have intermittently delivered some of the best football in the division. Inter still believe they can compete at the top and although Lazio have continued their post-lockdown struggles they are still a quality side. Add to that a Verona team which has been happy to take points from the big boys and you end up with the top half of the division, pretty much, all piled within a half-dozen points of one another.
What it will all ultimately mean, who knows? Could it finally be an end to Juve’s hegemony? Perhaps. Might it deliver a romantic Scudetto for some side from the provinces? Maybe. Will we see more results we don’t expect? Almost certainly. Football without fans still makes for a most watery broth but the lack of a real powerhouse thus far has at least added a little flavour to the stock. Someone might yet emerge to dominate the scene but, for now, let’s just sit back and enjoy a campaign which delivers a new shock every single weekend.