If there is a dark horse running in this season’s race, you can bet that it’s the Viola. With the exception of the fracas with Inter over the ill-fated move of Mohamed Salah, the Tuscans have largely flown under the radar all summer long. Their appointment of Paolo Sousa as Coach seemed a reasonable, but not spectacular, choice and their reinforcements lacked any big marquee signings.
However, what Sousa has accomplished has been to take the outgoing Vincenzo Montella’s football style and slowly upgrade it, adding bits of quality across the pitch to make that vision a reality. In Nikola Kalinic, Sousa now has a striker with international and European experience who can be relied upon to find the back of the net, a definite improvement on the seemingly eternally injured Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez. The resurgence of Borja Valero as playmaker has also been a contributing factor in the Viola’s resurgence, while the width afforded to the side by Marcos Alonso and Polish International Jakub Blaszczykowski has been instrumental in adding to the side’s attacking prowess.
Whether Fiorentina have the depth and stamina to sustain a prolonged run for the top remains to be seen, especially in light of an increasingly onerous schedule owing to their Europa League commitments, but in the meantime, we can all enjoy some of the peninsula’s most attacking and attractive football.
Champions for the last four seasons in a row, Juventus were clear favourites going into the season, however all didn’t start as planned for La Vecchia Signora. After having collected a measly one point from their opening three games, Italian sports dailies were ringing the alarm bells and warning of a potential crisis for the Turin giants. A convincing and comprehensive win away to Manchester City in their opening fixture of the Champions League season went a long way in allaying some immediate fears but the midweek draw with Frosinone followed by defeat in Naples, seem to have brought back an air of urgency and unease over the Bianconeri camp.
What is for sure is that Juventus have been extremely unfortunate with injuries, especially in midfield. Having lost Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal this summer, Allegri has been deprived of his yet another midfield star in Claudio Marchisio, which means that of his preferred midfield quartet from last season, only Paul Pogba has been available. To make matters worse, newcomer Sami Khedira who was brought in to replace Vidal has not yet featured for the club due to yet another long term injury. Injuries to strikers Alvaro Morata and Mario Mandzukic mean that the Bianconeri infirmary currently hosts close to a starting eleven of its own.
There is no doubt that Juve will eventually put up a serious title challenge, however, if they continue performing well in Europe come the spring of 2016, one may see Juve focus more on trying to secure the one missing trophy from Gigi Buffon’s glittering cabinet, the Champions League.
Inter’s dream start to the season came to a spectacular stop on Sunday night against the Viola. But this, as Roberto Mancini alluded to after the game, changes little. Inter still sit at the top of the table and have become a side that is very tough and very capable of grinding out positive results with little or no flair.
To say that Inter have had a busy summer would be nothing short of a gross understatement. The Nerazzurri have said goodbye to more than a handful of players and brought in nine others, of whom only Adem Ljajic and Martin Montoya haven’t become starters for the side.
Mancini’s Inter is built on a no-nonsense midfield of Felipe Melo, Gary Medel and Geoffrey Kondogbia, who sit in front of a central defensive pairing of Joao Miranda and Jeison Murillo, of whom only Medel was in the side last season. Notwithstanding the Fiorentina result, there have been surprisingly little integration issues in both midfield and defence, both of which have performed above expectations. Where the Nerazzurri seem to be having issues is at the other end of the pitch. Inter have not yet won by more than a single goal’s margin, and the lack of understanding between the front trio of Ivan Perisic, Stefan Jovetic and Mauro Icardi is palpable, resulting in missed passes, unnoticed or ignored runs into space and occasional selfishness.
Many argue that Inter have had a favourable fixture list and that the Inter against Fiorentina is the real Inter, but it is exactly in games against “weaker” opposition where Inter would drop points the past few seasons. For now, Inter seem to be relying on their defensive solidity and waiting for their attack to find its rhythm, if that happens, the Nerazzurri will be a much more feared opponent and the “Scudetto Inter” labels might not be the sarcastic jibe they’ve become of late.
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