It has been a busy week of calcio on the Italian peninsula, with Europa League ties being concluded, Coppa Italia semi-finals getting underway, and a full round of Serie A fixtures all squeezing in to the space of seven days.
As well as being action-packed, we have not been short of talking points, nor a roller coaster of highs and lows for the Italian game. It would feel churlish were I to overlook the brilliant success of Italy’s European representatives this week.
Serie A is now the only European league with six teams remaining in European competition. Torino recorded a historic win to eliminate Athletic Club in the highlight of the round, while Fiorentina and Inter saw off British opposition in Tottenham Hotspur and Celtic, with Napoli and Roma coming through their own round-of-32 ties as well.
So, formalities out of the way, here’s what we learned in Serie A this week.
Turin’s finest continue to blossom
This week turned out to be another record-breaking one for Turin’s hottest team. No, not them…I’m talking about Torino. The second best form team in the league, with only Fiorentina sitting above them in the form table, the Granata continue to defy the odds this season and now find themselves in 8th place. How? They are built on solid foundations.
As if the above stat wasn’t logic-defying enough for you, if you follow Serie A in any way you might have noticed it has been a little while since Giampiero Ventura’s side have lost a game, but exactly how long it has been might shock you.
Toro have not tasted defeat since November, when Andrea Pirlo popped up in the last minute and scored THAT goal. The same game saw Bruno Peres run the length of the field to equalise after the Bianconeri had gone ahead. They were unlucky to lose even then and have played 15 times (12 in Serie A) since the Derby Della Mole heartache and not slumped to defeat since.
Ventura deserves more credit than he is getting this season, as he has achieved this despite losing his two best players in the summer as Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile moved on to perceived better things.
Funnily enough, Cerci failed to impress at Atletico Madrid and now finds himself two points behind Toro with AC Milan, while Immobile has spent his season fighting to avoid relegation at Borussia Dortmund.
The side is built from the back and despite having one of the league’s worst goalkeepers in Daniele Padelli, they have only conceded 25 times in the league. Captain Kamil Glik is a huge part of how they line up and were they to lose him it might prove more critical than the departures of last summer.
The Old Lady can take it easy as Roma’s capitulation continues
Roma and Juventus played out a 1-1 draw on Monday night, in a game that saw the Giallorossi reduced to ten men and all but mathematically ended their title hopes.
It has become evident in recent weeks that the Bianconeri have taken their foot off the gas, and why shouldn’t they? The Scudetto is essentially wrapped up and they have a Champions League campaign to focus on now.
The Giallorossi’s failure to claim all three points as they hosted Juve is seen by everyone in Italy as the title race ceasing to be a fair one; the Scudetto will be Juventus’ once more.
What this result, and many of Roma’s preceding results have done is lead people to speculate about the future of coach Rudi Garcia. Although all messages from him and the club to date have indicated he will be at the Eternal City club until he wins a Scudetto, I can’t help but wonder whether or not that is even an achievable objective.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men are head and shoulders above anybody else in Italy and it would appear they will be for couple more seasons at least.
Questions have been raised about the performances of iconic figures Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, and whether or not they warrant a regular starting spot in the Lupi eleven. Without a win at home now since November, it would appear that Garcia has a bigger job on his hands than it seemed 9 months ago.
Filippo Inzaghi’s Diavolo aspire to be mediocre
Uninspired. Dreary. Tedious.
There really isn’t too much more to say about Milan this season. They are a club in ever-increasing disarray and do not look like improving anytime soon. This once feared and honoured institution are a laughing stock. Granted, this is not exactly groundbreaking news but it is yet to cease to be fascinating to me how far they have fallen.
Mediocrity is now the aim for the seven-time European champions, as this current squad is nothing more than appalling.
The side are over-reliant on the previously berated Jeremy Menez. They have only scored 35 goals in Serie A this season, with Menez claiming accountability for 42% of these with his 12 goals and four assists.
It’s not even as though Menez has been outstanding himself. Exactly half of his successful strikes this season have been penalties.
January arrivals Mattia Destro and Alessio Cerci will not fire the club to Europe alone, the problem goes a lot deeper than that. Even Cerci, who is only in the door, has been causing problems with his extremely public dispute with coach Inzaghi.
The dispute goes further than between the two men, as Cerci’s girlfriend has involved herself by taking shots in the media at the former Rossoneri number nine.
Fiorentina on the rise. Juan who?
Since the departure of Colombian Juan Cuadrado in January, who left the Stadio Artemio Franchi club to join recently crowned Capital One Cup champions Chelsea, Vincenzo Montella’s men have not suffered at all, if anything, they look a better team.
As touched on earlier, La Viola sit top of the form table in Italy and fifth in the overall leaderboard. Sitting just three points behind Napoli in third, it is not a ridiculous suggestion to make that Montella could lead his side into the Champions League places late on.
Should Roma continue in their current form, there may even be another vacancy for the Gigliati to make a push for.
Mohammed Salah has settled into life in Florence seamlessly, to the delight of the Firenze people. The Chelsea outcast has scored four times and assisted one in his six appearances in a Viola shirt so far. What’s more impressive is that three of these appearances came as a substitute.
Things keep getting worse at Parma
After starting the roundup in such positive fashion, I will try to keep this disheartening final point brief. Parma are a club that look as though they could be close to extinction as they find themselves close to €200 million in debt.
The club’s last two scheduled matches have had to be postponed as the Ducali could not afford to play them. The first of these was because they could not afford to open the ground, due to match day expenses. The second – an away trip to Genoa – proved to be a trip the club could not afford to make.
Playing and non-playing staff haven’t been paid since July. People close to the club have denied the validity of these reports to which players have responded in disgust. It is hard not to believe the players in this situation, and the only uncertain thing is how much worse will this get before it can begin to get better.
It’s a bleak time for the Emilia-Romagna club and for fans of 1990s Serie A action. A club that formerly saw players like Gianfranco Zola, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Hernan Crespo, Dino Baggio and Faustino Asprilla don its famous Gialloblu shirt is on the verge of extinction.
Given the similar problems the club faced just over a decade ago, it is a worrying repetition to occur in such a relatively short timeframe.
Red lights should have been flashing when the club were denied access to the Europa League when UEFA took a look at the club’s finances in the summer, so the FIGC must be held accountable to some extent for not identifying an issue before it reached this level of severity.
If you’re interested in reading more about the current situation, a colleague and friend of mine wrote a good piece which can be read here.