Serie A October Review: The heirs to the Bianconeri throne emerge
The poor start to the 2015/16 Serie A season made by reigning champions Juventus has left a gaping power vacuum in Italy’s top flight. Within it, the league’s remaining elite clubs have spent their first eleven matches chaotically jostling for position. Having leapfrogged Fiorentina into first place six days previously, Roma suffered a 1-0 loss at Inter on Saturday which saw them surrender the top spot to the Nerazzurri. This state of affairs was to last only fourteen hours, though, as La Viola reclaimed their position with a crushing 4-1 demolition of Frosinone. A win for Napoli – still unbeaten since the first weekend of the campaign – would have completed this game of league table musical chairs, with a superior goal difference seeing Maurizio Sarri’s dark horses emerge as potential early-season title favourites. But it was not to be, as Gonzalo Higuain and co. were unable to break down a stubborn Genoa defence, and the probable destination of the next Scudetto badge remains shrouded in mystery. From a neutral perspective, it’s a refreshingly colourful development after four years of monotonous, monochrome Bianconeri dominance.
Having mastered the art of the ugly 1-0 win with the dogged efficiency of an Arsenal of yesteryear (six of the seven victories they’ve earned thus far have been accompanied by this scoreline, the only other being an equally narrow 2-1), Inter produced arguably the most brutish of the bunch to overcome 10-man Roma thanks to a long-range strike from unlikely hero Gary Medel. The new central defensive duo of Joao Miranda and Jeison Murillo was marvellously effective once again, backed up by a stunning display in goal from the imperious Samir Handanovic. Also key was an intelligently conceived defensive game-plan from coach Roberto Mancini, which involved dropping captain and main striker Mauro Icardi. Logic should dictate that Mancini’s recently assembled side cannot continue to eke out such ostensibly unconvincing results, but they have been built on undeniably solid foundations.
Rudi Garcia’s Roma, title favourites and the more threatening side for much of the game until a second yellow was shown to an off-colour Miralem Pjanic, must now lick their wounds and address the perceptibly vacant midfield on show at the San Siro. It’s a huge season for Garcia, whose team desperately needs to shake off the ‘perennial chokers’ tag it has earned itself both domestically and in Europe if he is to remain in charge for the foreseeable future. This is the Frenchman’s best shot at the Scudetto by some margin, and he cannot afford to miss out once again.
Further south of the peninsula, one may expect Napoli to be kicking themselves after squandering the opportunity to go top on Sunday, but the mood around the team as communicated in the media was decidedly upbeat in the game’s aftermath. Both coach Sarri and captain Marek Hamsik praised a strong performance thwarted by tough opposition and bad luck. A top three finish is generally considered the objective at the San Paolo, and though this season presents an opportunity to reach greater heights, it is perhaps understandable that the team isn’t willing to let an inevitable hiccup cloud an otherwise strong start. Whether this attitude stifles ambition or relieves pressure is open to debate, but remaining positive seems the most sensible approach for what is perhaps Italy’s best balanced squad.
Elsewhere, the weekend was a fruitful one for the league’s two struggling former titans. Juventus responded to a maiden defeat by over-achieving Sassuolo with a 2-1 win in the Turin derby, courtesy of a last gasp Juan Cuadrado winner. Plenty of time remains for Juve’s myriad of high-profile summer signings to kick into gear (and, importantly, to overcome injury problems), and none of the aforementioned title contenders are safe if they do.
Milan, meanwhile, beat an admittedly poor Lazio 3-1 to secure a third consecutive win for the first time since April 2014, alleviating a huge amount of pressure on new boss Sinisa Mihajlovic in the process. Almost inconceivably, they have now ascended into joint-fifth place, just five points off the top and with only two points separating the four who sit in front of them. With no team stepping up and above the others to stake a claim to Juventus’s crown, the sources for possible plot twists remain abundant. The Rossoneri will hope to continue their recent run and propel themselves into the mix of this fascinating Serie A title race, which is shaping up into the most competitive in recent memory.