Serie A Round-Up: Who are the pretenders to Juventus’ throne?

For the last few years, Juventus’ success has almost been predictable. Another year, another Bianconeri trophy – or at least that was the plan.

A team famous for making history, Juve have managed it again, except this time for all the wrong reasons. Never before have the Turin giants lost their two opening games of the season and such a feat hasn’t been managed since 1912, when the domestic league was divided by region.

Slow, predictable and a midfield entirely dominated, the great Juve side that played with character and skill has given way to an inferior version that can barely stand up for itself. Where Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo once stood, Simone Padoin and Stefano Sturaro now stand. Who, you ask? Well, exactly.

Roma, the team billed to be Juve’s title challengers and the squad most capable of snatching the Scudetto, played an excellent game on Sunday afternoon, demonstrating their capability of overwhelming the opponent with one touch football. Yet for all the beauty and technique they boast, they very nearly drew a match they should have won convincingly.

They had penalty appeals waved away, hit the post and saw wonderful movements fizzle out, yet they always believed. They dominated possession and with Juventus down to 10 men, the chances of a win became almost predictable, yet it was Wojciech Szczęsny’s superb save that rescued all three points for them. The Old Lady only discovered her winning mentality in the last 15 minutes when all hope was nearly lost and she exploited Roma’s celebratory mood.

Critics can write all they wish on Juve’s poor mentality and even worse style of football this season but had it not been for the Polish goalkeeper, Sunday’s headline may have read “Juve’s pride sees them fight and earn a precious point” while Roma’s Rudi Garcia would have been forced to answer tough questions on his side’s inability to maintain concentration. It only takes a minute or one miraculous save for a story to change course.

While the Giallorossi celebrated, Lazio wept. Last year’s third best team were humiliated 4-0 by Chievo Verona, the club nicknamed ‘The Flying Donkey’s’ – Hellas Verona, their city rivals said donkeys would fly before this team would make it to Serie A. They not only made it but are more or less a firm fixture in the top flight these days. Sitting at the top of the league with six points from two games, Chievo face Juventus next and one cannot help but wonder if they’ll manage a hat-trick of wins.

Lazio and Juve are not the only big names licking their wounds. Napoli limped to another disappointing result, gaining only a point against Sampdoria despite leading 2-0 at half time. Milan managed an undeserved victory against Empoli that led coach Sinisa Mihajlovic to claim: “We have to do something on a psychological level, because we cannot go on like this.” The problem with Milan is that while they have upgraded their attack, their midfield is still missing the strength and talent required to make them a balanced team.

Despite the money spent, little has changed in Milan, but the same cannot be said of their city rivals who managed another win under Roberto Mancini. Stevan Jovetic has proved to be a hero, scoring a last minute goal in their first match of the season before grabbing two against Carpi, the winning penalty on the 88th minute to seal all three points for the Nerazzurri. Without him, Mancini’s men would be lost as they, much like Juve, have yet to awake from their summer slumber. Slow and unadventurous, the Montenegrin’s desire to verticalise play has provided much needed forward thrusts, but Inter will need to improve should they wish to win the bigger matches against better opponents, even if they have collected maximum points thus far.

Time will tell how well Italian clubs have spent this season. For a league that has outspent all others except the Premier League, one hopes the squads that have revolutionised themselves will start to dazzle, collecting exciting wins to earn back the interest in a league now only loved by the nostalgic among us.

Follow Mina at @Minarzouki

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