European football round up: The year so far in Serie A Part II
With around half the season already under our collective belts, JOE takes a look at how things are shaping up in Italy
Few things are more important to the Italians than their football (coffee and pasta may be on that list too) and once you watch Serie A it's not hard to understand why. This season has been a slightly tumultuous one, with changes at Inter and a period of decline seemingly setting in at AC Milan, there may be some less familiar names in the shake up for the top spots. JOE's resident football hipster takes a look through the teams to see who's doing well, who could be doing better, and has no small amount of man love for Andrea Pirlo. By virtue of alphabetic order, a good few of the big name teams have ended up in this one, which will make it a bit longer than our usual stuff, but take a few minutes to read it, we guarantee* that it'll be worth your time. If you've missed Part One, then you can check it out over here.
*not a guarantee
There may be a bit of activity in the January window for Genoa as they look to add to their squad and maybe push themselves up the table a little bit further, as they sit in ninth place, along with a glut of teams all on 20 points in the middle of the table.
That wasn't the case at the start of the season however, as they started out with the inexperienced Fabio Liverani in the managerial hotseat as the man in charge, and the task seemed to be beyond him. His side were very poor having lost four of their opening six games, and only had four points to show for their efforts. He was shown the door, and Gian Piero Gasperini, a huge fan favourite, came back to the club for a second spell in charge. He got the club back up to Serie A in 2006, and got them into Europe in 2009, making him one of the club's most successful coaches in recent memory. Since he left the club he's managed Inter and Palermo (where he was sacked twice in two months) but that hasn't taken the sheen off him in the eyes of Genoa fans, nor the players as results immediately improved and they won five of his first six matches in charge.
Alberto Gilardino, who has been around Serie A for a while, is their main man up front, and has scored seven of his side's goals, but in January they may well be looking for some support for him in attack. They are without a win in their last five and are finding goals very hard to come by, and without his goals they would be in real trouble. He has been linked to Toronto FC recently, but is proving that he might have more to give before he heads off to the MLS, so might want one last shot at Europe with a team further up the table.
Argentine Ricardo Centurión is a player who is very capable but has been used very sparingly as he tries to settle in to life in Serie A. He's currently on loan but that deal may be made permanent at the end of the season, and we'd like to see more of him in 2014. That might not come to fruition if the club bring in one of their main transfer targets Cristian Rodriguez of Atléti.
Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir is now president and Massimo Moratti is out as things at the top are changing for Internazionale. Things on the pitch aren't quite as good however, and despite there being a new man in charge, the money won't start flowing into the coffers for manager Walter Mazzarri. Thohir has repeatedly stated that he wants to make the club as self-sustainable as possible during his reign, however he also stated that there would be a few important players brought in this January.
One of those that has been mentioned is Ezequiel Lavezzi, and while a striker is not their first priority the Argentine seems to be very close to the exit door at PSG, as there is a long list of clubs who are looking to sign him, including Spurs, Arsenal and the nerazzuri. Goals have not been their problem however, having scored 37 this term (Rodrigo Palacio has helped himself to 10, while fellow country man and former Real Zaragoza great Diego Milito may return from injury within a few weeks, and is always likely to find the back of the net. He did manage to do that in their big win against Sassuolo away this season already, when they smashed in seven, but a thigh injury has seen him sidelined since.
The real problem has been at the back, where they are not as competent. The addition of Rolando (he thought my son Rolando was my son Ronaldo, can you believe that?) hasn't panned out as well as they thought, although fellow newcomer Hugo Campagnolo has been much stronger. More support there will be a priority for Mazzarri, as will some cover in midfield, with talk that Esteban Cambiasso may be leaving in January and no deals will get done unless they can sell Freddy Guarín, who looks set to join Chelsea.
There are already plenty of Argentines in the squad (the exciting Ricky Alvarez, Walter Samuel and the evergreen Javier Zanetti to name just a few) but that won't stop them from adding another, if rumours are to be believed. Erik Lamela definitely has talent, but failed to settle in London so far, so the rumoured loan deal for Inter would be a great boon to their attacking line up and perhaps of benefit to the player himself. Anything short of finishing in the top three will be considered a failure for Inter, who have been a constant in the Champions League, so some movement will happen in January, but just how much all depends on who leaves the San Siro.
