Truth be told, it wasn’t the most exciting of weeks of Serie A action this time around, but the week that was still provided us with a few points of note to discuss for my round up.
Game-week 26 in Serie A proved to us that AC Milan are still funny, as they conceded an injury time goal to throw away what should have been three points against Hellas Verona. Roma continued to be the most frustrating team in Italy as they drew yet again, to Chievo.
This result marked their tenth in thirteen matches, and they have since notched up another as they recorded a 1-1 draw in their Europa League clash against Fiorentina. It is now looking as though it is only a matter of time before they lose their second place position.
Elsewhere at the top of the table, Juventus are continuing to stroll to their fourth consecutive Scudetto with ease, and are looking ominous for seasons in the immediate future as well.
With the introduction out of the way, let’s take a look at five things we learned in Serie A this week.
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If you like football, there’s a good chance you have a soft spot for Toto Di Natale. The 37-year-old striker has been a consistently outstanding performer for Udinese for over a decade now and his commitment to the club is something rarely seen in the modern game.
As if him equalising two minutes after Fabio Quagliarella wasn’t amazing enough for fans of football circa 2006, the goal was his tenth in Serie A and that is a milestone that Di Natale has reached now for the ninth consecutive season.
His consistency is remarkable, and for him to still be scoring goals so regularly at 37 is something that should be praised. It has taken him just 22 games to reach double figures and he has provided an additional five assists so far this campaign.
With the Zebrette set to lose their go to goalscorer in the summer, it will be interesting to see how they cope without him next season, especially having recently sold Luis Muriel to Sampdoria.
Icardi continues to spearhead new look Inter
The return of Roberto Mancini to Serie A and Inter has seen the Nerazzurri begin to show signs of becoming their old self again. Though they are still frustratingly inconsistent, they are improving quite dramatically of late and Mancini should be applauded for his impact thus far.
Inter now look to win games far more than they did under Walter Mazzarri and the fans appear to be much more on board and patient with their returning coach.
The 50-year-old is saying all the right things to get the fans on side as he is targeting a Scudetto challenge next season, though that may be overly optimistic it is certainly the right sentiment.
Their attack is currently led by Mauro Icardi, and what a player they have in him. It’s fair to question the youngster’s attitude away from football but on the pitch he is one of the brightest talents on the peninsula.
His recent Panenka, or ‘cucchiaio’, penalty against Napoli is worth watching. It was so delicately chipped that you can see the goalkeeper contemplating whether or not he has the time to stand up again and try to keep it out. Beautiful.
Lazio chase Champions League
Lazio have been one team who have really impressed and caught a lot of people off guard in doing so this season in Serie A. The Biancocelesti currently occupy the third and final Champions League place in Italy, and if they continue as they are they might well overtake Eternal City rivals Roma who are only four points clear of their most hated enemies.
Felipe Anderson and Antonio Candreva deserve a lot of credit for Lazio’s success this year, with the former being a revelation. The Brazilian winger is seemingly unstoppable this season and is capable of turning any game on its head as he pleases.
He has been a pleasure to watch this season and it will be interesting to see whether he will still be in the league next season as there are likely to be clubs chasing him. His willingness to defend and fight for the greater good is something that I find most impressive about the 21-year-old.
One man whose work can go unnoticed in this team is Lucas Biglia. In my latest Serie A podcast appearance, I was full of praise for the Argentine midfielder and I think his contribution should be more widely acknowledged. He can do anything.
He is often judged as a gritty, battling midfielder, and while he does do these things there is a lot more to his game. He is technically superb and his recent goal against Fiorentina is evidence of this. A comparison with Daniele De Rossi at his best is probably the closest I can make for those who might not be familiar with Biglia.
It is criminal how under appreciated he is and I would go as far as to say I rank him as one of the world’s best players in that defensive midfield position.
M’Baye Niang might actually have a future ahead of him
Having already spoken about someone at the latter stages of his career, let’s talk about someone at the complete opposite end of his. M’Baye Niang is one of those young players who seems to have been around for ages. In fact, I checked three different sources to make sure he was in fact only 20, and I still refuse to accept it (I mean, surely he must be 23 by now!)
The young French forward is a player who has always been talked about as having a bright future, but I have always been underwhelmed whenever I have seen him.
I can’t help but always remember that miss at the Camp Nou, which would have put Milan in a very strong position, only for Barcelona to go down the other end and score within a minute of Niang’s shot hitting the post and eventually go on to comfortably knock the Italian’s out of the Champions League.
Before this season, Niang had never scored a Serie A goal, so when he moved to Genoa in January to replace on form Alessandro Matri and Mauricio ‘Pinigol’ Pinilla, I couldn’t help but poke fun at my Genoa supporting friend, but he is beginning to prove me wrong.
He has scored three times in his six appearances for the Grifone, and his latest was a ver well taken striker. It now seems as though the 20-year-old (yes, he really, really is) might have a decent future ahead of him.
Sassuolo can actually defend
Sassuolo have been a team that most Serie A fans have grown a soft spot for over the last couple of seasons.
A constant thorn in the side for those who are not the biggest calcio fans who try to read their name, they are a tiny club from a small town by the same name in Emilia-Romagna, they have taken the Italian top flight by storm with their attacking brand of football and carefree approach to the game.
It was surprising enough to see Di Francesco deploy this defensive tactic, and it became even more so when it proved to be a success (for the most part,) until a Paul Pogba trademark strike from outside the box eventually earned the Bianconeri all three points.
They look to attack in (almost) every game and it was a shock this week to see them set up in a way intended to keep Juventus at bay.
The Neroverdi are praised for their exuberant, exciting players in attack, namely Domenico Berardi, Simone Zaza and Nicola Sansone, but they proved this week that they are more than able to organise a defensive unit when needed.
Coached by Eusebio Di Francesco – a well known disciple of the Zdenek Zeman school of football – they have become one of the most exciting teams to watch in Italy.
This tactic has been exposed in the past, with Inter hitting them for seven two years in a row, but it has seen them become many people’s second team in Italy and I am happy to see they will likely comfortably avoid relegation as they currently sit 14th in the table.