Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Serie A: December Review

Serie A delivered in December with plenty of football being played including Serie A’s first ever Boxing day fixtures. Excellent goals, surprise results and terrific football were witnessed throughout December. Juventus continue to boss Serie A with Napoli and Inter lagging behind. Meanwhile Chievo continue to prop up the league along with Frosinone and Bologna. December also saw another two managers lose their jobs as the pressure to improve intensifies.

Another dominant month for Juventus with the Old Lady winning 5 of their 6 league games which has seen their lead extend to 9 points at the top of the table. Cristiano Ronaldo has firmly found his feet in Serie A notching important winning goals including in his first Turin derby against Torino. 14 league goals in his first 19 league games is impressive and has already become the highest scoring Portuguese international in Serie A history. Max Allegri will be satisfied with their first half of the season but will hope to maintain their unbeaten run going into 2019. Napoli also won 5 of their 6 league games but suffered a defeat during December seeing Ancelotti’s men lose ground at the top. Despite their struggles to keep up with Juventus, Ancelotti will be pleased with his team’s performances and quality of football. If there is a small glimmer of hope in the title race, they must have a strong 2019 to have any chance of catching the Old Lady at the top. Inter meanwhile endured a mixed December winning three, drawing twice and losing the once. Their indifferent December saw Spalletti’s team lose ground on 2nd place Napoli with the gap now 5 points between the two clubs. However, they finished 2018 strongly winning 3 of their last 4 and head into 2019 full of confidence and optimism for the second half of the season. However, Inter do have off field issues in with Radja Nainggolan. The Belgian has yet to settle at Inter since his move from Roma in the summer and he has been suspended by the club due to his behaviour off the pitch and things must be sorted between both parties, so it doesn’t spread through the football club. On his day Nainggolan is a class above the rest but must recapture his best to get back on side with the manager and fans. There has been a real tussle between Lazio and AC Milan for 4th place and going into 2019, Lazio sit the final Champions League spot a point clear of AC Milan. Both sides collected 9 points during December, so it is status quo between the two clubs but there is a real fight ensuing for European football with improvements from sides below them.

As stated above, Lazio and AC Milan have firm competition for Champions League football after December was an excellent month for Roma, Sampdoria and Atalanta. Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma arguably had their best month in terms of league form with Roma notching 11 points from their 6 games which has seen close the gap on their city rivals Lazio to just two points. They go into 2019 having won 3 of their last 4 games with their only blemish being a defeat to Juventus. One of the goals of the season was scored by Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo who scored a delightful chip against Sassuolo. The young midfielder is full of confidence as are many of his Roma teammates as they charge towards the top 4. Meanwhile, Sampdoria had an even better month with Marco Giampaolo’s team collecting 13 points from their 6 games. Prior to their defeat against Juventus in their final game of 2018, Sampdoria had won 4 of their las 5 games and were unbeaten in six overall. Fabio Quagliarella continues to deliver with the veteran striker notching 12 league goals already this campaign and is getting better and better even in the twilight years of his career. Sampdoria head into 2019 just three points behind the top 4 and will be confident they can crash the Champions League places. Another side full of confidence is Atalanta who after a very slow start to the season have firmly found their groove and after a good December which saw them collect 10 points from their 6 games, they head into 2019 just four behind the Champions League places. The form of striker Duvan Zapata has massively improved with the Colombian striker notching 8 goals in their 6 league games during December having only scored 2 prior to that. 3 wins from their last 5 games has given them firm confidence and belief that they can gate crash the top 4 this season. Gianpiero Gasperini will be aiming for at least the top 7 come May 2019.  The battle for all European football will be fascinating going into 2019 with just 7 points separating the sides from 4th to 12th.

However, not all sides enjoyed their December and two sides waved goodbye to their managers in the run up to the festive period. First to go was Ivan Juric at Genoa who only lasted 2 months in his third spell in the Genoa hot seat. A poor run for Juric saw not win any league game and his final game was a humiliating Coppa Italia defeat to Virtus Entella of Serie C. This defeat was a final straw and Genoa now find themselves on their 3rd manager this season. His replacement is former Fiorentina, Roma and Italy manager Cesare Prandelli. The likeable Italian arrives at the club hoping to ignite their season once again. He inherits Genoa in 14th place and so far in his 5 games in charge Prandelli has won just one of his 5 games and has collected 5 points from 5 games. Genoa head into the new year exactly where they started under Prandelli but with a comfortable cushion on the relegation zone. Their sole aim will be to keep red hot striker Krzysztof Piatek who have enjoyed a terrific start in Serie A scoring 13 league goals. Cesare Prandelli will be aiming for improvement in the new year as he looks to push Genoa towards the top half of the table. The other side to make the change was Frosinone who sacked Moreno Longo after a run of just 1 win in 16 league games and collected just 8 points from their 16 league games. Longo was given time after leading them to promotion from Serie B but poor performances, no wins at home and a general feeling of disappointment has seen him go. His replacement is Marco Baroni who guided Benevento to promotion in 2017 but lasted just 10 Serie A games in that season. Baroni is tasked with keeping Frosinone in the league but so far, no change in fortunes with Frosinone not winning any of his first 3 games in charge. A crucial defeat to Chievo in their final game of 2018 will not have gone down well and things must improve in 2019. They start the new year 6 points adrift of safety and they must find a win at home one way or another with only them and Monaco without a home win in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

Bologna and Chievo continue to find themselves stuck in the relegation zone. It’s been an extremely disappointing spell so far for Filippo Inzaghi at Bologna having overseen just 2 league wins in his 19 league games in charge so far. They are 18th with just 12 points amassed so far and are 4 points adrift of Udinese in 17th. Goals and wins are in very short supply for Inzaghi’s team. However, some performances have been spirited including their narrow 3-2 defeat away to Napoli where they played brilliantly but their Achilles’ heel is keeping clean sheets in recent weeks with 11 goals conceded in their 4 defeats in December. But they have proved they can shut teams out with goalless draws against Parma and AC Milan so clearly Inzaghi is struggling to balance attacking and defending in his team. January is a big month for Bologna with the chance to add new players and get their season up and running. They resume after the winter break with a crucial trip to fellow strugglers Spal and its simply must win for Inzaghi otherwise patience at the top could run out. Despite their worrying position, things are looking up for Chievo who at the 19th time of asking secured their first league win of the season beating Frosinone in a key six-pointer. Domenico Di Carlo has turned their fortunes around having lost just once in his 7 games in charge. They head into 2019 with more confidence but are 8 points adrift of safety and must continue to win matches to get out of trouble. Their 3rd manager of the season has certainly improved them as a team and are far more difficult to break down and goals are slowly starting to flow once again. If Di Carlo can keep them up it would certainly put him in manager of the season contention.

December delivered and no doubt when Serie A resumes on the 18th January, it will bring more excitement, excellent goals and more surprise results. The transfer window will also get into full swing with teams allowed to make new additions to their squads. There are some tasty games to come in January including Inter vs Sassuolo, Roma vs Torino, Napoli vs Lazio, Fiorentina vs Sampdoria, AC Milan vs Napoli, Atalanta vs Roma, Bologna vs Frosinone, Lazio vs Juventus and Torino vs Inter. A fascinating month to come with key games both at the top and the bottom but can anybody stop Juventus’ unbeaten league run in 2019? Only time will tell.

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