The summer's business was done fairly well for Juventus, who finally added some world class striking talent to their solid defence and brilliant midfield that contains not only the second best bear in Serie A (for the best, head to part one of our roundup) with Andrea Pirlo but also the amazing Arturo Vidal, who was heavily linked with Real Madrid during the summer. He stayed at la Vacchia Signora however, and they have once again showed that they have their eye on claiming yet another scudetto with some strong performances this season, with Carlos Tevez hitting the ground running and Fernando Llorente settling in eventually. The latter has gotten some important goals of late, and the Italian press were forced to row back on their claim earlier in the year that all he had to offer were his looks.
Paul Pogba's performances have also grabbed headlines, and he is being looked at by the newly rich PSG, who fancy their chances of getting the Frenchman for a dump truck full of money. When in full flight, there are very few in the world who look like they could stop Pogba, and he could well be one of Europe's best. He has youth on his side too, and there are definitely a few Manchester United fans wishing that now that he'd gotten more playing time under Fergie.
Juventus have returned from the break with a huge win against Roma, that sees them extend their lead at the top of the table, and hand the team from the capital their first loss of the season. In a game that may well determine where the title ends up this year, they were far superior, with Pirlo in sublime form, and Roma simply couldn't cope, finishing the game with nine men. How important this win is remains to be seen, but Juventus are beginning to show signs that they want that trophy again.
Striker Miroslav Klose is still plying his trade at Lazio, and proved earlier this week that he's still got the moves in the box when his late strike gave them a win over Inter, with some beautiful movement that left the nerazzurri defence standing still.
The Christmas break was not all plain sailing for the biancocelesti as Vladimir Petkovic got engaged in a legal battle over his sacking. It seems that he was dismissed as a result of his taking the job of managing the Swiss national side, and therefor was in breach of contract, but there could be a lengthy slog in this yet. He was replaced by Edoardo Reja, who saw his first game in charge go pretty well with that win over Inter. Reja was in charge of Lazio in 2011, and has returned to a squad that has plenty of talent in it. The aforementioned Klose has five goals this season, despite missing nearly a month through injury, and Ogenyi Onazi is on the radar for a few Premier League clubs.
Hernanes has been much speculated about both in the summer and in this window, but has stated that he's happy in Rome and that his level of play is the best that it has been in years, while fellow South American Lucas Biglia is still finding his feet, but beginning to show his talents. Keita Balde Diao is just 18-years-old, but has forced his way into the squad, getting plenty of game time in the Europe League. He is certainly one to watch, and as Forza Italian Football point out, his individual goal against Napoli highlights his trickery and eye for a finish.
Even though they sit in the middle of the table, they're closer to the relegation places than they are European spots, so it might be reaching a bit to say they could push further up the table, however given the instability there this season, sitting in the safety of mid-table come the end of the year would not be too unwelcome. They have a good platform to build on, but it depends on who arrives and more importantly, who leaves in this window.
Hovering just above last place, Livorno's season so far has been a story of very few wins, and few goals. They've lost five games this season by one goal, and that will make their focus in this window a striker that can add some firepower up front. Paulinho (not that one) is their leading scorer with just six, and there are very few goals coming from anywhere else.
He was on target in their game against Milan this season where it looked as though they were about to get an improbable win, before Mario Balotelli curled home a wonderful free kick to leave the Amaranto heart broken.
Manager Davide Nicola could be looking at the exit door in a short while if results don't improve, and another loss against Fiorentina this weekend (in which Giuseppe Rossi suffered another knee injury, the full extent of which doesn't seem to be as bad as first feared) won't have helped his case any. He'll be looking for some reinforcements this month, but without a huge budget, there may be plenty of loan moves done. Forza Italian Football are reporting that they may get right back Marco Motta from Juve, as the bianconeri are looking to clear out a few players in this window, who would be more than welcome.
Apropos of nothing, they also have a brilliantly named Swiss-Nigerian player on their team who goes by the moniker Innocent Emeghara. Ermagerd what a great name...
This is going to be a long one, but Milan have had en eventful few months. A lot has gone on, but perhaps the most notable event for Milan is the fact that it has been seen that Mario Balotelli is fallible from the penalty spot, after he missed two this term against Napoli and then Bologna a few weeks later. While we say that a bit tongue in cheek, it is symptomatic of what has gone wrong with Milan this season, with things just not coming up trumps for the rossoneri.
