Serie A: The State Of Play
Can Napoli seriously challenge Juventus for the Serie A title? Today on the blog Adam Digby takes a look at the early moves in Serie A betting markets.
Back in an era before the advent of the Premier League, before the advent of the Champions League and before the game was filled with oligarchs and petro-dollars, Arrigo Sacchi's Milan were unquestionably the best team in the world. Filled with star names such as Franco Baresi, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit, the Rossoneri were a frightening machine that triumphed both in Italy and abroad with incredible ease.
Despite winning league titles and continental trophies at a rate not seen since those Real Madrid teams of the 1950’s, their vast array of legendary players would find one defiant face prevented their complete domination. As he seemed to throughout his career, Diego Armando Maradona would lead his team to the most unlikely of victories. Having already snatched a Scudetto from their bitter northern rivals, the Partenopei would do so again in 1990, pipping Silvio Berlusconi’s expensively assembled squad to the post by just two points.
It marked the height of a battle which raged for eight seasons. Starting in 1986 when the politician bought Milan and ending in 1994, the two clubs won six league championships. The Rossoneri also lifted the European Cup three times – including the only back-to-back wins in Champions League history – while Ottavio Bianchi guided Napoli to success in the UEFA Cup in 1989.
The Title Race
While the biggest names now may prefer England or Spain, it is hard not to think back to those halcyon days when a Milan-Napoli fixture is once again thrust to the forefront. It is no different this coming weekend as Rafael Benitez leads his new-look side into San Siro looking to pile further misery on an ailing Rossoneri. Having already dropped five points in the opening three games of the season, Massimiliano Allegri’s men will be looking to find something to boost their confidence and kickstart their campaign.
The visit of Napoli may do just the opposite however, as the arrival of the Spanish coach has seen them make a perfect start to 2013-14. With three solid wins under their belts, the Southern club will be hoping to can maintain their advantage at the top of the table as they seek to provide a stern title challenge this time around. While much of the focus has been on new signings such as Gonzalo Higuain and Pepe Reina, the key to their bright form has undoubtedly been midfielder Marek Hamšík.
Pushed into a much more advanced role by Benitez, the Slovakian has already netted four goals while José Callejón has added three more in a superb start to life on the peninsula. With their next two games coming against newly promoted sides Livorno and Sassuolo, Napoli appear to have everything in their favour if they can pick up a win this weekend. For Milan, the bad news just keeps on coming as Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Poli and Kaka have all picked up injuries to a squad already forced to cope without a number of first team regulars. Games against Ajax and Juventus lurk on a darkening horizon for the club, and even the Brazilian asking not to be paid until he returns is unlikely to lift the gloom.
Serie A Current Title Odds - Odds as at 19th September 2013.
The Fight For The Top Three
That clash may not even be the weekend’s biggest, as earlier on Sunday, Roma and Lazio face off in the latest instalment of their often fiery city Derby. Roma’s win over Parma on Monday saw them join Napoli as the only clubs to take nine points from the opening three rounds and, having lost May’s Coppa Italia Final to their neighbours, they will be eager to take their revenge.
Rudi Garcia has sparked an instant improvement in a team that has lurched from one idea to another over the past three years, never truly finding an identity which suited the players provided by Walter Sabatini. The former Lille boss appears to have made things much simpler by playing each man in his favoured role, and in turn he has been rewarded with excellent displays from the likes of Miralem Pjanic, Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi. Placed back in the centre of midfield, the Rome native netted his first league goal in over a year on the opening day of the season, and looks back to his imperious best. Always a tempestuous affair, the last six meetings between the two have seen no fewer than forty four yellow and nine red cards, opening up the possibility of nice easy side bet on the game not ending with its full complement of players.
The other major contender for a top three slot – Vincenzo Montella’s exciting Fiorentina – face a difficult away game at Atalanta, and do so without the suspended David Pizarro and the injured Mario Gomez. The returning Giuseppe Rossi has already proven instrumental for the Viola, netting three times already as he appears to show no lingering effects of his lengthy layoff. Fiorentina face difficult encounters with Inter and Juventus before Gomez is expected to return, and it will fall to the American born striker and his coach to find a way to overcome his absence.
Shaking up the battle for the Champions League berths are Walter Mazzarri’s Inter, a team tipped to be the season’s surprise package prior to the season getting underway. Only a draw in last weekend’s Derby d’Italia against Juventus prevented them from having a perfect start. Led by Yuto Nagatomo and Ricky Alvarez, the Nerazzurri look a completely different side to the one which spluttered to ninth place last term. Without the distraction of European football, the coach can take his time to properly prepare and thanks to a kind fixture list, they can gain some real momentum in the coming weeks.
Serie A Current Top 3 Odds - Odds as at 19th September 2013.
The Relegation Battle
Placed among the pre-season favourites to quickly return to Serie B, both Livorno and Hellas have made impressive returns to the top flight. The clubs have each recorded two wins in their opening three games, with Luca Toni notably inspiring the Verona based club to a memorable victory over Milan. The pair have both soundly beaten the team who beat them both to the second division title last term, but Sassuolo seem to be in serious trouble.
Despite a raft of impressive sounding signings – including Reto Zeigler, Francesco Acerbi and Luca Marrone – they have suffered the worst possible start to what is their first ever campaign in Serie A. With a third loss to Torino, not only have they found themselves rooted to the foot of the table, but they do so having conceded more goals (8) than any other side. With games against Inter, Napoli and Lazio to come over the next month, it is likely to get worse before it gets better for Coach Eusebio Di Francesco, who must be among the favourites to lose his job.
Serie A Current Relegation Odds - Odds as at 19th September 2013.
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And read more of his work at ESPN.com