Skip to content

Italy at the break: Five lessons from the first 17 rounds of Serie A

Dec 23, 2013, 12:00 AM EDT

francesco_totti

It’s 2013, and Francesco Totti is still the league’s most important player

After two months sidelined with thigh injury, Francesco Totti returned to Roma’s starting lineup on Sunday, looking like his typically Tottian self. Creating five chances for this teammates, Totti was at the center of Roma’s 4-0 win over Catania, the team scoring more than twice for the first time since their talisman got hurt (Oct. 5).

With him, Roma has not lost, winning nine of 10 games. Without him, Roma also has not lost, but they’re only won three out of seven, the four draws the Giallorossi suffered between Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 allowing Juventus to build a five-point lead atop the table. In the seven games Totti missed, Roma — averaging 2.8 goals per game when Totti is healthy — has scored seven goals.

The man is 37 years old, and Roma still hasn’t found a way to live without him, a prospect that’s both thrilling and terrifying. That Totti can be this good, this important to a team at such an advanced age ads is utterly beguiling yet is utterly forgotten anytime you actually watch him play. He’s still that good.

That Roma can’t hold off Juventus without him, however, means Totti’s health may be the only thing  keeping the Serie A title race alive. And for Roma fans and Serie A followers who want a title race, that’s where the fragile 37-year-old gets terrifying.

source: Getty Images

Sidelined for the bulk for two seasons, Giuseppe Rossi has returned to lead Serie A in goals after 17 games, scoring 14 times as he re-enters the frame for Brazil 2014. (Source: Getty Images)

GIUSEPPE ROSSI’S READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN BRAZIL

The €10 million Fiorentina paid for Giuseppe Rossi looked pricey at the time. After all, the Villarreal star had played nine games in the preceding 18 months, two knee injuries threatening to ruin the career of player that had developed into one of Spain’s brightest stars. Given it would be another five months before the Italian international took the field, fans had plenty of reason to ask whether Rossi was worth the risk when la Viola procured him just over one year ago.

Nobody’s asking those questions now. After a league-leading 14 goals through 17 rounds, the debate’s shifted. Now everybody’s focus is on what role Rossi should play for the Azzurri for next year’s World Cup.

On the surface, the question seems a little absurd, especially considering Rossi had been impressive for Italy in the first days of Cesare Prandelli’s tenure. Given that Italy played with Antonio Cassano in support of Mario Balotelli while making the finals of Euro 2012 (a pairing that’s unlikely to be replicated at Brazil 2014), the national team could use somebody like Rossi up top. It seems like a perfect fit, even if Rossi doesn’t end up among the 11 starting when Italy opens next summer’s tournament against England.

Only now, as Rossi’s moved three clear in the race for capocannoniere, are people starting to look beyond the comeback. For much of the fall, there’s been a kind or no-hitter jinx approach to the story, people not wanting to speak too loud lest they be blamed for Rossi’s wane. Still, the conversation is starting to pick up, with Prandelli using November’s international break to speak wishfully of a Balotelli-Rossi for Brazil 2014.

At this point, there may not be a better Italian goalscorer, let alone two. Although there were doubts about Rossi entering the season, the fall’s set us straight. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the first part of the Serie A’s 2013-14 campaign, it’s that Giuseppe Rossi’s ready for more. He’s ready to be a factor in Brazil.

source: AP

Among the most scrutinized players last season, Inter’s Ricardo Alvarez has been integral to the Nerazzurri’s 2013-14 resurgence. (Source: AP)

Ricky Alvarez IS MORE THAN a lost cause

The most maligned player in Serie A last season was Argentine Ricardo Alvarez, the then-23-year-old’s poor play distinguishing himself on a massively underperforming Inter Milan side. Whereas the former Velez creator looked like a key link between the 2010 European Champions and the group that would replace Inter’s aging stars, by 2013, Alvarez was being written off ala Philippe Coutinho, both considered Nerazzurri busts.

But just as Coutinho has proved doubters wrong after moving to Liverpool, Alvarez has resurrected his career. Under Walter Mazzarri, the five-time Argentina international has settled back into a playmaker’s role, his performances integral in countryman Rodrigo Palacio’s 10 goals in 17 games. Alvarez has added some impressive numbers of his own, his four goals and six assists crucial to the league’s second-best attack.

The turnaround is just a reminder of how bad things had gotten at Inter. From Mourinho’s heights to Benítez, Gasperini and Stramaccioni, with a little Leonardo and Rainieri in between, Inter’s had six different coaches since Alvarez was bought in 2011. From title contender to mid-table irrelevance, Inter had squandered Massimo Moratti’s commitment. Only now, having lured Mazzarri, do the Nerazzurri seem to have some semblance of stability.

