On an intriguing weekend when Inter made it four out of four to remain top of the table, perhaps the most significant Serie A results came in Naples and Turin with both “Old Lady” Juventus and Napoli picking up their first league wins of the season, beating Genoa and Lazio respectively.
You would have to conclude that midweek European triumphs have done both teams a world of good. Against the expectations of many, Juventus left their disappointing Serie A form behind them when defeating Manchester City 2-1 in that opening, midweek Champions League tie.
In the mind game that is football, results like that talk loud and the result was that Juventus cruised through their 2-0 away win over Genoa, doing the minimum. Clearly, the “Old Lady” was much helped both by the (correct) 44th minute sending-off of Genoa defender Armando Izzo and by a 59th minute penalty (again correct) converted by Paul Pogba.
If Juve’s 2-1 win over Man City talked loud, then Napoli’s 5-0 destruction of Bruges in the Europa League postively screamed from the roof tops. After scoring just two draws in their opening three Serie A games, Napoli refound their best form to such an extent that yesterday, they also dispatched Lazio 5-0.
One is tempted to argue that with 10 goals scored and none conceded in three days, Napoli have finally got their show on the road. It remains to be seen whether new coach Maurizio Sarri can continue on in this vein, in the process finally bringing closure on the disappointment of the very last day of last season.
Remember, Napoli lost 4-2 at home to Lazio that day in a Champions League decider in which their Argentine ace Gonzalo Higuain missed a second half penalty that could have seen them, rather than Lazio, qualify. It was a wretched end to the Rafa Benitez era in Naples and also to a season which had begun badly with Napoli’s qualifying round elimination from the Champions League by Athletic Bilbao.
The least one can say is that these two wins have taken pressure off Naples-born Sarri, an experienced coach who did well with Empoli last season. What is also true is that when Inter coach Roberto Mancini says that Napoli have a more competitive squad than Inter, he is only slightly exaggerating.
With attacking players such as Hamsik, Insigne, Gabbiadini, Mertens, Callejon, Brazilian “new boy” Allen and, above all, Higuain, Napoli are not short of options up front. Rather their biggest problem thus far has been in defence – for example, last season Napoli scored 70 goals, just two fewer than champions Juventus. However, they also conceded 54 goals, more than twice as many as Juve (24). Time will tell whether last week’s 10-0 scoreline means that Napoli are beginning to solve their defensive “issues”.
One thing is for sure, that 5-0 win put a smile back on the face of club owner, cinema tycoon, Aurelio De Laurentis. Earlier yesterday afternoon, De Laurentis had a narrow escape when his 100 footer, luxury yacht caught fire in the Bay of Naples, prompting a hasty abandoning of ship and forcing him to miss last night’s game.
As for league leaders, Inter, they maintained their 100% record when registering their third 1-0 win of the season against Chievo. As in other games this season, Inter were less than all-impressive, doing the bare minimum. As in other games, such as last week’s Milan derby, a draw would have been no scandal.
Yet, the point is that Inter are out there, out in front. With Argentine Mauro Icardi scoring yesterday and with aggressive Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo looking ever more the leader, Inter can only get better. Mancini is probably right when he says that criticism about sides which win 1-0 is just “rubbish”. Melo, too, is probably right when he says that football is a contact sport and if you don’t like that, “then there is always tennis”.
Final thought concerns “old man” Francesco Totti, who set up the celebrations for his 39th birthday next Sunday by scoring his 300th official goal for Roma in their 2-2 home draw against Sassuolo. The fact that the goal was scored from an offside position and with a scuffed shot, not to mention the subsequent Roma draw, unfortunately took some of the shine of what should have been a “magico” moment. However, all the same, “complimenti” to Totti.