Editor’s Note: This piece filed last week by Eric Giardini. The editors at TSG idiotically missed it floating in inbox ether…
If there is any weekend to pick-up your Serie A match watching, this is the one.
If it had been Lazio vs. Juventus or Juventues vs. Udinese–one set of pinstripers in first, another in third, didn’t see that coming–then it would have been the six of the top seven in action versus one another.
Need a primer for the weekend? Let’s review.
Last week’s matches saw the Italian league reach its halfway point. That is, for all clubs but Roma and Catania which have 25 minutes remaining in their match from January 14 when it was called in the 65th minute due to a flooded, unplayable field. After 19 rounds, the “Winter Champion” is Juventus who holds a slim one-point lead over defending champions AC Milan at the top of the table. While not a direct indicator of who will lift the trophy in May, each of the past seven leaders at the midway point has gone on to win the league.
However, this season’s race isn’t just about the two most successful clubs in Italy battling down to the wire. Surprising Udinese sits in the final Champions League spot – only three points back from Juventus. Udinese, whose manager Francesco Guidolin’s stated goal prior to the season was to avoid relegation after losing key man Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona, has the Fruili-based club in position to qualify for the Champions League for the second consecutive year. This is in large part due to the prolific goal scoring of Antonio Di Natale. Di Natale is in prime position to not only win his third straight Capocannoniere for being the league’s leading scorer, but he must surely be in the back of Azzurri manager Ceseare Prandelli’s mind for EURO 2012.
The coaching carousel that occurs every season in Italy is as inevitable as the changing of the seasons. This season has been no different in that 9 of 20 clubs in Serie A have under gone a coaching change. Expect a few more before the season’s over.
- Inter- Gian Piero Gasperini: Out; Claudio Ranieri: In
- Bologna- Pierpaolo Bisoli: Out; Stefano Pioli: In
- Cesena- Marco Giampaolo: Out; Daniele Arrigoni: In
- Fiorentina- Siniša Mihajlović: Out; Delio Rossi: In
- Cagliari- Massimo Ficcadenti: Out; Davide Ballardini: In
- Lecce- Eusebio Di Francesco: Out; Serse Cosmi: In
- Palermo- Devis Mangia: Out; Bortolo Mutti: In
- Genoa- Alberto Malesani: Out; Pasquale Marino: In
- Parma- Franco Colomba: Out; Roberto Donadoni: In
Surprises, Positive and Negative
There have been two big surprises in the first half of the season, with two clubs in particular shining through the first 19 matches. As mentioned earlier, Udinese has been punching a bit above their weight in their current third place standing. A big reason for their success has been their unbeaten record at home (9-1-0), joining table-toppers Juventus as the only club to remain unbeaten at home.
Not only are they having success against the other clubs in the top six (2-3-0), but they are also beating the clubs that they should be beating. The second half of the season will bring more away fixtures than home ones and the resumption of the Europa League. With 14 players having made 10 or more appearances, and gaining the experience in the league this season, squad rotation will be key if Udinese is to remain among the giants of the league. Atalanta, though they currently sit in 15th, have actually surprised me this season. Unlike a majority of clubs that get promoted from Serie B, they have played in the same style that brought them to the top flight. Led by Germán Denis’s 12 goals, Atalanta have remained competitive and could very well stay up despite the five point penalty for their involvement in match-fixing scandal. If you add the five points, they would be in 8th between Napoli and Palermo. The month of January has not been kind with a trio of 2-0 losses to Milan, Lazio, and Juventus and the Nerazzurri will be looking to bounce back quickly to ensure survival.
Unfortunately, with the positive comes the negative and one club in particular has been a bit of a disappointment this season. Firstly, Napoli has disappointed me, and others, with their erratic performance in the first half. They have reached the Round of 16 in Champions League (dispatching Manchester City along the way) and have made it to the semifinals in the Coppa Italia, but those results haven’t quite translated to their league form. Impressive wins over Milan and Inter have been canceled by losses to Parma, Catania, and Chievo. With the club’s continued progression in other competitions, Napoli run the risk of missing out on a European spot if they focus too much outside the league, unless they reach the finals of the Coppa and qualify for the Europa League that way.
Club Legends on the Way Out?
Two club legends appear to be on the outs for their clubs. Alessandro Del Piero appears to be rapidly playing his final matches for Juventus. He has only made three starts this season and has made 10 appearances off the bench – mainly waning minutes. His status as a fringe player in Turin, and the fact that his contract ends this summer, has made him attractive to other clubs. Most of these rumors, which have been denied, have linked Del Piero to Montreal in the MLS. MLS will have to battle China, the UAE, and India for his signature as these leagues have been splashing cash as well.
Moving on to someone near and dear to me and my recent heart problems, the contract situation of Daniele De Rossi at Roma is about as unclear as it could possibly be.* His contract expires in June and he has being openly pursued by Manchester City, Chelsea, and Real Madrid. De Rossi has made it known that he has made his decision but is waiting for the right moment to announce his decision. If the latest news is to be believed, the sticking point is a buyout clause to allow De Rossi to leave this summer for a fee between €8-15m.
Looking Back at Preseason Predictions
My preseason predictions aren’t too bad. They are below with current standings in parenthesis.
- AC Milan (2)
- Napoli (7)
- Inter Milan (4)
- Juventus (1)
- Roma (6)
18. Lecce (19)
19. Novara (20)
20. Atalanta (15)
Here’s to hoping the second half is even better than the first and more wins for Roma