We are six games into the Serie A season and the major Italian clubs seem unwilling to win the league. Juventus, winners of four successive league titles, have completely given up on winning or playing well.
They were terrible on Saturday night against Napoli. This was mostly because of Napoli’s performance, as the Partenopei did a wonderful job in pressing and harassing Juventus whenever they had the ball. Juventus’ misery was also self-inflicted, as they misplacing pass after pass when in possession, and even their famed defence looked shaky at best.
Having lost three times in the league last season, Juventus have now lost three of their first six games. Captain Gianluigi Buffon, in an attempt to psychologically lift his team, has said that ‘the Scudetto is a subject that should be left aside for a few months’.
The loss of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez is still hurting the Turin club, whilst seeing Sebastian Giovinco and Kingsley Coman do well elsewhere must hurt already pained Juve fans.
Roma should also be challengers, but they are wildly inconsistent. They beat poor little Carpi 5-1 on Saturday, and impressively dominated Juventus last month, but they have also drawn with Sassuolo and Verona, and lost to Sampdoria. They have eleven points from six games, putting them behind rivals Lazio, despite Lazio losing 5-0 to Napoli and 4-0 to Chievo this season.
AC Milan are clearly unready for a title challenge, they may not be ready to contest the Champions League places either. After grinding successive 3-2 victories against Palermo and Udinese, they lost 1-0 to a struggling Genoa side in the early Sunday game.
This leaves us with Inter Milan, who started the season superbly, with five wins out of five. They have earned criticism, as four of their victories have been 1-0, but this was defended by Fabio Capello, who argued that:
People must think things over before glossing over 1-0 and looking at it as a bland result. It contains three truths: one team wins, they were able to keep the other team from scoring and they fought in order to protect their goal…I have a lot of respect for the 1-0 result.
Inter’s side have impressed in all areas. Their defence has conceded just one goal in five games, and they have an incredibly powerful midfield three of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Felipe Melo and Fredy Guarin. Up front, Inter can call upon last year’s top scorer Mauro Icardi. They looked to continue their impressive start against second place Fiorentina on Sunday night.
It had been a troubling summer in Florence. After three successive fourth place finishes, Coach Vincenzo Montella wanted more investment to push into the Champions League places. Instead, he got the boot, and was replaced by Paulo Sousa. Viola fans were worried, they felt the Fiorentina board had no ambition, and their new coach had played for the hated Gobbi (humpbacks) of Juventus.
Despite this, Fiorentina have made a good start to the season, with four wins and one defeat. They would be Inter’s sternest test in the young season.
Inter made the worst possible start. Failing to control a pass, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic brought down Viola striker Nikola Kalinic to concede after a penalty after three minutes, which was converted by Josip Ilicic. Fiorentina pressed the advantage, and doubled the lead on nineteen minutes. Ilicic hit a powerful shot which was parried by Handanovic into the path of Kalinic to make it 2-0.
Four minutes later it was 3-0. Marcus Alonso surged forward on the wing, and put in a lovely ball for Kalinic to score his second of the game. Having conceded one goal in five games, Inter had now let in three in 23 minutes.
Inter were stunned. Their powerful midfield three were being thoroughly dominated, Icardi was isolated, and they were soon down to ten men, as Miranda was sent off for holding back Kalinic. The one chance Inter had, though, they scored. In the second half, an Inter free kick hit the post and rebounded straight to Icardi to make it 3-1.
This was merely a blip. Fiorentina did not panic, they held onto possession and ensured that Inter had few other chances. They added a fourth in the 76 minute, as Ilicic laid on Kalinic for a hat trick at the San Siro.
Fiorentina played a superb game. Their first half performance was perhaps the most complete of any side in Italy this season. They stifled Inter at every opportunity, thoroughly controlled the midfield and attacked with skill. Their strikers scored all four goals, but their key players were Borja Valero and Marcus Alonso. Valero was at the heart of everything Fiorentina created, and he worked wonderfully with fellow Spaniard Alonso.
Valero succeeded with seventy two of his seventy eight passes, touching the ball 93 times. Alonso exploited Inter’s narrow midfield to attack as much as he could. The second and fourth of Fiorentina’s goals can be traced back to the Valero-Alonso double act.
The statistics speak for themselves. Fiorentina had 68.8% possession and attempted 794 passes at a success rate of 91.9%. Inter meanwhile, managed just 349 passes with a success rate of 79.7%. The Milanese side were outthought and outfought on Sunday night, but with no European commitments they have a week to regroup before playing Sampdoria next week.
The talk before the game was about Inter winning the Scudetto, but now the question is whether Fiorentina can be considered title contenders. They top the league for the first time since February 1999, when Giovanni Trappatoni was manager and they had a decent striker called Gabriel Bastituta.
They have many good players, especially up front, as they can call upon Ilicic, Kalinic, Khouma Babacar, Beppe Rossi and Frederico Bernadeschi. Coach Paulo Sousa has, for now, has got the side playing as a real unit, coupled with the attacking finesse that Montella deployed.
Fiorentina face many challenges however. Firstly, they play in the accursed Europa league, which means playing on a Thursday then a Sunday or Monday. The second problem is psychological. Fiorentina are a big club, but not in the company of the giants of Juve, the Milan sides, Roma and even Napoli, this inferiority may eventually manifest itself on the pitch. At the very least Fiorentina should be in the hunt for a Europa league spot with clubs like Napoli, Lazio, Torino and AC Milan.
In a season where Juve have started badly, both Milan sides are in transition and Roma are inconsistent, it could be time for an alternative winner to emerge in Serie A.