Serie A: The State Of Play
Juventus drift in betting while Roma's title hopes rise. Today on the blog Adam Digby reflects on the state of play in Serie A betting.
In searching for serious title contenders, a club appointing their sixth coach in less than two years and in the midst of serious changes to its managerial structure would hardly be considered a front runner. When that same club has been forced to sell a plethora of stars - including its two leading goal scorers from the previous campaign - and just finished a second consecutive season outside the European places, it would barely be worthy of a second look.
Yet that is exactly the circumstances under which AS Roma entered 2013-14, shorn of the drive and impetus Franco Baldini provided. Lured by the Champions League aspirations of Tottenham Hotspur, the Director knew full well the financial restrictions of the club and took full advantage, signing promising Argentinean star Erik Lamela shortly after landing in London. With Pablo Osvaldo going to Southampton and talented Brazilian defender Marquinhos moving on to Paris Saint-Germain, the draining of talent was startling.
Undeterred, Sporting Director Walter Sabatini reinvested as much of the funds as the club's American owners would allow, spending upwards of €40 million on Adem Ljajić of Fiorentina, Udinese defender Mehdi Benatia and PSV midfielder Kevin Strootman. Besides that well known trio, Roma appeared to take a succession of gambles, signing Maicon, Morgan De Sanctis and Gervinho, which caused many observers to expect another tumultuous season for the Giallorossi.
But new coach Rudi Garcia seemingly worked a miracle this summer, transforming Serie A's second most porous defence into Europe's meanest, bringing every last ounce of talent from the squad at his disposal. They have won their opening eight games of the season - a feat matched only three times on the peninsula - and done so in impressive fashion.
They have conceded only a single goal as Benatia gelled immediately with Leandro Castán in a dominant central defensive partnership. They are undoubtedly Italy's most in form duo, combining to make 4.9 tackles, 4.5 interceptions and 9.4 clearances per game. Behind them De Sanctis - cast aside by Napoli - has been little more than a spectator, called upon to make just sixteen saves so far this term.
Going forwards there have been even more surprises as Arsenal reject Gervinho has shrugged off the effects of his stay in London, netting three goals and an assist already. Clearly inspired by Garcia, the lasting relationship they forged at Lille is working wonders for Roma and the Ivorian has inspired others to follow suit. Miralem Pjanić has three goals and three assists, while Alessandro Florenzi already has four goals to his name as Roma opened up a five point gap at the top of the table.
That margin was aided by a Week Eight victory over Napoli, who currently sit in second place. It was an expensive win however, as both Gervinho and Francesco Totti are now injured. The captain had been in impeccable form, leading Serie A with six assists while chipping in with three goals of his own. Now robbed of his constant creativity, the Giallorossi will hope a relatively simple run of fixtures - they face only Chievo, Torino, Sassuolo and Cagliari in November - will allow them to maintain their incredible early form.
Serie A Title Odds - Odds as at 25th October 2013.
Behind them the Partenopei have been similarly excellent, their loss to Roma marking only the second time they have dropped points this term. The fixture list has not been as kind to Rafael Benitez' men though, facing difficult encounters with Fiorentina and Juventus in the coming weeks.
The Bianconeri themselves are in a relative slump and must hope their impressive display against Real Madrid can reignite their title bid. Having lost at the Bernabeù just days after being embarrassed by Fiorentina, Antonio Conte will hope the next three games - against Genoa, Catania and Parma - see them take nine points and rediscover winning ways.
Fight For The Top Three
The Viola will take a huge confidence boost from that astounding comeback against the Bianconeri. In particular, hat trick hero Giuseppe Rossi, who now leads Serie A with an impressive tally of eight goals. They have done well to cover the absence of Mario Gomez and, with the German striker back in the side, will hope the pair can fire them to victory in a difficult month. Games against Napoli and Milan should provide a tough test for Vincenzo Montella's side, who currently sit in fifth place.
Serie A Top 3 Odds - Odds as at 25th October 2013.
Keeping them there are the season's other surprise package, newly promoted Hellas Verona. The Gialloblu have returned to the top flight in spectacular fashion, beating Milan on opening day and adding four more victories along the way. It is unlikely they can maintain their lofty position, but they are certainly attracting attention, not least for the sparkling play of Brazilian midfielder Jorginho. The 21 year old has registered five goals and an assist, while averaging 2.3 tackles and 1.9 interceptions in some truly eye catching displays.
There is an intriguing month ahead in Milan, and the contrasting fortunes of San Siro's two clubs could be even more stark by the time December is upon is. Buoyed by the confirmation of Erick Thorir's purchase, Inter are heading for a relatively simple November. Facing Atalanta, Udinese, Livorno and Bologna, this is a run of games Walter Mazzarri should believe they can win. Already thirteen points behind Roma and eight away from third place, Massimiliano Allegri and Milan cannot afford to be quite so confident. Lazio and Fiorentina lurk on the horizon, separated by only a few days, and with injury ravaging the squad it could be a bleak winter for the Rossoneri.
At the foot of the table, two of Serie A's familiar faces are also set for a difficult month. Bologna and Chievo are both usually comfortable in mid table, but have made dismal starts this time, winning just one game between them and shipping goals with alarming regularity. Each will struggle to see where their next points are going to come from, and the two coaches will be lucky to still be employed when they go head-to-head in Week 11.
Serie A Relegation Odds - Odds as at 25th October 2013.
Sassuolo sit just above the stricken pair, but boast the league's worst defensive record. The tally of fifteen goals that have already beaten goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo will surely be added to as Atalanta, Udinese and Roma take on the Neroverdi in what is proving to be a tough welcome into top flight football.
Bitter rivals Sampdoria and Genoa sit just outside the bottom three and both seem set to fall even further with some tough games coming up. Neither has shown anything in the way of form and the latter seem like a good bet for the drop as they look disorganised and ill suited for a relegation battle. With games against Juventus, Lazio and Milan coming up, they will need a remarkable reversal of fortune to avoid a return to Serie B.
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You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77
And read more of his work at ESPN.com