By Michael Ottolenghi
There are no quiet weeks in Serie A. And the next seven days will be no exception, with two rounds of games, including a key clash of attacking minded clubs at the top of the table and the first test of how the Champions League teams respond to their European exertions.
But the only place to start is Lazio, who utterly demolished the much more fancied Milan under a torrential downpour in the Italian capital last weekend, and now have seven points, just two behind the three teams still on full points: Juve, Napoli and Inter. Milan are a point further back on 6. But as if to vindicate those who had doubted that Milan could simply acquire a new team and hope it worked instantly, Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio dominated key areas of the game and exposed Milan’s defense in a stunning 4-1 win at the Stadio Olimpico. Ciro Immobile’s (left) hat trick has deservedly taken many of the plaudits, but the most obvious difference between the sides was the cohesion that Lazio displayed, while Milan looked very much a collection of (clueless) individuals. Vincenzo Montella’s team enjoyed more possession than the Roman side but plainly did not know what to do with it.
And so the next two games will require Montella to find his best formation and instil both cohesion and heart in his team. A quiet week for him, then. But while Milan will be expected to win those matches, home fixtures against Udinese this Sunday and then Spal on Wednesday, Montella knows that he will need to find a way to show that his squad is capable of performing against the big teams, with key clashes against Roma and Inter looming in the next month.
Lazio, for their part, face a trip to a poor Genoa side this weekend, followed by another huge game against Napoli in Rome next Wednesday. For all of Immobile’s exploits, it is manager Simone Inzaghi who is slowly emerging as the club’s key weapon. It is easy to forget that Inzaghi was very much Lazio’s backup option as manager last year after Marcelo Bielso dramatically reneged on his decision to lead the biancocelesti. Since then, Inzaghi has established himself as one of the most promising young managers in the Italian game. Always under the shadow of his more successful brother Filippo as a player, Simone has already surpassed him as a manager, showcasing some impressive attacking play despite having very little control over his squad (as evidenced by the departures of two of his best players, Lucas Biglia and Keita Balde, over the summer). Last season’s creditable fifth place was way above expectations, so a push for Champions League qualification is realistic this year.
Napoli may have something to say about that, as they face their annual struggle to prove that their squad is deep enough to handle both the Champions League and Serie A. Manager Maurizio Sarri insists that his team are better equipped to deal with the dual challenge than they were last year, and they have put together 5 wins in all five of their competitive games so far this season. The midweek trip to Ukraine to play Shaktar shouldn’t prevent Napoli from collecting all three points against newly promoted Benevento on Sunday, but the Lazio game will present a sterner test and Sarri will have to hope his squad players, particularly in attack, can perform as well as starters Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon.
Elsewhere in Serie A over the next week, defending Champions Juventus will recover from their Champions League loss against Barcelona with an away game against Sassuolo this Sunday, and then an always acrimonious tie against Fiorentina in Turin. Juve will expect to win that game, although Fiorentina are coming off a statement 5-0 win against Verona that featured both of their exciting and illustrious young strikers on the mark: 19 year old Federico Chiesa (son of former Italy international Enrico) and 22 year old Giovanni Simeone (above), son of current Atletico Madrid boss and former Inter and Lazio player Diego. They should provide some excitement going forward, but nobody in Serie A has yet figured out how to stop Paolo Dybala, so if he starts for Juventus it may not matter how many Fiorentina score.