With none of their challengers mustering a credible challenge, Inter are on course to win the Scudetto for the fourth season running.
By Paddy Agnew in Rome
When champions Internazionale travelled to Turin to meet Juventus in a top of the table clash on April 18, we all took it for granted that this would prove an interesting game. After all, it represented a last, if admittedly slim, chance for the Old Lady to revive a championship title race that Inter have dominated since November.
Ten points clear of Juventus with seven games to play, Inter already looked home and dry. After a 1-1 draw in Turin, in which only an injury-time equaliser from Juve’s Czech Republic defender Zdenek Grygera saved the home side from further embarrassment, the title race to all intents and purposes is over. Inter are champions for the fourth successive year in all but mathematical certainty.
The racist insults directed at Inter striker Mario Balotelli attracted most of the headlines in the days following the game. When the dust from the Balotelli affair had finally settled, however, we were left with some very predictable conclusions about the inevitability of another Inter scudetto.
Behind them, Juventus and Milan are engaged in a real ding-dong struggle for second place while Genoa, Fiorentina and Roma will go right down to wire in their battle for fourth place and the Champions League spot that goes with it. At the other end of the table, the relegation battle looks very tight, with Torino perhaps favourites to avoid relegation at the expense of Bologna, Lecce and Reggina. This, too, looks like another contest that will go right down to the last day.
Speculation over Ancelotti
April, of course, is traditionally the month when speculation mounts about just who will be moving where for next season. On the coaching front, there are many who believe Carlo Ancelotti has come to the end of the road with Milan, where he will be replaced by either former Barcelona and Holland coach Frank Rijkaard or Cagliari’s Massimo Allegri.
Milan’s failure to mount any sort of serious title challenge on Inter, not to mention their UEFA Cup elimination by Werder Bremen in a year when for once they were not playing in the Champions League, are all alleged to have undermined Ancelotti’s position. After eight years, two Champions League trophies and one Serie A title with the club, Ancelotti and Milan may be about to go different ways.
Needless to say, were he to get the old heave-ho, Ancelotti would not be short of work offers, with clubs such as Chelsea and Real Madrid interested in him for next season. Just when it seemed his departure from Milan was a done deal, however, the club hit an excellent run of March/April form, picking up 16 points out of 18, beating both Siena and Torino 5-1 in the process.
Clearly, Milan’s finish will be crucial to decisions over Ancelotti’s future. In three of their last four games, they play Juventus, Roma and Fiorentina. The outcome of those games may prove decisive not only for next season’s Champions League but also for the coach.
One other intriguing and much-reported market move is that which could see Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro return from Real Madrid to his old stamping ground of Juventus. Even though he will be 36 in September, Juve are clearly attracted by the fact that Cannavaro
is out of contract with Real and so can be picked up on a free transfer.
Next month, when previewing Italy’s participation in the Confederations Cup in South Africa, we will cast a cold eye on April’s 1-1 World Cup qualifier draw in Bari with Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland. Suffice to say that this was a game which marked the return of the “Prodigal Grandad” – the happiest man on the Bari night.