Serie A 2019-20: 6 biggest talking points from the season so far
- While Juventus are still at the top of the table, Lazio are just a point and a place behind the champions.
- The race for the Europa League spots is also intense.
Fourth-placed Atalanta's wild and exciting team have sent shockwaves across the continent, while the race for an Europa League spot is heating up too, with as many as six teams within a fighting chance.
At the other end of the table, there aren't many surprises besides Hellas Verona competing for an Europa League spot rather than scrambling for survival.
What's also bonkers is that there have been as many as 12 managerial changes since October, including two each by Genoa and Brescia alone! Serie A's top-scorer is also turning out to be the European top-scorer, something that hasn't happened since 2007.
With that and much more, let's dive into the six biggest talking points from what has been a roller-coaster Serie A campaign so far:
#6 Hellas Verona are the biggest surprise of the season
The newly-promoted side were supposed to be battling relegation, but Hellas Verona certainly had other plans. Against all odds, they sit eighth in the table, just a point behind AC Milan with a game in hand, and having lost just once in 2020. This is due to some surprisingly stoic defending from the Scaligeri, and the chief architect behind the success is their new boss Ivan Juric.
Sacked thrice by Genoa, the Croat is turning a corner here. His method of playing a three-man defense and midfielders (two holding and attacking each) crowding out spaces in the middle of the park have seen even the most menacing sides struggle to score against them. In fact, only the top three sides have conceded less than Verona in the league this season! Their courageous style of play is yielding huge dividends, and a place in Europa League doesn't seem far-fetched right now.
#5 AC Milan must do everything to keep Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic hasn't turned Milan's fortunes upside down per se, but his impact since returning to the San Siro is undeniable. The Rossoneri are averaging more points per games now than they did previously without the Swede. Ante Rebic has found his shooting boots, and the team have even marginally improved in defense. So, the towering Swede can certainly take some credit for the feel-good factor on which the team are thriving, but that might not be enough to keep him at AC Milan beyond this season.
Recent reports suggest that Ibrahimovic may leave in the summer. Club chiefs Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban, who played a big role in bringing the striker back to the San Siro, are apparently on their way out as the club prepare for a boardroom shake-up. This seems to have plunged Ibrahimovic's future in doubt. He has helped in lifting the team from 11th in the standings up to 7th to put themselves within a fighting chance of securing a place in Europe, something that seemed highly unlikely before. As Milan have an option of extending his contract by another year, they must do everything in their power and retain him.
#4 Atalanta are the most entertaining side in Serie A
If there's anything that Atalanta's games promise, then that's plenty of heart-pounding entertainment. Their 25 league games so far have produced a mammoth 104 goals, with La Dea scoring 70 as they're the most prolific side in the Italian top-flight. Also, they hold the record for almost every biggest margin win in Serie A this season so far: Biggest home win? Atalanta 7-1 Udinese! Biggest away win? Torino 0-7 Atalanta! Highest scoring match? Lecce 2-7 Atalanta!
Spearheading the juggernaut is the peerless trio of Josip Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata, all of whom have already hit double-digits. However, such impressive figures haven't translated into a sustained title assault as the team sit fourth in the standings, 15 points behind leaders Juventus with a game in hand. It's largely due to their leaky defense which has conceded 34 times already. So, Gian Piero Gasperini's side are adept at scoring as well as conceding, and that in-turn, has made them the most happening unit in Italy right now.
#3 Gennaro Gattuso is turning a corner with Napoli
The ex-Milan boss succeeded his ex-Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti, who was axed in December after a series of unsatisfactory results. But Gennaro Gattuso had a rough start as the Partenopei went down four times in his first five games. However, he has managed to steady the ship now. Victories over Juventus, Sampdoria, Torino, Lazio, Inter Milan and an unlikely draw against FC Barcelona in the Champions League have not only restored confidence in the side, but there's also a sense of optimism prevailing too.
Gattuso has successfully drilled the ability to grind out results and turn unappetizing stalemates into three-pointers. The team now show tremendous aggression and bite, while Lorenzo Insigne is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of his appointment. The striker, who appeared hopelessly out-of-sorts at the beginning, is now firing on all cylinders. Napoli have turned their fortunes around so much that they have climbed from 11th to 6th in just six games, and Gattuso's stars would shine brighter if they somehow finish that way.
#2 Cristiano Ronaldo is an ageless wonder
Well, well, well. Where do we even begin with Cristiano Ronaldo? 35 years of age, in the twilight of his career, and still dominating at a level that would put younger forwards to shame. The Portuguese ace has already scored (21) as many times as he did in the whole of last season, and also equaled the record for scoring in the most consecutive games (11) in the process. He currently trails only Ciro Immobile by six goals in the Serie A scoring charts.
Ronaldo is the single biggest factor that's keeping Juventus at the top of the table. Without his interventions, they would've dropped several points. Quite simply, the ex-Real Madrid star continues to rule the roost, and will most certainly break many more records at this frightening rate.
#1 Lazio can break Juventus' monopoly
There's so much happening in Serie A this season, but what really trumps everything else is Lazio's incredible streak that has turned them into a genuine title contender. Simone Inzaghi's swashbuckling side are unbeaten in 21 games and have defeated every other team in the division, barring AS Roma and Atalanta. They have the best defence in the league too, and trail leaders Juventus by just a point.
Lazio's hot streak is precipitated by Ciro Immobile, who's having a prolific season with 27 goals in the bag already. With several other first-teamers such as Luis Alberto and Felipe Caicedo too at the top of their games, the Biancocelesti can really upset the applecart. Juventus don't face such an opposition in the title race often, and given their series of tame victories as well as their chronic dependence on Ronaldo, the Bianconeri's long domestic dominance is in serious jeopardy.
Published 24 Mar 2020, 11:01 IST