Thursday, September 28

Things really started to heat up in the Serie A title race after Milan’s victory in the Derby della Madonnina in early February cut Inter’s lead to just one point. A three-way sprint is starting to look likely now heading into the spring.

Oliver Giroud’s brace for Milan in their 2-1 derby victory over Inter on February 5 certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons at the top of the Serie A table. That was the first loss for the Biscione since October, when they suffered a 3-1 defeat at the Stadio Olimpico against coach Simone Inzaghi’s former side, Lazio.

By the end of that weekend, they were sitting just one point ahead of the Rossoneri and Napoli, however, they still had a game in hand. The Nerazzurri’s unbeaten run had lasted 14 matches and included six clean sheets in a row, proving just how difficult last season’s champions are to beat.

In contrast, Stefano Pioli’s side ended a two-match winless run in the derby, after a shock 2-1 home defeat to Spezia and a hard-fought goalless draw with Juventus at San Siro the previous week.
Meanwhile, Napoli put a dreadful December behind them where they won only one of their five leagues that month, including home defeats to Atalanta, Empoli, and Spezia by winning four on the bounce. The Partenopei went on a strong unbeaten run at the start of 2022, while Luciano Spalletti’s men seem to be over the bad luck that saw their squad decimated by injuries and Covid-19 absences between November and January.

As we head into spring, the Serie A title race appears to be a battle between Inter, Milan, and Napoli, although Juventus may believe they have a chance of re-entering the debate. The Azzurri had set the early pace in the first few months of the season, winning their opening eight games before Jose Mourinho’s Roma battled to a goalless draw at the Olimpico in October.

The Rossoneri leapfrogged Napoli at the top of the table by going unbeaten through their first 12 matches, before back-to-back defeats to Fiorentina and Sassuolo at the end of November. The Neapolitans reclaimed top spot following an excellent 4-0 victory over Lazio at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on matchday 14, prior to their meltdown in the lead up to Christmas.

In the meantime, champions Inter, who got off to a rocky start by dropping points in four of their opening nine games, cemented their title credentials with a 3-2 win at home over the Partenopei on November 21. That victory propelled the Nerazzurri into an eight-match winning run and the top of the division, before a goalless draw in Bergamo halted the train.

The coming months are crucial for this Scudetto love triangle. Milan are out of European competition already, which may help them in the title race. Inter face two ties with Liverpool in the Champions League last 16, the first coming just four days after their trip to Naples.

The Azzurri, meanwhile, head to Barcelona in the Europa League knockout rounds straight after that top-of-the-table clash. In the Coppa Italia, the two Milanese clubs will meet again in the semi-finals. That potentially heated two-legged affair between title rivals during the home stretch would of course be beneficial to Napoli, who exited the cup in the round of 16.

On the domestic front, things will really begin to heat up from March onwards, when Juventus welcome Inter to the Allianz Stadium for the Derby d’Italia and Milan travel to the Maradona. Inter will also host Fiorentina and Roma, while Milan will need to overcome Atalanta at home before a tough test on the final day of the season with continual thorn in their side, Sassuolo.

Napoli must travel to Bergamo to play Atalanta, before hosting Fiorentina and contesting the Derby della Sud with Roma in back-to-back games at the start of April. The Partenopei travel to Spezia on the last day of the season, while the defending champions have a home fixture against relegation-threatened Sampdoria.

Napoli have played plenty of expansive and expressive football this season, but their main weakness is breaking down the more pragmatic teams who set up to sit deep and physically ruffle their feathers.
Striker Victor Osimhen will hope to put his injury and Covid woes behind him and finally get a good run in the team. The Nigeria international lifts the Partenopei into another dimension when he is on the pitch, with his pace unsettling opposition defenders and opening space for his supporting cast to exploit.

Milan, on the other hand, have surprised many by lasting this long into the season fighting it out at the top of the table. Their detractors claim they are too reliant on the experience of veteran forwards Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to stay the distance. The pair may have a combined age of 75 but continue to be the Rossoneri’s main source of goals.

Inter, meanwhile, are more physically robust than the other two sides. Inzaghi’s men are happy to grind out results rather than receiving plaudits for playing beautiful football, although the style of play has arguably improved since last season’s title triumph. Driven on by their midfield dynamo Nicolo Barella, the Nerazzurri have the deepest squad and are favourites to retain the Scudetto.

Of course, anything can happen in football and there are likely to be plenty more twists and turns in the title race as we head into the business end of the season.

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