Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
This season Lazio have made an excellent start to their Serie A season surpassing many people's expectations with 18 points after the first 10 rounds. Almost typically of the Biancocelesti the man who has brought the best out of them Simone Inzaghi, is someone who they didn’t actually want. After taking over from Stefano Pioli at the end of last season, Inzaghi did well to finish the season strongly with the Aquile. However, he was told that his services would no longer be required as Lazio chose to appoint Marcelo Bielsa. The eccentric Bielsa, to much controversy, never showed up and forced club president Lotito to return to Inzaghi and reappoint him. While it's not what Lotito had in mind the reappointment of Inzaghi has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Returning to the Biancocelesti was not going to be easy for Inzaghi. The club’s ultras were on strike in protest against stadium segregation and Keita Balde Diao and Felipe Anderson were both looking for moves in the summer creating a bad atmosphere around the club. Yet despite everything looking bleak in the summer, Inzaghi has managed to turn the whole atmosphere at the club around. The summer signings of Ciro Immobile and Jordan Lukaku have excelled under their new boss. The return of Stefan De Vrij has also been a boost and managing to keep a hold of the aforementioned Keita Balde Diao and Felipe Anderson. Both of whom have been in fine form this season under Inzaghi's guidance. Ciro Immobile is also having a fantastic season helped by the creativity of Keita and Anderson, the Italian striker has scored 8 goals already this season and looks more like the man who was capocannoniere for Torino two years ago.
Under Inzaghi so far this season Lazio have only lost twice, 2-0 away to Milan and a 1-0 defeat at home to champions Juventus. It seems having those eight matches at the end of last season to implement his ideas and get to know the squad has done Inzaghi a world of good. This season the Biancocelesti have been flying high under Inzaghi and look like a real contender for the European places. After all, minus Candreva this is a similar squad to the one the qualified for the Champions League play-off round just over twelve months ago. Another advantage for Inzaghi is they are not competing in Europe this year so they can focus their full attention on the Serie A campaign. Lazio are currently just two points off third place; I think they could be dark horses to finish in third and steal the final Champions League place.
Nonetheless, Le Aquile still have the usual problems such as Lotito being a hated figure by fans. The Ultras are also leaving the Curva Nord empty on matchdays, however if Lazio keep performing this well the Ultras might not be long about returning to the stadium. It's still early days yet as well and we have yet to see how Inzaghi's side responds when they come across a sticky patch of form. For now however Inzaghi will be hoping to make sure that his Lazio side continue to thrive in Serie A…
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Milan welcome Juventus to the San Siro on Saturday night and for the first time since 2012 the match is arguably a Scudetto clash with Juve on top and Milan tied for second place. However, despite the position of Milan in the standings they are a long way off the quality that the Bianconeri possess. Nonetheless in 90 minutes anything can happen and with a win against Juventus the Rossoneri could create a title race, at least for a while. If Milan win they would go two points behind Juve, as would Roma providing they win against Palermo and even Napoli would have the chance to bridge the gap to four points with a win against Crotone. Can Milan beat Juventus and create a title race in Serie A?
Milan has had a fantastic start to their season amassing 16 points in the first 8 games. The last time Milan started a season better was under Max Allegri when they won the title. However, realistically this Milan side is unlikely to win the league but stranger things have happened and if they stay within touching distance of Juventus, the Chinese investment in January could boost them to title glory. Yet a win for Milan would more than likely create a short-term title race rather than a title race that will go down to the wire. Juventus are simply too strong and if they were to lose Milan on Saturday they would more than likely bounce back, just as they did after their loss to Inter. Whereas it's hard to see Milan, Roma and Napoli not suffering any blips along the way. They just don't have the mentality or the squad to compete with Juventus throughout a whole season. For the league and for the neutrals, a win for Milan would be great. It would at least show outsiders who say that Juventus stroll to the title every year that this is not the case and that they have a fight on their hands.