Of all the positives Mazzarri has brought to Inter, revitalizing Alvarez is among his most remarkable. A player that was panned as one of the worst in the league last year is now one of the circuit’s most productive, with a bright future having been restored for the still 25-year-old star.

source: Getty Images

CEO Barbara Berlusconi saw Adriano Galliani’s transfer policies as causing Milan’s downfall. Problems, however, persist at every level of Milan’s organization. (Photo: Getty Images)

Milan WILL not turn this around

First, let’s define what “turn this around” is. It’s getting into Champions League. This is a club that defines itself by continental success as much as domestic, so there’s no way a season where a seven-time European champion misses Champions League for the first time since 2008-09 can be considered successful. It can’t even be considered acceptable, or a push. Milan, currently in 13th place (having won four of 17 league matches), needs to finish third to meet expectations. And that’s not going to happen.

Beyond being 17 points back of third place, the mere competition between that spot and theirs means next year’s Champions League will start without the Rossoneri. Max Allegri’s team would have to drastically outplay all of Napoli, Fiorentina, Inter and seven other teams to claim that spot, and while this week’s results against Roma (2-2 draw) and Inter (1-0 loss) hint they can be competitive, they’ll need to be dominant to pull off this miracle.

Allegri just doesn’t have the horses. There’s a reason the team has conceded 26 goals at the back. There’s a reason nobody’s scored more than six goals. Where they lack quality in defense, Milan also lack consistency and maturity up front. In between, the team is no better than the overall squad: Decent, but little more.

You can see why Barbara Berlusconi (pictured) is letting Adriano Galliani go, and while that may have taken some heat off Allegri by settling one debate, it won’t be long until the head coach is seen as contributing to the problems.

If 17 games have shown us anything, it’s that there’s no one quick cure for Milan. Their transfer dealings were poor. The coaching’s lack inspiration. None of the playing staff have distinguished themselves. From the top of the organizational chart to the product on the field, this may be Milan’s worst effort in 15 years. Over the course of 19 games, there is no turning this around.

source: Getty ImagesJUVENTUS IS THE BEST OF THE GOOD

After 17 rounds, seven teams in Serie A have already scored 30 goals, a statistic that happens to coincide with the entertainment value of the league. Somehow, beyond all reason and evidence on the field, the Italian league maintains a reputation for being a stuffy circuit prone to tactical deadlocks (a misconception that also gets mistakenly applied to the national team). But with Rudi Garcia’s Roma chasing goals, Walter Mazzarri haven taken his adventurous style to Inter, and teams like Napoli and Fiorentina adding scorers this summer, Italy continues to defy its long-defunct expectations. Maybe better international television deals would start to dispel old notions.

The real question is whether any of these teams are any good. I’m not talking about ‘good’ in the sense of entertainment value, or are they above average in the cosmic, absolute sense. I mean ‘are they good’ in the most naive yet applicable way possible. Are these teams good in relative to what we see at the tops of other leagues? Relative to what we see in Champions League?

It’s hard to say yes. Juventus, a team often more drilled and consistent than convincing or brilliant, went out of Champions League at the feet of a Turkish club. Napoli ended up in the wrong half of a very tough group, while Milan — the only Serie A team to advance in Europe’s biggest tournament — went through clinging for dear life in one of the draws easiest groups. Meanwhile, Roma — a team that didn’t even qualify for Europe this year, was the league’s best team for fall’s first half, while clubs like Inter, Hellas Verona, and Torino have been able to shake last year’s results (or, in Hellas’s case, stature) to be competitive this season.

And at the end of December, we’re left where we finished the last two seasons, with Juventus on top. Winners of 10 in a row, Juve finally conceded a goal this weekend, the first time they’ve done so in league since October, and while the additions of Carlos Tévez and Fernando Llorente (as well as the emergence of Paul Pogba) give the impression of an improved squad, you can’t help but wonder: How good is Serie A? And is the okay-but-not-great quality of the league the reason why Juventus, while they struggle for significance in Europe, are still on track for the third straight scudetto?

In some leagues, none of this matters. The league is either enjoying, watchable, entertaining, or it’s not, and to a certain point, Serie A’s gotten there. But for a circuit as steeped in tradition as the Italian league, it will always be a lingering question. How good is this league compared to others? Through half of 2013-14, it’s unclear the arrow’s pointed in the right direction.

