Serie A is boring, again. Last season saw an end of season run-in where four sides were potential candidates for the Scudetto. Post-World Cup seasons can often throw up surprises, perhaps because players in the top sides will have exaggerated schedules.
The league enthralled neutrals worldwide as Napoli, Udinese and Lazio chased Milan all the way to the title. This season, though, we are seeing a return to the normality of the pre-Calciopoli era – at one point Inter even threatened to re-assume the position of perennial losers.
For a start, the former pretenders to the throne no longer have same hungry, menacing look in their eyes as they did last season. While Udinese’s position in the top 3 should be no surprise given their outstanding performances, particularly at home, it is far fetched to expect them to challenge the top two positions. They will focus on holding on to third place and hopefully try and enjoy their Europa League adventure.
Meanwhile, Napoli have risen to the challenges of the Champions League, giving their delirious fans impressive results in the group stages. Their league form has suffered enormously from this distraction, though. The club have drawn 6 of their last 10 games but, strangely, their 4 defeats have mostly come against weaker opposition (on paper) – Catania, Chievo, Parma and Roma.
They sit a disappointing 7th in the table, 12 points off the leaders, but they have the 2nd best record amongst the 7 top sides. Are the Azzurri feeling the burden of being considered favourites? Europe remains the main concern for Napoli’s season.
The obvious example for this return to the natural order comes from Juventus. They were crowned winter champions on Saturday night with a dominant win in Bergamo against Atalanta. Antonio Conte has reminded Juventus fans what winning feels like, even if he has gone to great lengths to manage their expectations.
Whether or not they can maintain their charge towards the title remains to be seen, though history appears to be on their side with 54 of the 79 championships played in the current format being won by the winter champions.
At the other end of the table too, it appears unlikely that there will be a repeat of Sampdoria’s dramatic crash and burn. The bottom three consists of Novara, Lecce and Cesena and could easily remain in this configuration. These sides will be returned from whence they came.
Of course there is a long way to go until the end of the season and there are a few indications that hope’s candle is still dimly flickering away. At the bottom of the table it remains close for the moment and if Cesena can find some goals then they can start breathing down Siena and Bologna’s necks.
While Milan are currently keeping pace with Juventus, they have matched their point tally from last season, when they were winter champions (40) – the lowest at this stage in the season in the current format. Juventus’ are only 1 point better off and Inter are putting together a remarkable run. Ranieri’s surge is comparable to the second half of the season he enjoyed with Roma in 2009-10.
The scent of unpredictability is dissipating fast, the Serie A high priests are entering the tabernacle and the curtains will soon be drawn shut.