Perhaps the scene is set for Milan to take home the victory on the 100th anniversary of Herbert Kilpin's death. A win would pay homage and honor the legacy of the founder of Milan and a packed San Siro will provide an electric atmosphere that would have made Kilpin proud. The Rossoneri will have to put on a great performance if they are to beat Juventus and every player in a red and black shirt will have to be on their ‘A’ game. Otherwise, the ruthless Bianconeri will swat them away like flies and cruise to a victory. If Milan were to win it would show how far they have come in such a short time under Vincenzo Montella and it could represent a real turning point for Milan. Montella however has been keen to play down the Rossoneri's title chances this season claiming the Europa League is still their objective but surely the Champions League must be a real possibility if Milan beat Juventus.
Roma and Napoli fans will also be keenly watching on Saturday and hoping for a Rossoneri victory. If Roma and Napoli can make up ground on Juventus, it would make for a much more interesting table in terms of the fight for the Scudetto. So perhaps if Milan win they would create a title race at least for a few weeks in Serie A and maybe make Juventus look carefully over their shoulders.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Since Empoli's return to Serie A two years ago they have surprised many people with their impressive performances and attractive style of play. However now in their third season in Serie A and under their third manager in three years, Giovanni Martusciello, Empoli seem to be struggling to maintain their excellent form of the past two years under Maurizio Sarri and Marco Giampaolo. They currently sit in 19th place with just four points, coach Martusciello is already under pressure and according to the Italian press he has two games to save his job. However Martusciello alone cannot be blamed for Empoli’s struggles this season.
This summer’s transfer campaign saw Empoli lose key players such as Mario Rui, Leandro Parades, Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Tonelli. Losing these players has had a huge impact on Empoli this season. Parades and Zielinski were both crucial players for the Tuscan outfit last season and they have been sorely missed in midfield. That spark of creativity that Parades and Zielinski provided is now missing from their midfield and Martusciello is struggling to continue Sarri’s philosophy without the creative midfielders. Tonelli and Mario Rui are also big losses in the defense, especially Tonelli, who over the past two years has been a real leader in Empoli’s backline and is proving hard to replace. Empoli have already conceded eleven goals this year in just seven games. While the loss of players over the summer transfer window has affected Empoli, their new signings have also failed to deliver so far. Veseli, Mauri, Pasqual and Gilardino haven’t exactly set the world alight with their performances and Matrusciello will surely be expecting to see more convincing performances from them on the pitch.
Losing two managers in two years has also not helped Empoli and this year Martusciello is struggling to repeat the wonderful work that both Sarri and Giampaolo did with the Tuscan side. Sarri brought Empoli to 15th in his debut Serie A season and landed himself a job with Napoli thanks to his great work at Empoli. Giampaolo who was Sarri’s assistant the previous season then stepped up to the plate and finished in a highly credible 10th place. Giampaolo was highly sought-after with rumors linking him to the Milan job; eventually he ended up taking the reigns at Sampdoria to replace Montella who became A.C. Milan manager. Losing two excellent managers in two years has not helped Empoli and while they don't have as big a budget as most teams in Serie A, one would have to question the owner’s ambition. Especially in allowing to Giampaolo to move to a team that the Tuscan side finished above last season, even if Sampdoria are a bigger team historically it was a clear lack of ambition shown from Empoli’s owners.
Martusciello was upgraded from assistant to head coach just as Giampaolo was Sarri left for Napoli. However this time it seems unlikely that Martusciello will better Empoli’s position in the table. The next two games are crucial for both Martusciello and Empoli’s season. The Tuscan outfit will face a tough test away to high flying Genoa and the fixtures don’t get any easier with a home match against in-form Chievo after the Genoa match. Martusciello will need to see better performances and pick up some points in these matches if he is to reignite the spark in Empoli’s form and save his own job as well.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Seven rounds into the new Serie A season and the fight for the all important Champions League places already looks like it will go down to the wire. Juventus are the only team you could say will definitely finish in the top three, in fact you could almost say that the Bianconeri will definitely lift the title in May. So with Juventus out of the equation that leaves two Champions League places remaining which look set to be contested for by six teams; Napoli, Roma, Milan, Inter, Lazio and Fiorentina will all have the ambition of qualifying for the Champions League but which of these teams is best equipped to finish in the top three and earn the right to play in Europeans top competition.
