Often a league dominated by the giant stature of Juventus in recent times, the Italian giants winning a staggering 36 Serie A’s with nine title triumphs in a row between 2011 to 2020, the tides are turning in the favour of the forgotten titans of the Italian game.
Inter Milan’s title triumph last season saw a dramatic shift, not even Cristiano Ronaldo picking up the golden boot for The Old Lady could stop Antonio Conte’s side from picking up their first Serie A in over a decade.
This dramatic shift away from the dominance of Juventus has never been more apparent than this season so far, a three-horse title race between Inter, Napoli and AC Milan playing out with Juventus having to make do with a mediocre fourth spot at the time of writing. Nine points off the pedestal Allegri’s men are used to, entertainment has returned to Serie A whilst other title races across Europe reach a foregone conclusion already.
AC Milan lead the pack at this moment in time, benefitting from Napoli and Inter playing out a 1-1 draw whilst a determined 1-0 win over Sampdoria allowed them to take their place at the summit for now. In the wilderness for too long, Stefano Pioli is allowing the Rossoneri to dream again. Finishing second last campaign, the former Inter boss will hope he can win Serie A for the red and black side of Milan. AC Milan’s squad boasts a lot of talent, Rafael Leao becoming a crucial player for Pioli’s men in their efforts to clinch an unlikely Serie A success. Rafael Leao’s solo effort was the winner against Sampdoria, taking down a punt up-field by new Milan keeper Mike Maignan before shrugging off his Sampdoria marker and finishing past an onrushing Falcone.
An impressive 4-0 demolition job in the Coppa Italia preceded this table-topping fixture, Rafael Leao scoring in that clash too with Oliver Giroud popping up with a brace. Giroud has proven to be a key player for Pioli’s men also, another double a few days prior clinching a 2-1 win in the Milan Derby over Inter. Feeding off scraps for his first, a pinball in the box falling to Giroud to slot home, his second of the contest saw him swivel past the Inter defender before firing past Handanovic. This win over Inter might well play on the minds of those involved at Internazionale. Finishing 12 points behind their rivals last campaign, AC Milan are showing this season that they could well go the distance with their arch rivals.
Away from the two Milan based sides, Napoli have their best opportunity to add a third Serie A to their trophy cabinet since the trophy-laden days of Diego Maradona. Aptly renaming their stadium after the late Argentinian, success singlehandedly delivered by their icon could well translate to a modern day side on the cusp of greatness. Starting the season unbeaten and looking unstoppable, Luciano Spalletti’s men managing to go the first 13 games of the Serie A season without a loss, a 3-2 loss at the hands of Inter also coincided in star striker Victor Osimhen being out for two months with a cheekbone fracture.
This dampened the high spirits at Napoli, losing momentum somewhat after a blistering start to proceedings. A shock loss to Spezia saw Napoli lose three games in four, the loss of their star striker proving costly. But, in spite of some poor form, hard-fought wins against AC Milan and Sampdoria allowed Spalletti’s men to keep within touching distance of the teams at the top. The 1-0 win over Sampdoria saw Osimhen’s replacement in Andre Petagna score the solitary goal – handing the baton back over to the Nigerian in the following match, the star striker slotting straight back in with a late substitute appearance in a comfortable 2-0 win over Bologna.
With attacking players often stealing the headlines for Napoli – Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne icons in Naples – Napoli’s defenders often go overlooked. With the toughest defence in Serie A this season, only 17 goals leaked in 25 played, the defensive prowess of Kalidou Koulibaly and Mario Rui are of equal importance to their title efforts. With four wins in a row – Osimhen scoring his first goal since his long injury lay-off away at Venezia – Luciano Spalletti’s men could well have the more well-rounded squad than AC Milan above them.
The favourites for me have to still be Inter Milan, the title-holders showing no signs of falling off even with Antonio Conte swapping Internazionale for Tottenham. Inter still possess the strongest overall squad in the division, even in losing star striker Romelu Lukaku in the summer. A masterstroke of a signing replaced the outgoing Belgian, Inter settling for an experienced striker in Edin Dzeko on a free transfer deal from Roma. While Lukaku has struggled since his mega-money departure to Chelsea, Edin Dzeko has been more than a competent replacement with 10 goals in 23 games for Simone Inzaghi’s title-challengers.
With players such as Nico Barella, Milan Skirinar and Lautaro Martinez all over the pitch, Inter’s quality was too much for other teams to handle under the previous stewardship of Antonio Conte. A serial title winner as a coach, Inzaghi doesn’t quite have that acumen to guide his team to a runaway lead at the top of the division. Still, with a game in hand over AC Milan, he could leapfrog Inter’s near neighbours soon. Inter have a number of winnable fixtures ahead, playing Genoa to close out February who have won one game all season near the foot of the Serie A before playing bottom of the league Salernitana to begin March. If Inzaghi can get more out of his men in the crucial run-in towards the close of the season, a second successive Scudetto could be on the cards.
Napoli have tough fixtures ahead, three games in a row away at Lazio and Hellas Verona will be tricky away tests before a crucial match against AC Milan at home. If Inter can seize an advantage and win their matches against teams fighting relegation, Inzaghi’s men will be praying that Napoli fall away whilst Inter rise to the top. The Milan derby with five matches of the season left to play could swing the title in either side’s favour, Inter will be eager to come out on top here after Giroud’s double snatched victory for Pioli and co in early February.
Although it is a three-horse race for the coveted prize of the Serie A, Juventus will continue plugging away with only a seven point gap separating Allegri’s underwhelming side and Napoli. Dusan Vlahovic’s signing has lifted everyone at the Juventus Stadium, scoring on his debut alongside new signing Dennis Zakaria in a routine 2-0 win over Verona recently. Moreover, in 5th, Atalanta continue to entertain in the Italian top flight – finishing in the bronze medal position in the last three Serie A campaigns, Zapata netting the winner at Juventus recently in an unexpected triumph over the Italian giants. Expect Gasperini’s men to make an unlikely title charge of their own in the campaigns to follow, taking inspiration from the recent toppling of Juventus.
Regardless of who wins the Serie A come the end of the 38 game season, it’s great for a neutral to watch such a competitive and entertaining division with other leagues up and down Europe dominated by the usual suspects. If the Serie A’s twists and turns are anything to go by, this three-horse title race really could go down to the wire.