A Week Is A Long Time In Serie A: March 7th 2012
Milan have regained the advantage in the Serie A title race, following their 4-0 away demolition of Palermo last Saturday night. Juventus’s response was a limp 1-1 draw with Chievo at the Juventus stadium, which leaves Milan three points clear at the top of the table. The bianconeri can reclaim top spot by beating Bologna in their game in hand this week (while Milan travel back from their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Champions League), but the rossoneri’s recent impressive domestic run sees them as slight favourites for the title.
Even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended for three games, Milan managed to keep the pressure on Juventus, including during the acrimonious 1-1 draw between the sides at San Siro two weeks ago. But Ibrahimovic proved his worth in his first game back with three goals in 14 first half minutes and an all round dominant attacking performance against Palermo. His hat trick puts Ibrahimovic level with Antonio Di Natale on 18 goals at the top of the Serie A scoring charts and Milan president Silivio Berlusconi and manager Massimiliano Allegri have both hailed Ibrahimovic as a candidate for European footballer of the year. While it remains doubtful that good performances in what has become a second tier European league will be enough to rival the exploits of Messi and Ronaldo in the Champions League, Ibrahimovic’s offensive threat is the real difference between Milan and Juventus.
Indeed, while Juventus remain unbeaten and are Milan’s only real title rivals, they endured their first boos from home fans at the Juventus stadium last weekend, with striker Mirko Vucinic a particular target for disgruntled fans. Juventus’s strikerforce has markedly failed to produce the fireworks their fans expected of them, and have been blamed for not finishing off supposedly lesser opponents such as Chievo. That is why the club is repeatedly linked with attacking superstars such as Carlos Tevez and others in the transfer market, as while Ibrahimovic scores and inspires his teammates to do the same, Juventus have scored 15 fewer goals than their title rivals. Manager Antonio Conte will be hoping for a better return from his strikers in this week’s games against Bologna and Genoa, particularly as he is strapped for defenders with Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli out injured.
Meanwhile, slightly further down the table, the race for the last Champions League place looks to be a race between third place Lazio and fourth place Udinese. The two sides are separated by just two points, with Lazio brimming with confidence following their 2-1 victory in the derby last Sunday. Udinese may suffer from their over-dependence on Antonio Di Natale’s goals, perhaps allowing fifth place Napoli to make a late run for third place, depending on when their run in the Champions League ends and how much energy it saps.
Roma and Inter, meanwhile, have gone from fighting for the title to dropping out of Europe altogether. The sixth placed giallorossi travel to Palermo this weekend conscious that they need to win to maintain their Europa League hopes following their derby defeat, while Inter are in even worse shape. In seventh place with 11 losses for the season, Inter at least managed to stop their series of consecutive defeats last Sunday, coming back from 2-0 down against Catania to earn a 2-2 draw at San Siro. Manager Claudio Ranieri seems clueless as to his best formation, and his hours as Inter manager seem limited, with talk of Villas Boas or Laurent Blanc replacing him this summer. Inter travel to Verona to face Chievo on Friday evening in advance of the return leg of their Champions League fixture against Marseille next week. Ranieri may not survive the week if Inter do not perform in those two games.