Napoli, to begin with, are a team that many expect to be Juve's "closest rivals" this year. However in my opinion the sale of Higuain to Juventus ruined their title chances. Napoli have bought many talented young players over the summer such as Milik, Zielinksi, Maksimovic and Tonelli but while these players all have the potential to be great players they will prove inconsistent at their young age and still have to develop a lot to become world class. Napoli have invested in the future and while it might not be enough to mount a title challenge this year it should be enough to see them qualify for one of the Champions League places.
Roma were the other team that were touted to potentially cause Juventus difficulties but even at this early stage of the season it seems that the Giallorossi are still to inconsistent. Roma have so far scored the most goals in Serie A (16) but their defense remains anything but solid with them shipping nine goals so far. Spaletti's men have won all their home games but their away form is a real cause for concern with their only point on the road coming against Cagliari. Playing in the Europa League might not help Roma's ambitions to finish in the top three and their inconsistency might prove very costly. Unless they can improve their away form and deliver consistent performances a Champions League place might be out of their reach.
Inter are a confusing team, at the best of times they have arguably the best squad in Serie A behind Juventus and this was shown when they beat Juventus 2-1. Inter on paper should finish in the top three but the reality is quite different. De Boer, since he took over, has been a mixed bag with Inter's performances ranging from fantastic to absolutely dire. Icardi is the key man for the Nerazzurri and he looks set to have his best season in an Inter shirt with six goals already under his belt. However De Boer's men will need time to adapt to his system and playing in the Europa League might also affect Inter's chances of finishing in the top three. Depending on how quick De Boer can get his players to deliver performances like the one against Juventus week in week out will determine whether Inter qualify for the Champions League.
Milan, the cross city rivals of Inter, also appointed a new manager in Vincenzo Montella, who will try to successfully implement his possession based football. Milan's tendency to leak goals will be a real hindrance in their ambitions to qualify for the Champions League. The Rossoneri however seem to have improved under Montella and with the youngest average age in Serie A, the future looks bright for Milan. If Milan can stay in touch with the top three until January and the sale of the Chinese goes through then an investment in the winter transfer window could propel Milan into the top three. Although achieving a Europa League place seems more likely this season.
Fiorentina seem to have been the nearly men for the past few years. La Viola have been unable to break into the top three and gain qualification for European's top prize. Under Sousa, Fiorentina have a clear style of play however this season they seem to lack the firepower to turn all their possession into goals. Fiorentina are also playing in the Europa League and might feel that their best bet of qualifying for the Champions League would be to win the Europa League. I find it hard to see Fiorentina finishing in the top three this year so for me a Europa League spot would be considered a successful season in Florence.
Last but not least, Lazio will be hoping to repeat their third place finish that they achieved under Pioli with current manager Simone Inzaghi. Lazio have a decent team and under Inzaghi seem to be pretty solid defensively with their only defeats so far this season being away to Milan and at home to Juventus. While they have lost twice, Lazio have performed well in both those matches and Inzaghi has brought consistency to Le Aquile. Lazio have a young team with lots of potential and if Immobile can find the form that he had at Torino then Lazio will prove a hard team to beat. I think Inzaghi is creating something special at Lazio and I would put them as dark horses for a Champions League place. Without the distraction of playing in Europe, the Biancocelesti can just focus on the league as well. I believe that Lazio could surprise a lot of people and qualify for the Champions League come the end of May.
The fight for the Champions League places will be hotly contested right up until the final whistle blows at the end of the season. All that remains to be seen is which teams can deliver the knockout blow to their competitors and qualify for Europe's most prestigious competition......