Monday October 7 2013
The heat is on in Serie A

With Roma and Napoli setting a relentless pace, Juventus face a genuine challenge to their dreams of three-in-a-row. Giancarlo Rinaldi looks at a frenetic weekend of Serie A action.

It’s been a while since we have witnessed such a situation. The last couple of seasons have seen Antonio Conte’s all-conquering Juventus set such a testing tempo that nobody has been able to keep up with them for long. One by one, like cyclists facing a first category climb, we have watched their rivals crack. But, for now at least, we are finally watching for signs of the Bianconeri starting to suffer.

The reason for such pressure on La Vecchia Signora has been a pincer movement coming up from the south. Napoli have become a familiar foe in recent times, but a more surprising challenge has emerged from Rudi Garcia’s Roma. It is asking the Turin giants to dip into previously untapped reserves of energy and determination.

Those are characteristics, of course, which have become synonymous with Conte’s men over the past couple of years. They will feel understandably confident that they can swat away their pesky opponents once again. However, for the time being at least, they have been forced into the relatively unfamiliar position of being the pursuer rather than the pursued.

It is hard to escape a feeling this upturn in the competitiveness of Serie A as a Division might be coupled with a downturn in its reputation in Europe. A miserable midweek round of games seemed to confirm the sensation that the Italian League’s co-efficient is likely to continue to tumble quicker than Marco Borriello in the penalty box. But that did not stop the weekend from being anything other than gripping.

On Saturday night it was the Giallorossi’s resident genius Francesco Totti who took centre stage to help dismantle the Inter revival. One might well wonder what it says about the Division in wider terms when one of its star performers has ticked off 37 birthdays by now. But that should not undermine the credit he deserves as one of the finest footballers to have graced the pitch in recent years. A 300-goal career and counting is not to be sniffed at.

“To win our seventh game in a row was not easy,” said the man of the moment. “We know there is a long way to go but with this side anything is possible. Nobody expected a start to the season like this. The team is well organised with international-class players. And, with a clear head, anything is possible.” He was not ready to admit any thoughts of the Scudetto, but he did at least reckon the team could aim for a top three finish.

In Naples, it took Goran Pandev a matter of moments to break down Livorno’s resolve and smooth the way to a 4-0 stroll. Having watched him struggle to see the ball against Arsenal in the Champions League, there was a definite sense that he had found his level. A bad day at the office for up-and-coming goalkeeper Francesco Bardi clinched the deal for Rafa Benitez’s men.

That left Sunday night’s Juve-Milan clash as a key showdown for both sides. For the Rossoneri, it was a last chance to hang on to the top of the table teams while for the Bianconeri it was a key step in maintaining their goal of domestic dominance. It was Conte’s men who won a pulsating tie under often driving rain.

They slipped behind to Sulley Muntari in a matter of seconds but hauled their way back through an Andrea Pirlo free-kick and a neat finish from Sebastian Giovinco. When Phillipe Mexes saw red and Giorgio Chiellini made it three, it looked like game over but Muntari struck again to make the home side sweat a little in the closing stages. In the end, though, it was job done for the reigning champions.

“Everybody said this was a hard start for us, so I would have accepted six wins out of seven games and a draw,” said Conte. “We did well to come back and played a good game against a good Milan.”

He added that the target of three-in-a-row was a testing one. “For two years we have dominated in Italy and this year it will be very difficult,” he said. “History tells us nobody has managed this for Juve since the 1930s. We need to understand from the outset that this year will be tough.”

His opposite number tried to avoid making snap judgements after just eight points in seven matches. He has managed great comebacks before. “I would say the team played alright,” said Max Allegri. “We can’t let our heads go down. There are plenty of games to go.”

A note of honour should also go to Verona the football team, if not its supporters. A convincing thumping of troubled Bologna put Andrea Mandorlini’s men right in the mix at the top end of the table. It was 35 years since they had won in the Dall’Ara in Serie A. They have been a pleasant surprise in the upper reaches of the Division and have adapted better than any other of the newly-promoted sides. It was a shame then, that some idiotic fans decided to spoil a minute’s silence for the victims of the tragic boat sinking near Lampedusa. Every week, it seems, some side in Italy’s top flight manages to show the less savoury side of its supporters.

Elsewhere, Lazio and Fiorentina looked tired in their goalless draw in the Olimpico, there was a disallowed goal and penalty controversy in a spicy 2-2 draw between Sampdoria and Torino which satisfied neither side and Catania and Genoa also took a point each from their clash in Sicily. Meanwhile, wins for Atalanta, Udinese and Parma all saw them make welcome steps away from the drop zone. That is currently the preserve of Sampdoria, Bologna and Sassuolo. But, with six or seven sides covered by a handful of points, it looks like that fight could be just as epic as the one currently unfolding to decide the Scudetto honours.