Kaká has returned to the San Siro and while he will never be the player he was, he has shown flashes of brilliance that suggest that he could make a big impact again, as his five goals demonstrate. Balotelli does have that tendency to drift in and out of games which it's looking like he'll never shake off, but when he's on form, he is simply undeniable. He's scored six this season, which is not the return that they would have been looking for, but he does like his spectacular free kicks, as we've just seen above, and his headline-grabbing boots.
The problem has been too many draws and inconsistency at both ends of the pitch. January might hold some brighter times for fans of Milan though. Young starlet Bryan Cristante was handed his first start on the weekend, and duly went on to score his first goal, and while Allegri has warned that too much pressure won't be good for him, he's certainly one to watch. Matteo De Sciglio has been fairly competent and a bit spiky at the back, while the arrival of Keisuke Honda from Russia will surely be a great addition to the midfield and add a bit of incision. For no other reason than we absolutely love this goal, here's Honda scoring a tiki taka beauty against Holland.
Ever Banega is a name that has been linked with them this window too (a hugely underrated player), while the young El Shaarawy may be on his way out of the club, with Arsenal rumoured to be waiting to swoop in. He's injured at the moment which will hinder any moves, but his departure would mean they'd need a bit more cover up front. Manager Massimiliano Allegri will definintely be leaving this year as he has announced he will finish up with Milan at the end of the season, and while he would like to leave on a high, his side is currently in 12th place, so that's easier said than done. Clarence Seedorf and Andre Villas Boas have both been linked with the gig, but it's hard to see why someone would want it at the minute. Things off the pitch are very strange, with Barbara Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani fighting it out for control of the club, including a bizarre episode where Galliani resigned but came back the next day.
The strangest moment has without doubt been the confrontation between fans and players in the car park after a draw with Genoa, where the ultras made their feelings known about just how bad things had gotten at the world's biggest club and Kaká and Abbiati were forced to moderate.
If Manchester United fans think they're about to have a bad window, then maybe they should chat to some Milanistas come February. The best case scenario would be for them to offload a few players and bring in some support at the back to add some stability, while simultaneously hoping that the players who are there and have talent (Robinho, Balotelli et al.) manage to pull something akin to a miracle out of the bag in the next few months to get them into the top three.
The arrival of Rafael Benitez in the summer heralded a period of change for the Ciucciarelli, with the Spaniard bringing with him a few signings from his home country, who hit the ground running. José Callejón has shown with some degree of consistency the quality player that those who saw him at Espanyol knew he could be, but a few seasons on the bench at Madrid had perhaps hidden those qualities from the public eye. Gonzalo Higuaín was another acquisition that excited the Napoli fans, and he hasn't disappointed with nine goals so far. Callejón is not far behind him either with eight, so those two bits of transfer market business are certainly paying off.
They added more quality to a squad that was good enough to get into Europe last year also, with players like Marek Hamsik, and the addition of Pepe Reina has seen the Spaniard look like he's back to his best, even managing to stop a Balotelli penalty for the first time in the Italian's career. Between him and Raú Albiol at the back, there is plenty of stability and the core of the team is very strong indeed. Unsurprisingly though, Benítez being Beníz, he's looking for defensive reinforcements in January, and has quite the shopping list including Daniel Agger, Thomas Vermaelen, Zenit's Domenico Criscito and Nemanja Matic, amongst others.
After a desperately unlucky elimination from the Champions League (they set a new record for the most points accumulated without progressing to the next round) the focus has returned to their domestic game and ensuring that they're back in Europe next season. In case you weren't aware, Italy have only three Champions League spots, so that makes competition all the more fierce, but they have found themselves still in contention in the league (ten points off Juve), in the Europa League and Coppa Italia, so squad depth will be an issue.
They have been fairly consistent this year, and bar what you could describe as a surprising loss to Parma, the only teams who have beaten them this year are the in form Roma and table-toppers Juventus, and you might even say they're playing some entertaining stuff. A real title charge is beyond their reach, unless there's some sort of collapse from the bianconeri, but don't count them out of any competition, in particular the Europa League, given Benítez's ability to achieve in Europe. Having spent nearly €80 million in the last window, there might need to some selling before they can start buying again to reinforce and progress even further in the second half of the season.