So another week of highly entertaining continental and domestic football has concluded. As per usual for the sport, there were quite a fair share of twists, turns, surprises and disappointments that truly make the beautiful game one of the most interesting 90+ minute affairs to watch on Earth, but here are some of the most notable ones that occurred over the past seven days.
1. Fate indeed can be quite cruel
Normally in the Champions League, 12 points is enough to qualify for the round of 16. In fact, it’s more than enough. Just take a look at Russian outfit Zenit, who somehow managed to (deserved or not) book their place in the first knockout rounds with just a measly six points, 10 behind runaway leaders Atlético Madrid. Now, whilst they were certainly fortunate to get a fairly favourable group, there are others who fell short of the dozen-point benchmark: Galatasaray with seven, Milan with nine, Bundesliga duo Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen plus plucky Greek side Olympiacos with ten each.
Not so much for Napoli. The Partenopei, who were thrown into the aptly described “Group of Death” alongside Arsenal, last year’s CL runners up Borussia Dortmund, and Marseille, became the first side in the tournament’s history to fail to get to the next round, despite earning 12 points. Indeed, Group F lived up to its name–as although Gonzalo Higuaín and José Callejón gave Rafa Benitez’s men a hard-fought 2-0 victory over the Gunners, all their hard work was brought to naught as a result of Kevin Grosskreutz’s late goal away in France. Now consigned to the Europa League, it’s going to be interesting to see how they dust themselves off and put aside any bitter disappointment to try to make it to the final in May.
2. It’s certainly going to be an interesting Capocannoniere race this season.
Giuseppe Rossi still leads the charts with 13, but this weekend was certainly one for the Argentines to shine. Carlos Tévez made some amends failing to open his Champions League account with his new side with a well taken hat-trick over Sassuolo, and Gonzalo Higuaín continued his excellent form for his new side with another sublime goal against Inter. Not to be outdone, fellow ex-Real Madrid man Jose Callejón is still keeping pace with his teammate, also grabbing his eighth goal of the season in the clash with Inter on Sunday evening.
3. Who ever said Italian football was dull obviously have no idea what they’re talking about.
The week concluded with a bang on Sunday evening, as fans and neutrals alike were treated to a six goal thriller in Napoli taking on Inter. Even more impressive was five of those coming in just 45 minutes as both the Partenopei and the Nerazzurri were keen to put on a good showing and outdo each other. The match itself had some interesting back story drama with both coaches facing off against former sides that they managed and it’s no surprise that both are among the highest scoring sides in Serie A. And everyone got in on the action, including Inter’s Yuto Nagatomo whose four goals so far this season are a career best for the diminutive Japanese international during his time at Inter to date.
Dull, defensive league? No way. Sure, the Premier League had its goal fest in Manchester City v. Arsenal, in which nine goals were scored in another fantastic 90 minutes of football, but Serie A has had its share of free-flowing attacking games as of late–just look at the 4-2 defeat Juventus suffered to Fiorentina in round eight, or the six game thrillers of Napoli versus Lazio and again against Udinese in the past two weeks.
4. Big in Italy, but small in Europe–Juventus continue to fumble on the big stage.
So read one of the headlines in Tuttosport following the Bianconeri’s defeat in Istanbul which sent them crashing out of the Champions League. Truthfully, they really need to perhaps do some deep self questioning, as after all, save for Real Madrid, they really had no excuse not to finish as group runners’ up. A draw to Copenhagen away followed up by a 3-1 victory courtesy of Arturo Vidal’s hat-trick left many scratching their heads. Where was this same side on match day one? And to go up to Galatasaray at home and throw away two vital points thanks to a defensive lapse was simply inexcusable. This was the same side that was able to hold Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. to a draw in Turin, and despite losing the previous fixture in Madrid, they did have to play much of the game with a man down after Giorgio Chiellini’s dismissal.
Chiellini himself admitted that “his side only had themselves to blame”, whilst coach Antonio Conte attempted to rally his troops with the desire to emulate Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea. The same coach had likened his side to a skyscraper following their defeat to Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals last year and stated that “they were about a third of the way there”. So, having made some efforts to build through some acquisitions this past summer they’ve suffered a setback, but all is not lost. They’re still in the running to claim a third consecutive Scudetto, as well as the Coppa Italia, and well, with the Europa League final being contested at Juventus’ home ground in May, Bianconeri fans certainly won’t be expecting anything less.
5. Fiorentina definitely deserve to be considered as serious contenders to claim the Europa League this season.
The Viola were unlucky to see their Champions League aspirations snuffed out last season as AC Milan snuck in to that important third place spot, but have certainly taken a nice shine to the CL’s “little brother”. On Thursday evening, they powered past Ukrainian outfit Dnipro to top their group undefeated after falling behind, and most impressively this was without capocannoniere Giuseppe Rossi, who coach Vincenzo Montella opted to rest for the clash as they were already through to the round of 32. While the Tuscan side will certainly face tougher tests ahead in the knockout stages, they definitely do have the firepower to make some serious inroads in the competition and certainly aren’t a side that anyone should be eagerly looking forward to face.
Speaking of the Europa League, Italy now has four representatives in Europe’s second-tier football competition. How interesting would it be to have an all Italian final at Turin Stadium? While two of the sides, Juventus and Napoli didn’t set out to be playing there, neither did last year’s winners Chelsea, yet the Blues made it work and were able to emerge as champions. And a big reason for Italy losing that all-important fourth CL spot to Germany is their relative indifferent attitude towards the Europa League, with many sides believing it to be beneath them and hence not fielding their strongest XI against opponents.
With sole Champions League representative AC Milan set to face off against Atlético Madrid in the round of 16, it will definitely behoove the Europa League quartet to make as much of an effort in the tournament perhaps best described as the “little brother” of the premier competition, especially given the Rossoneri’s struggles domestically and failure to really appear convincing so far in their continental campaign so far.