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Have your say...
I doubt teams like Roma and Napoli can realistically wrestle the scudetti down south; for no other reason than the officials obviously don't want that to happen. In recent seasons Roma have consistently been the team to suffer the biggest points swing deficit due to poor calls, while Juve, always the favourite when someone tumbles in the box,has already been gifted four points in the opening seven fixtures. If the season continues in a similar fashion, that's more than a 20 point head-start.
on the 11th October, 2013 at 8:02am
With only 7 games played i doubt that the heat is on in Serie A..
Either way i doubt Roma are truly title contenders, only if they remain top come January and buy wisely during the January transfer window then i will consider them title contenders. Napoli with Benitez lack an identity to win the title. Next season maybe but this season they will push Juve to the end but it will take a miracle for them to win. Juve are my favorites but not certain winners. CL could be their downfall.
on the 9th October, 2013 at 12:11pm
You're right Maldini's Heir, 4312 is fine. The trouble is that Allegri keeps playing the wrong players in the hole. Monty doesn't like playing in that position, & so keeps on dropping deeper, which renders the system a 4132,( where the strikers are isolated). Surely it makes sense to use a 433 whilst both Kaka & Saponara are out? Niang deserves to be given game time. I think that it is time for a change as Milan need some fresh ideas.
on the 9th October, 2013 at 10:35am
Really hope Cesare uses these games to test out new things. I would have called Ogbonna, Roncaglia, Cassano and Gabbiadini. Di Natale and SES are other options, although SES is injured at present. Hoping for 2 good performances to wrap up qualification in style, can't wait to see Rossi. He will be very fired up. I am not a fan of Sirigu but to be fair he has been playing well for a while now at PSG. Buffon shouldn't play both games as shouldn't Pirlo there is no need, try others out.
on the 9th October, 2013 at 10:09am
First 7 games:

Roma - Livorno, Verona, Parma, LAZIO, Samp, Bologna, INTER

Napoli(more laughable of a schedule)-Bologna, Chievo, Atalanta, MILAN, Sassuolo, Genoa, Livorno

Juventus - Samp, LAZIO, INTER, Verona, Chievo, TORINO, MILAN

Roma - 21pts
Napoli - 19 pts
Juve - 19 pts

Considering Juve had considerably the tougher schedule, equalled last year's point totals and have already played 2, arguably 3 derbies. 2 points behind Roma and tied with Napoli? Anyone crapping it's the southerners.
on the 8th October, 2013 at 5:48pm
@tino baggio

I agree with you that its a sad period for milan over when it comes to the internationals. Milan still have de scgilio, abate, montilivo, ses and balo.

where usually at least 2-3 starts.
on the 8th October, 2013 at 5:22pm
@ Daniel giambrone 4-3-1-2 is not the problem it's just that allegri hasn't got a clue how to play it. I've a bad feeling that allegri and milan s failings will really be exposed this season now that the other big teams seem to have put their houses in order. I remember being on here when we're speculating about possible replacements and it seems inter, Napoli and Roma now all have better managers. I can't see us coming back this time. Worrying times ahead.
on the 8th October, 2013 at 4:58pm
By the end of the day, it will be Juve's 32nd!
on the 8th October, 2013 at 3:31pm
It is very sad to see how far Milan have fallen. Allegri said that they played well on Sunday, I disagree big time! They seriously lacked creativity, & Matri & Robinho were useless. I would drop De Jong & play Monty in that position. Poli should also start instead of Nocerino. What is really hurting Milan is Allegri's decision to use a 4312 when he does not have a fit trequartista. Juve were also average in that game & will need to improve massively if they want to progress in the CL.
on the 8th October, 2013 at 12:30pm
Talking about Milan. I dont like this squad. A jumble of players thrown together to make a team. A forward who really thinks he has done good by winning pens. when there was a glimmer of hope to have someone score SES was taken away from that tole and now with all the available defenders in serie A another international could join milanin defence. Its no wonder Milan will have few to almost no players in the nazionale. A bad era for a Sad Milan
on the 8th October, 2013 at 11:15am
I'm pretty sure in a parallel universe where milan haven't blown loads of money on so many crap signings borriello might've done a job for milan not as a starter but as a squad player. But hey when we had money to sign stars like olivera who needed to produce any youth team players. Seems like no clubs ever really got behind borriello.
on the 8th October, 2013 at 5:37am
Milan will finish 10th and get Iaquinta for free in January
on the 7th October, 2013 at 10:20pm
When has Marco been known as a diver? I suppose if that's the only thing you can come up with then you ought to watch more AC Milan games. It's almost comical how many times they are rewarded a penalty late in a close game over the last few seasons. Maybe you think Marci still plays for Milan?
on the 7th October, 2013 at 2:11pm
anon is %100 correct. giancarlo rinaldi loses credibility as a writer or journalist when he purposely inserts the name of marco borriello (mind you, which plays small amounts of time). mario balotelli is the right name to be used. impossible it's an error in writing because i'm sure it was proof read 20 times before it was posted online! if it wasn't proof read, then i suggest you read over your work giancarlo. incorrect facts cause credibility issues. this is your chance to correct your mistake
on the 7th October, 2013 at 1:04pm
It wont be long before normal service is resumed, Juve will get to the top Napoli behind Roma will loose a coupe like Inter have. Fiorentina will be inconsistent as normal Lazio might surge up to the massive 6th place (wow). Must say tho Serie A is very competitive this season domestically its nice to see a league with good sides playing good football.
on the 7th October, 2013 at 10:29am
@Giancarlo Rinaldi what you've meant to say was:" tumble quicker than MARIO BALOTELLI in the penalty box."
He's the diver of the moment, the one in the spotlight, so get in touch with times.
on the 7th October, 2013 at 9:40am

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