A quick look at the Serie A table mid-term shows that its’ current state could’ve been predicted even before the start of the season, as putting a few exceptions aside, everything makes sense. Juventus have a comfortable advantage over Napoli, Inter are third, while Lazio, Milan and Roma will be battling for the last place in the top four.
Looking at fight for the Europa League places, it was expected to see Sampdoria, Atalanta, Torino and Fiorentina in contention for those. With all of them improving drastically in comparison to last season and with the gap between them and fourth place being just six points, the fight would probably go to the wire.
Going further down, is it really a surprise to see Genoa, Sassuolo, Parma and Cagliari in the middle of the table? Not really.
The relegation battle has hardly been surprising as well, as Chievo, Frosinone and Bologna were always amongst the main candidates to go down to Serie B. SPAL’s fairy-tale start of the campaign has already been forgotten, as despite playing some neat attacking football at times, the Ferrara team has won just one of their last 15 league games. Empoli are in a similar position to SPAL, despite impressing at times after their return to the top flight.
The logical state of the Serie A table mid-season might make the league look a bit dull from the outside, especially for the uneducated followers. The truth is that the campaign is far from over and while dethroning Juventus looks almost impossible at this stage, this does not mean the season has not been intriguing.
Despite the lack of a close title race so far, there is little doubt that the chase of the European spots, the relegation battle and the Capocannoniere race make the current Serie A campaign one of the most interesting ones amongst Europe’s top leagues.
With plenty of action and drama still to come in 2019, everything is still up for grabs and who knows? Maybe we’ll see Piatek banging another 15 goals and steal the Capocannoniere award under Ronaldo’s nose, or Chievo winning their last three games and avoiding Serie B yet again. Would you be surprised then?
Despite the sensational form of Krzysztof Piatek and Fabio Quagliarella, despite Ciro Immobile and Mauro Icardi being not so far off Cristiano Ronaldo’s 14 strikes, just like many of the things we witnessed during the first half of the campaign, the current ranking of the Capocannoniere race could hardly be called a surprise.
Similarly, the 2-1 victory that Juventus earned against Sampdoria on Saturday was filled with drama, but it always looked like the most logical outcome of the game.
However, there is no drama when looking at the top of the league table, as Juventus’ nine-point advantage over Napoli showcases the ruthlessness of Massimiliano Allegri’s machine. Those nine points look scary, considering the Bianconeri are still unbeaten in Serie A and have rarely been forced to switch to second gear even during their Champions League games. And if the supreme quality and depth that Allegri has at his disposal are not a secret, Juve’s biggest strength remains their ability to grind out results even when not at their best.
In fact, this remains the biggest difference between the Bianconeri and their rivals, as Juve’s away victories against Chievo in their season opener, against Empoli in Week 10 and Torino earlier this month, were the perfect example.
On the other hand, Allegri’s men defeated Inter, Milan, Roma and Lazio without conceding a goal, with Napoli being the only team from the top six that managed to score against the Old Lady – an early Dries Mertens strike in September.
Despite trailing by nine points, Napoli’s growth is significant, as the Partenopei are finally using all members of their squad rather than the 12 or 13 that Maurizio Sarri was counting on during his reign. This logically means that Napoli are much more flexible and unpredictable under Carlo Ancelotti, as the team has shown ability to earn results, without playing at their best – something that rarely happened under Sarri.
The 2-1 victory away to Genoa in what looked like more of a water polo match than football, as well as narrow wins against Lazio, Fiorentina, Atalanta, Cagliari, SPAL and Bologna, fully showcased the pragmatism and the winning mentality that Ancelotti brings.
Sadly for the Partenopei, the missed opportunities against Crvena Zvezda and in both games against PSG lead to an unfortunate Champions League exit after a 1-0 defeat against Liverpool. However, considering their performances and the quality of their opponents, Ancelotti’s men can keep their heads high and should chase a deep run in the Europa League in February.
Inter are another team that enjoyed an unfortunate Champions League exit, but can overall be happy with their performance so far. The Nerazzurri’s main strength has been their pragmatism, but ironically, it was also the main reason for their European shortcomings after the 1-1 draw against PSV in the last round of the Group Stage.
The lack of any attacking intent during large parts of their European campaign, as well Tottenham stealing a point from Barcelona’s reserve team at Camp Nou, ruined a what would’ve otherwise been a fantastic first half of the season for the Nerazzurri.
The 1-1 draw against Chievo on December 22 was reminiscent of the ‘Christmas syndrome’ that’s been haunting the club in the last few seasons, but the two consecutive 1-0 victories against Napoli and Empoli mean that La Beneamata now have a healthy seven-point lead over Lazio and sit pretty in third place.
Looking at the other half of Milan, it’s worth noting that Gonzalo Higuain’s strike against SPAL was the last Serie A goal of 2018 and put an end to the Argentinian’s goal drought of over 800 minutes in all competitions. Being on a goalless streak is nothing new for Higuain, as Pipita is usually either firing on all cylinders or missing any opportunity that comes at his way, depending on his state of mind.
Just like the end of Higuain’s scoring woes, Milan’s position in the table is hardly surprising, as the Rossoneri are just one point off fourth place, which was their main target at the start of the season. Despite the multiple unconvincing displays and the injury crisis that lead to the Europa League exit, the improvement of the club structure is visible and it was only logical that Milan would need time to recover from the Yonghong Li fiasco.
The appointments of Paolo Maldini and Leonardo off the pitch, as well as Higuain’s arrival on it, were all steps in the right direction. On the other hand, the support that Gennaro Gattuso received, despite his regular tactical lapses, show that unlike the empty promises of the past, this time Milan’s project is for real. It will take many sacrifices and it might take a bit longer than the tifosi would like, but Milan finally seem to be on the right track and the club should aim at gradually improving its structure and the squad, without spending crazy in the chase of short-term goals.
Lazio seem to be on track with achieving their goals, as the Biancocelesti currently occupy the last Champions League spot. However, Simone Inzaghi’s men have just one point more than Milan and two more than city rivals Roma, who are sixth, so an improvement is needed.
The lack of variety in Simone Inzaghi’s play, as well as the need of another quality striker, have been exposed constantly. The performances of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto have been nowhere near close to last season, while Felipe Caicedo has proved to be an inadequate partner to Immobile upfront. Lazio must strengthen in the January transfer window, as the Biancocelesti would be devastated to lose on qualification for the Champions League for a second consecutive season.
Getting back to the Champions League. Roma’s favourable draw allowed them to comfortably qualify from their group with two games to go, despite their annoyingly inconsistent displays. The loss of key figures in the summer and the inexperience of Eusebio Di Francesco’s squad was fully exposed during the injury crisis that hammered the Giallorossi in the first part of the season.
Luckily for Roma, with key players recovering and the plethora of young talent starting to gel, the Giallorossi have slowly returned in contention for top four. However, Di Francesco desperately needs to rediscover some defensive solidity, as the lapses of concentration and individual mistakes have cost his team dearly. Therefore, like Lazio, a new addition or two in January can make a huge difference.