[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nother weekend has now come and gone in which Serie A fans around the world were treated to 10 great games of Calcio action between the 20 top-ranked sides in Italy. As usual, there were some expected results, but by far, there were quite a few games that had some surprising outcomes, especially those involving some of the league’s more “prominent” sides.
Let’s start with Saturday, which also happened to be Valentine’s Day. Napoli, who have been on a great run of form recently that has seen the Partenopei win their last four league games on the trot, were seeking to close the gap on Roma as they aspire to secure automatic Champions League qualification for the upcoming campaign. Meanwhile, their opponents, Palermo, have been solid so far, yet were coming into the game reeling after a heavy 3-0 loss to Inter (which, perhaps, given their poor away showings, was not entirely surprising).
Given that the last meeting between the two ended in an entertaining three-all draw, neutrals were hoping for a repeat great showing–and they got just that. However, it was not the outcome Napoli fans would have liked to see–as young goalkeeper Rafael had an evening he would surely like to forget in a hurry. Now, whilst the result does not rule Rafa Benitez’s men out of the running to finish ahead of the Giallorossi in second, it will nonetheless give them some serious things to mull over as they prepare to take on Sassuolo, a team that have done surprisingly well given it is only their second year in Italian football’s top flight.
Speaking of the Giallorossi, after the poor January they had, Rudi Garcia’s side appeared to be finally getting back on track with a hard-fought and well-deserved win over Cagliari in round 22. With their Scudetto objective increasingly becoming a pipe-dream, the capital club could not have had an easier opponent the welcome to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Parma’s decline from a solid-top half finish last season to bottom club this term has been startling and astonishing to behold. Prior to the game, Roberto Donadoni’s troops, who had earned just nine points all season, were on a shockingly bad run of form that had seen them lose their last six games, with their sole win of 2015 coming on January 6th against Fiorentina. The Crociati, whose financial woes have gone from bad to just unfortunately farcical over the course of this campaign are facing the toughest battle that many fans have seen in recent seasons, yet even the most ardent supporter was not expecting the outcome after 90 minutes of football in Italy’s capital.
A dull 0-0 draw left Lupi supporters incensed, and rightfully so. Had they won, they would have cut the gap – albeit temporarily – to four points behind Juventus. Yet, they now are still seven points adrift and whilst there are quite a few games left to be played, a draw with a team that has won just three of their games so far was not something that any would have anticipated prior to kick-off. The points may have been split at one apiece but for Roma, it surely must feel like three lost, whereas for Parma, it could represent the launching pad for them to commence their salvation offensive.
As luck would have it, Juventus’ match followed Roma’s, so the Bianconeri would have been aware that their erstwhile Scudetto challengers had hit yet another snag in their quest to unseat the reigning champions. Like the Giallorossi, La Vecchia Signora were taking on another struggling side, with Cesena only faring a tad better than Parma but not good enough to find themselves out of the bottom three.
Shockingly, though, Massimiliano Allegri’s side found themselves a goal down early in the match and despite battling back through goals from Alvaro Morata and Claudio Marchisio, had to settle for a draw after the Seahorses pulled level. The sight of Arturo Vidal completely missing his spot kick that would have given them the lead was certainly a rare occurrence but nonetheless, thanks to their good start to 2015, coupled with Roma’s indifferent form, the Turin giants can still enjoy a comfortable seven point lead at the top. Of all the big leagues in Europe – from England’s Premier League to the Portuguese Primeira Liga – only Chelsea can boast having such a nice cushion over their nearest rivals.
In Ligue 1, it looks to head down to the wire, with Lyon ahead of Marseille and last season’s winners PSG by just two points. Meanwhile, in Spain, Real Madrid lead the way, but with Barcelona and Lionel Messi’s great form as of late, one can certainly expect the Blaugrana to keep up that pressure and even overtake last season’s Champions League winners at some point. Reigning La Liga champions Atlético Madrid, who sit in third, have quite some work to do–and will hope for some major slip-ups–if they want to have any chance at re-claiming top spot. And finally, Benfica are enjoying a decent, but not 100 percent comfortable four point lead over league rivals Porto.
And finally, there is Bayern Munich who currently lead Wolfsburg by eight points. However, even the most die hard German football supporter would have to admit that the Bundesliga is unfortunately becoming a predictable one-horse race for the league title, in which one really does not have to think too hard when guessing who the winner will be at the end of the season.
Returning to Italy, the rankings remain unchanged at the top. As such all three teams – Juventus, Roma, and Napoli – will now turn their attentions to their respective European campaigns, with the Bianconeri having to contend with Atalanta prior to facing off against 2013 Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund next week.
Will it be these three in the Champions League next season? Perhaps. But given the congestion in the middle of the table, there are a whole slew of others who will be fighting it out for a Europa League spot for the upcoming campaign, which will make for a very interesting few months of domestic action for fans and neutrals alike.
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