Results

Livorno 1, Udinese 2
Cagliari 1, Napoli 1
Bologna 1, Genoa 0
Torino 4, Chievo 1
Sassuolo 0, Fiorentina 1
Sampdoria 1, Parma 1
Roma 4, Catania 0
Verona 4, Lazio 1
Atalanta 1, Juventus 4
Inter 1, Milan 0

Standings

1. Juventus, 46 pts.
2. Roma, 41 pts.
3. Napoli 36 pts.
4. Fiorentina, 33 pts.
5. Inter, 31 pts.
6. Verona, 29 pts.
7. Torino, 25 pts.
8. Udinese, 20 pts.
9. Lazio, 20 pts.
10. Genoa, 20 pts.
11. Cagliari, 20 pts.
12. Parma, 20 pts.
13. Milan, 19 pts.
14. Sampdoria, 18 pts.
15. Atalanta, 18 pts.
16. Chievo, 15 pts.
17. Bologna, 15 pts.
18. Sassuolo, 14 pts.
19. Livorno, 13 pts.
20. Catania, 10 pts.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner set to sell team to UK group

    Mar 29, 2015, 8:13 AM EDT

    Lerner Getty Images

    An agreement has reportedly been reached between the current American owner and a domestic ownership group.

  2. Gareth Bale fires back at club critics after Wales success

    Mar 29, 2015, 7:34 AM EDT

    Bale Getty Images

    Gareth Bale knows what people are saying about his recent play at Real Madrid, but he’s not listening.

  3. MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Seattle Sounders

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:41 PM EDT

    Zach Loyd, FC Dallas Zach Loyd, FC Dallas

    A disappointing result for FCD, given Seattle’s lack of Dempsey and Martins, but a great one considering their early red card.

  4. MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Portland Timbers

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:06 PM EDT

    Vancouver Whitecaps Vancouver Whitecaps

    Three more points for Vancouver, who win it late on Robert Earnshaw’s Whitecaps debut. He scores for everyone.

  5. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 1-0 LA Galaxy

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT

    D.C. United Getty Images

    It was the late, late, late show at RFK Stadium, and despite being thoroughly outplayed, D.C. United go home with three points.

  6. MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 0-1 Sporting Kansas City

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:04 PM EDT

    Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City

    Sporting KC get their first victory of the season, while NYCFC suffer their first defeat of the year — and history.

  7. EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Netherlands, Italy rescue draws; Bale, Wales go top

    Mar 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    Gareth Bale, Wales Gareth Bale, Wales

    It wasn’t a great day to be a traditional European giant, but it was a great day to be Gareth Bale and Wales.

  8. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

    Mar 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution Getty Images

    A dominant performance — and the three points to match — from the Revs…finally.

  9. Orlando City SC field a four-man bench due to injuries, MLS playing through int’l window

    Mar 28, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Kaka, Orlando City SC Kaka, Orlando City SC

    Think that MLS playing through int’l windows isn’t a big deal? Let’s ask Orlando City what they think about it.

  10. If you only read one story on Sol Campbell today, let it be this one.

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    Preview Screening of 'Invincibles' Getty Images

    Campbell was capped 73 times, and is England’s second-youngest captain. Clearly he knows that, too.

  11. WATCH: Gareth Bale just scored a nice free kick for Wales… if you’re into that sort of thing

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT

    Israel Wales Euro Soccer AP

    A win would give Wales a two-point lead in Group B with a game-in-hand on both Israel and Cyprus.

  12. Freddy Adu has joined a new club, this one in Finland

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT

    CBMeXdCVIAAteBM-300x225

    The Canaries finished in 7th place last season in the Veikkausliiga, Finland’s top-flight.

  13. Klinsmann’s USMNT struggles, experimentation in friendlies: Does it really matter?

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT

    Denmark Soccer Usa AP

    Should the States’ losses in friendlies represent anything other than a concern at the lack of US youth readiness for the big stage?

  14. Liverpool’s Glen Johnson linked with summer move to, January start date with Barcelona

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:08 PM EDT

    Liverpool Training Session Getty Images

    This likely comes as a surprise to Liverpool fans, as Johnson is widely treated rightly or wrongly as a scapegoat by Reds supporters.

  15. Klinsmann explains philosophy behind mad scientist lineups, formations for USMNT

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT

    Denmark US Soccer AP

    Does the embattled USMNT coach have a point? I’m again bracing for the comment section when I say… I think so.

  16. Russia wants full points from match abandoned after Akinfeev struck in head by flare (video)

    Mar 28, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT

    Russia's Igor Akinfeev hit by flare at Montenegro, match later abandoned Getty Images

    Given UEFA president Michel Platini’s concerned words and warning about fan violence just this week, could he do something even more harsh?

  17. Marsch critical of Klinsmann’s experimentation, lack of USMNT “identity”

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT

    Jesse Marsch AP

    The States are 1-4 in their last five matches, all four coming on the road (Colombia, Ireland, Chile and Denmark).

Featured video

Week 30: Headline PL moment