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Serie A – Mid Season Review

It has been a turbulent season thus far in Italy’s Prime Division. We’ve seen champions fall from grace in high profile style,  regulation contenders shock the big clubs with astonishing regularity, and, in typical Italian fashion, the usual sprinkling of fall outs, controversies and wild press statements that we have come accustomed to when following Lega Calcio.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the season so far, ignoring Antonio Cassano’s umpteenth board fall out, has been Inter’s meteorical demise from pretty much nailed on Scudetto favourites, to 13 points off the top of the table and struggling to break into the Champions League places, and somewhere close to a position that Massimo Moratti and Inter fans have grown accustom to over the last few years.

The big question that hangs over this shocking run of form is where do Inter go now? When one considers the trigger happy nature of Inter’s president when it  comes managerial strategy, it is almost certain that Benitez will be removed from his post as Coach, if not before Christmas, then one would assume some time in the New year. Either way, It’s safe to say that there will be a new face in the Inter technical area relatively soon, 8 million pay out or not.
So who will step into Benitez’s shoes? There have numerous rumours flying around, from Barcelona tactician Guardiola to current England manager and former Milan Coach Fabio Capello, who, according to the press was Moratti’s original choice when Mourinho moved to Madrid in the summer.
Moratti will want a high profile manager, someone that will impress both press and players, to rally behind and finally lay Mourinho’s ghost to rest, which still hang’s over Inter and has dogged Benitez at every press conference since his appointment. However, most of the managers that may be suited to the position : Ancellotti, Capello, Spalleti, Guardiola etc are all tied down to contarcts with clubs that they are unwilling to break, especially not for the sizzling hot seat at the San Siro.
My best bet would be Leornardo, a former Milan tactician, who has spent years at the Milanello training ground bringing through young players, including grooming Brazilian play maker and Balon D’or winner Kaka, who has since gone onto pastures new with Real Madrid. Despite his lack of experience in the Head Coach area, he does know football, and critically is not tied down to any manegerial contract. He could be appointed tomorrow, with no contract wrangling necessary, which is something that Moratti will wnat to avoid, given he will have to do that with Benitez anyway.

Italian Football moves in circles, always has. As one team suffers the retraints of age and decline, another rises to take its place, untill the same problem’s force’s that team back, allowing another to follow, etc etc.
Inter were that team in 2006, when Juventus were left reeling from the revelations of Calciopoli and were relegated, losing  key players like Patrick Viera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who both moved to Inter. Now it would seem, that as Inter have suffered managerial and injury setbacks, city rivals AC Milan have taken their place as the team to beat, going into to Christmas top for the first time since 2002 and on course for their first Scudetto since 2004.
Summer signing’s Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng have revitalised the Rossineri, and they look on hand to go the distance this year.
But that is not a surprise. Milan have always been a world class team that have been in contention for the title, year in year out, and now Inter have involuntarially eased off the gas, Milan have jumped at the chance, and deservedly so.
What is a suprise, and a pleasant one at that, is Lazio. Last year La Aquile were in danger of dropping into Serie B, leading to the famous thumb gesture by Francesco Totti after the derby defeat to Roma. But the appointment of experienced Edy Reja and the signing of “The Prophet” Hernanes and development of Sergio Flocarri has led to some citing Lazio as serious title contenders, and after their humiliatingly comfortable victory over Inter, who would disagree? This must be a painful sight for Roma fans who will hope that the weekend’s victory over Milan will help surge them back up to the top 3, and put their disatrous start to the season behind them.
The same can be said of Napoli, who have been dragged kicking and screaming to the dizzying heights of 2nd thanks to the increasingly impressive Edison Cavani and the silky skills of Equeziel Lavezzi, which have provided regular visitors to the Sao Paolo with many a heart stopping ending, with 3 of the last 4 of Napoli’s victories coming past the 90th minute. This sign of resolve has been key to Napoli’s success this calender year, and should it continue, then there is no denying that Napoli will be in and around the top 4 come May.
 Further down the table we find the likes of Juventus, Sampdoria and Palermo, all looking to dig their heels in and continue to glide up the table in 2011. Del Neri’s Juventus have suprised many, as despite having no obvious world class stars like Ibrahimovic at Milan, and Sneijder at Inter, the Old Lady of Turin can boast a team ethic that at times has been impossible to break down. An exceptionally strong midfield led by the rejuvenated Felipe Melo and Alberto Aquilani, two players who both had difficult seasons at Juventus and Liverpool respectively, seemed to have really picked up their careers in Turin this year.
This is emphasised by the strong backbone of Leonardo Bonnuci and one man tackling machine Giorgio Chiellini, as well as a returning Gigi Buffon.
But the star of the show has to be Serbian winger Milos Krasic, who is proving to be the signing of the season in Italy, the speedster has been simply phenomenal for Juve, at times dragging the Biaconeri to results and justifying his originally outlandish comparison with legend Pavel Nedved.

For Sampdoria and Palermo, both will be looking to move on, push into champions league places, a position that both teams were battling neck and neck for at the end of the last campaign. For Sampdoria, the loss of Cassano will be huge, and if Pazzini leaves for Juventus in January, then the Genoan outfit will have to look very hard for goals in 2011.
This is not an issue for Palermo, who are led by the astronomically talented Javier Pastore, and scoring by the bucketful in Italy. I imagine they will hope the Argentinan fantasista continues his great form to fire Palermo further up the table.
As for the bottom half, there are very little suprises, as the likes of Genoa, Chievo, Catania and Bologna, have not made great waves up or down the table, and I imagine that will continue.
The shock down there is Fiorentina, who have gone from European contenders to drop zone candidates in record time. No doubt, the losses of Jovetic and captain fantastic Ricardo Montolivo have had a great impact, but I would have expected La Viola to be comfortably in the top half of Serie A. However, I doubt that they will be relegated, with teams like Lecce, Bari and Cesena below them, and when there injury list thins in the New Year, I would expect a better run of form from the Florence side.
Despite the evergreen Hernan Crespo banging in goals like he woke up in 1999, Parma are still relegation candidates, slumming it with the likes of Bari, Lecce and Cesena. However they nor Brescia or even financially challeged Bologna  will not go down, I don’t think. There are worse teams in Serie A. My Prediction for the drop are the three that already occupy those positons : Lecce, Cesena and Bari. With 8 points behind at Christmas, Bari may as well be scratching the Serie A badges off their sleeve, like an obsessive gambler with the weekly Lotto. Despite Cesenas brilliant start, including the exquisite counter attacking display against Milan in september, they have since rocketed down the table, the same can be said of Lecce, who have had no kind of form at all , haemorrhaging goals here there and everywhere, and losing big so regularly,in any form of football, almost always leads to relegation.
So all in all, a fairly quiet year in Serie A. Right?

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