Five things we’ve learned from Serie A in Europe this week

Francesco Totti battles with Yaya Toure

This week was a busy one for many of Europe’s teams, and Serie A sides were among them.

Italy currently has two representatives in the Champions League–Juventus and Roma–and four in the Europa League–Fiorentina, Inter, Torino, and Napoli, with the Partenopei joining the prior three after failing to get to the group stage.

Overall, it was a good week for Italy’s European representatives in the Calcio, with all but one side ending up with a positive result, leaving much for thought after round two in European action.

1. Massimiliano Allegri’s tactical flaws exposed again

After seeing off Malmo thanks to Carlos Tevez’s brace, Juventus came up against what are by far the toughest team in their quartet, Champions League runners-up and La Liga winners Atlético Madrid. Diego Simeone’s squad suffered a shock 3-2 reversal to Greek outfit Olympiakos and were desperate to clinch all three points in front of their own crowd, which they did courtesy of a late Arda Turan goal. But from start to finish, it appeared that the Bianconeri were keen on just hanging on for a point, rather than going for the jugular against the Spanish champions.

Juventus had a total of five attempts versus Atleti’s eight, with none on target and every single one coming from outside the box as opposed to their opponents’ five from inside. And while it certainly does not mean the end of their Champions League campaign–far from it–it is something that Allegri will have to think carefully about as they will next face off against Olympiakos in two consecutive meetings before having a re-match with their tricky Spanish foes in December.

2. Anyone who automatically dismissed Roma will have to re-think their notions.

Francesco Totti scores against Manchester CityTuesday evening saw the Giallorossi battle to an entertaining 1-1 draw with Manchester City and even the most ardent and die-hard Premier League supporter will have to admit that the Italian side were the better team for most of that game. By far, the highlight was seeing Francesco Totti rolling back the years to illustrate the time old saying; form is temporary, but class is permanent. We should all appreciate the Italian icon while he’s still playing for moments like Tuesday evening in Manchester. At 38, he is now the oldest scorer ever in the Champions League and the way he’s going, don’t count against him making waves as he hopes to carry his team as far as possible.
The Giallorossi were viewed by many pundits as the underdogs in a group that also contains Bayern Munich, and were tipped as the side that would be consigned to the Europa League. As things stand, they are second behind die Roten and while it is too early to pick who will be in the round of 16, based on their performances thus far, one would be foolish and arrogant to automatically discount them. It could likely be a tough three-way battle for those top two spots if things continue in the same vein.

Moving on to the continent’s second-tier competition, it was a good matchday two in the Europa League as Serie A made it four wins in four against their respective opponents.

3. Fiorentina may just have a young star in the making.

Federico BernardeschiIt’s never any team’s dream situation to have to one or more your main attackers out of commission. Just imagine if Barcelona were without Lionel Messi and Neymar. Or Chelsea without Diego Costa and perhaps even Didier Drogba. Or PSG without Zlatan Ibrahimovic…well, actually, les Parisiens are currently without the services of the talismanic Swede, but one gets the idea. Rossi’s knee woes are still unfortunately plaguing him and as for Gomez, his time with Fiorentina has been marred thus far by a bad mix of injuries and indifferent form when healthy.

Heading into their second Europa League group stage game against Eastern European outfit Dinamo Minsk,  the Viola were cruising after a 3-0 win over Ligue 1’s Guingamp and at the end of 90 minutes, had racked up another three points to keep their unbeaten–and clean sheet–intact. And the highlight of the team was undoubtedly Federico Bernardeschi, with the 20-year-old winger capping off a great performance to net his side’s third. The youngster, who had also grabbed another in their meeting with Guingamp, showed a burgeoning understanding with Josip Ilicic and could have had another goal or two had things gone his way. So, while the Belorussians are not the toughest opponents that Vincenzo Montella’s men will face, it is nonetheless a positive start for the Tuscan side in Europe.

4. Inter still has quite a way to go to

Like Fiorentina, Inter had to deal with Eastern European opposition in the form of Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag and were coming off a shock 4-1 reversal against Cagliari this past weekend. And while the Nerazzurri preserved their 100% win record in their group stage campaign, the score-line more than flattered Walter Mazzarri’s men, who huffed and puffed as they ground out a 2-0 victory in a match that certainly had fans quite nervous, but it was again Danilo D’Ambrosio, who secured all three points for them in their first game, and who got the ball rolling for Mauro Icardo to finish things off five minutes from regulation time. Since their historic treble in 2010–which seems like a lifetime ago–the Milan giants have struggled under the revolving door of coaches and four years on, still appear to be going through some growing pains.

After the game, Mazzarri was keen to express that his team “had learned their lesson”, but struggling for a win against a side that was seeking its first ever Europa League group stage win is nothing to be proud of, especially given the gulf in quality between the two sides. Next up will be French opponents Saint-Etienne, who have yet to score thus far and the Nerazzurri will be keen to really get going as once they get out of their quartet there will obviously be much tougher tasks ahead as they hope to progress through the tournament.

5. Napoli need to get the best out of  Hamšík

Marek Hamšík

The Slovakian, widely regarded as among the top midfielders in Italy and even in Europe, has seen his performances dip alarmingly over the past two seasons which interestingly have coincided with the arrival of Rafa Benitez. Rumours are rife that the Spaniard and the Partenopei captain do not see eye-to-eye, and the 27-year-old has been subject to harsh criticism for his disappointing showings for the club this season.

Well, on a good day, Hamšík indeed can show why he is highly rated, something he did upon returning to his native country as his team took on Slovan Bratislava, and grabbed himself a goal and an assist to keep their perfect win record alive and keep them top of the table with six points. Following the game he noted that he has been “judged too harshly” but that is one unfortunate aspect of the game as many had hoped to see Napoli seriously fight it out with Roma and Juventus for the Scudetto this season.

Finally, Torino made sure that all four Italian Europa League teams concluded the week not just unbeaten, but without conceding a single goal. The Granata powered to a slim 1-0 win over Copenhagen with Fabio Quagliarella’s late penalty, a team that the veteran striker is quite familiar with from his days with the team’s city rivals. It will certainly be a confidence booster for Giampiero Ventura’s men who have fared well in their long-awaited return to Europe but have struggled so far in the league with just one win from five games.

Follow Michelle Bonsu on Twitter: @MichelleB289

Freelance football journalist based in New York. Primarily support AC Milan as well as the Ghanaian and Italian NT's, but you'll find me watching the Bundesliga and Premier League as well--enjoy a good game, regardless of where it's being played. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of my favourite players. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @MichelleB289...
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