Once upon a time Italy, or more specifically the Serie-A was the no. 1 destination in Europe; the benchmark for European soccer. The best players, coaches, teams and titles were found there. This is no longer the case, as it has clearly been usurped by the Premier League, La liga, and arguably the German Bundesliga. It however remains one of the top leagues on the continent, rich in history and still maintains some of its pedigree.

The Background

Juventus went into the season seeking a seventh consecutive Scudetto, evidence of their total domination of the league for the best part of the last decade. The Serie-A has over the years progressively become a one Horse (more appropriately, one Zebra, if you get the joke) race, the Old Lady exerting a stranglehold so strong, the Calciopoli scandal had become a long distant memory. Juve’s run, impressive as it might be, was having a negative effect on the overall health of the league, both in terms of perception and reality. The league had fallen behind in the European game for a number of reasons, but having the same results year in year out takes away the element of surprise, and with that goes the excitement attached to games, making the league a lot less of an interesting proposition for the teeming population of neutrals.

Season after season there have been a few pretenders to the throne, Napoli and AS Roma most notably, but despite her age none has been able to wrestle the title away from the Old Lady.

The Transfer Window

AC Milan were the headline act of this summer’s transfer window, literally buying a new team as they sought to end Juventus’ domination and return to the glory days of old. On paper, it was virtually flawless; they had after all managed to bring in Leonardo Bonucci, highly coveted and integral as he was to the Juventus team to lead their new quest for glory, and also made good additions in key areas. Juventus meanwhile had a relatively quiet window compared to recent seasons and if anything appeared more vulnerable than they had been in a while, despite the additions of Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi, both quality wingers in their own right.

Inter Milan on their own end also made sweeping changes, the most significant being in the dugout with veteran coach Luciano Spallietti coming in. Roma had a difficult summer, losing but not adequately replacing two key players in Mohammed Salah and Antonio Rudiger who moved to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively. Napoli were however banking on the same exciting squad from last year bringing them better fortune this season, the error of “proposed balance.”

The Reality

Leaders: Napoli.

Champions League places: Inter, Lazio, Juventus

Europe League places: Roma, Sampdoria 

Relegation zone: Sassuolo, SPAL, Benevento

Money apparently can buy you players but certainly not a team, this sage-status footballing aphorism clearly illustrated by the contrasting fortunes of Napoli and AC Milan. One would think an illustrious side like the Rossoneri would know this.

Napoli lead the way in what has been a flawless performance so far. They have a perfect record, and currently average more possession and shots per game than any other side in the Serie-A. Their brand of exciting soccer rightly winning plaudits all over the continent. This team is not exactly Maradonaesque, but it does comprise of hardworking team players led by their dynamic attacking trio of Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and their mercurial midfielders, Jorginho Frello and Marek Hamsek. 

Milan meanwhile are currently in tenth place, fresh from a derby humbling from city rivals Inter, and look a disjointed team, less than a sum of its parts, which is really not surprising. It would be delusional to expect instant perfection from Milan (even Rome wasn’t built in a day). However, dissatisfaction with current performances are totally justified, though these are still early days.

Inter have impressed, currently remaining unbeaten and are the closest challengers to Napoli in what is looking like a promising season for them. Lazio are also enjoying a good season so far, 3rd in the league table and currently exceeding expectations. AS Roma have been better in Europe, but aren’t doing too badly and are coping rather well with this summer’s player losses. 

Juventus, along with AC Milan have been the biggest disappointments of the season so far. The Old Lady looks a pale shadow of her dominant self, once so highly regarded in Italy and even Europe, with results as well as both individual and collective performances well below par.

Winners and Losers.

Napoli’s attacking trident of Mertens, Callejon and Insigne have impressed, as have Mauro Icardi and Ciro Immobile. Paulo Dybala has been the brightest spark in an otherwise dull Juventus team replete with attacking options. Edin Dzeko is another who is doing really well this campaign.

Virtually every AC Milan signing barring Andre Silva has been a disappointment, but team captain Leonardo Bonucci has been the biggest flop so far. A lot was expected from a defender of his quality who was widely sought after, and regarded by some as the best in the world, but the absolute reverse has been the case regarding his output so far. Considering the hype surrounding him last season, Torino’s Andrea Belloti is having a rather quiet campaign so far.

Looking Forward

After years of Juventus’ domination in Italy, it’s looking like the field in Serie-A could be wide open this season. We’ve been here before though, and it would indeed be extremely unwise to write off a Juve side still with so much quality so early on in the season. What cannot be denied though is that based on current evidence, the Serie-A would definitely be worth keeping a close eye on this season.

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