Our Italian roundup comes a little later in the week due to an action packed seven days on the Peninsula that consisted of two full rounds of Serie A fixtures which saw plenty of passion, goals and drama.
Going into the midweek round of fixtures Serie A boasted two unbeaten teams in Juventus and the rather surprising Sampdoria. After game week nine I am happy to say that there are no longer any fans of Serie A who can brag that their team holds an unbeaten record this season as both fell to defeat in their respective games against Genoa and Inter.
It also gives me great joy to reveal that Italy once again showed that its players have no problem celebrating goals against their former clubs, just ask Luca Rigoni who celebrated his winner for Palermo against Chievo with as much passion as you are likely to see. Granted, he admitted afterward that it hurt to score against the Flying Donkeys, but he certainly didn’t show it at the time and I’m sure that’s something we can all be grateful for.
In other news, Parma remain rock bottom of the table despite having scored 12 times in their nine matches, funnily enough, a tally which is higher than 12 Serie A clubs. This position leaves coach Roberto Donadoni under enormous pressure, with stories circulating suggesting that Hernan Crespo is set to be appointed as the new Gialloblu coach in the coming days having impressed while in charge of the Primavera side.
Donadoni is joined in the sack race by a certain coach in Milan, Walter Mazzarri is finding himself at the end of a lot of criticism lately but insists he has got the full support of the Inter dressing room. Stability is something the Nerazzurri lack at the moment with long term president Massimo Moratti finally cutting his presidential ties with the club after 19 years of involvement.
Now we move away from the madness for a moment to look at five things we learned in the last week of Serie A action.
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Following their controversial victory over Roma, many people had already started writing off the Giallorossi’s Scudetto chances for the season and fully expected Allegri’s men to defeat all that was put in front of them (well, domestically at least.) Genoa, however, proved to be a bit of an unsuspected banana skin for the Bianconeri and they slumped to their first defeat of the season courtesy of a 94th minutes Luca Antonini strike.
Although this might prove that they might not win every match, it doesn’t bode well for the excitement of future games involving the Old Lady. The Rossoblu were severely outnumbered on the shot count (4-16), corner count (1-13), and even committed 22 fouls throughout the game but still somehow managed to steal all three points.
This result, along with Roma’s comfortable victory at home to Cesena means the top two are level again on 22 points, something which Radja Nainggolan had the pleasure of revealing to coach Rudi Garcia.
Zemanlandia has arrived in Sardinia
Before the season I tipped Zdenek Zeman’s Cagliari as being one of the things to look out for in Serie A, and it seems as though my prediction is finally proving to be successful.
The season started poorly with defeat to Atalanta – who, incidentally, have only won once since – then subsequent defeats to Roma and Torino saw the Sardinians with no points from their opening three games. A trip to the San Siro soon fixed that as Zeman led his men out against Inter in typical attacking fashion and they returned home with a breathtaking 4-0 win.
Since the defeat of Mazzarri’s men, Gli Isolani have gone on to score twice against an at the time unbeaten Sampdoria and four times once more away Empoli, it would appear that Zeman’s philosophies have now successfully been communicated and adapted by the players.
During their midweek clash with AC Milan the Rossoblu attacked well and would have sealed all three points were it not for a Giacomo Bonaventura wonder strike (or cross) which allowed Milan to escape with a draw.
José Callejón is only human
It was never a secret that José Callejón was a more than competent footballer. This season, however, he appears to be a completely new player with his form so far has proving to be nothing short of sublime. His performances have left many people (myself included) believing that, were it not for his goals, Rafael Benítez would already be looking for his next job. One article even labelled him a fire fighter, as he continued to keep under fire Benítez in his role as Partenopei coach.
His goal return this season is breathtaking for anybody who isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo. He boasts seven goals and one additional assist from the nine Serie A games he has featured in so far. As well as scoring goals, he is getting them at vital times for his team, and coach. He has rescued points on more than one occasion, grabbing crucial goals against Torino, Inter, Sassuolo and Palermo. It is fair to say that without the Spaniard, Napoli would be much further down the table at this premature stage.
The winger proved that he is, just like the rest of us, merely a flawed human being as he provided us with a contender for miss of the season in Napoli’s midweek draw at Atalanta.
The weight on the shoulders of Callejón may well begin to shift over to those of Gonzalo Higuaín as the Argentine forward is finally beginning to rediscover his lethal touch in front of goal. The latter had struggled to find the net this season but grabbed his first against Verona and went on to score a hat trick. He then added to his tally for the season with a midweek goal in Bergamo to rescue a point for his side against Atalanta, although he did admittedly miss a penalty which would have secured all three in stoppage time.
The Champions League race will prove entertaining
The fact that Serie A is only awarded three Champions League places is an unfortunate reflection on the performances of Italian teams in recent years. The fall from grace of Inter, Milan and even Napoli has led to increased competition for that final spot and it is already looking like it will be one of the most enthralling aspects of this campaign.
The obvious contenders for the spot will be the Milan clubs, Napoli, Lazio and Fiorentina. All of whom are currently separated by just three points. When you go on to take Udinese and Sampdoria’s good form into consideration, it looks like we might have one of the most exciting races for Champions League football in all of Europe’s top leagues on our hands. Though it will prove difficult, the tendency of the traditionally bigger clubs to drop points this season might present a real opportunity to Samp or the Zebrette to pounce and secure European football for 2015/16.
Would the prospect of Champions League football be enough to convince Antonio Di Natale to hold off on retiring for another year?
Fabio Quagliarella is a man reborn
The summer departures of Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci left Torino fans in a state of mourning.
A trip to the Olimpico for the 1-0 loss against Hellas Verona and a subsequent dinner with a tour guide from the Torino museum left me with a good insight of the mindset to the Granata fans and had me really worried for Toro this season.
There seemed to be a real sense around the stadium that a relegation fight was imminent as the squad was simply too thin to balance the demands of the Europa League with their domestic calendar. The signings of Amauri and Fabio Quagliarella were mocked and there was a gloomy feeling surrounding the club.
Just over a month on from my visit and Giampiero Ventura has his side sitting comfortably in mid-table, and Fabio Quagliarella is in the form of his life. Quags has bagged four goals in his nine Serie A appearances and also contributed with a goal in Europe.
The recent 2-0 defeat of HJK Helsinki was the first time in six matches the striker failed to find the net and were it not for his goals Torino would be 10 points worse off and rooted to the foot of the table, theoretically at least.
Whether or not he can continue this form is another question. With Amauri yet to find the net in six Serie A matches, what is certain is that there will unquestionably be a direct correlation between Quagliarella’s goals and Torino’s league position come May.