What a topsy-turvy campaign this is turning out to be. 12 games in and at about the one-third mark of the 2023-24 season, the Serie A table is not one we expected to see.
We are into the November international break and Juventus surprisingly are sitting in second place just two points behind Inter Milan. Massimiliano Allegri’s side have dropped just seven points so far, from draws with Atalanta and Bologna, and an ill-fated defeat against Sassuolo. This puts them on pace for about 92 points, a mark that would be enough to make them champions in every campaign from 2017-18 onwards.
Of course, the Bianconeri are greatly benefiting from not having a European campaign to deal with, something every team in their vicinity in the table are in some cases struggling with. Let’s take a look at the classic big seven teams in Italy and how they are faring so far.
Inter lead the league with 31 points from their dozen games, no real surprises there. The strength and depth of the squad that Beppe Marotta has put together has ensured that for the last few years now the Nerazzurri are always contenders.
It is certainly very interesting that Inter are trying desperately trying to shed the mantle of favorites for the title, while master of mindgames Allegri keeps referencing them any time the media wants to talk about Juve’s potential title aspirations. Inter are doing very well managing on multiple fronts though, and have already qualified for the knockout rounds in Champions League Group D.
AC Milan failed to live up to the promise of their Scudetto-winning 2021-22 campaign last season - then again, no one was able to keep up with the torrid pace that Napoli set last year. After a decent start this year they are now faltering badly with just one win their last five games, and points dropped to struggling sides like Udinese and Lecce.
Pitted in the Champions League ‘group of death’ Group F the Rossoneri sit in third place. However, they are just two points off the top and one ahead of fourth, so it’ll be all to play for in the remaining two matchdays. You can only assume they will have to prioritize Europe over the domestic campaign in the coming month. Already eight points off their bitter city rivals Inter, it’s unlikely they will be able to make up any ground on Simone Inzaghi’s side.
In fourth place in the league are defending champions Napoli, fresh off firing coach Rudy Garcia and reinstalling former boss Walter Mazzarri. The Neapolitans will find that even Mazzarri isn’t quite Luciano Spalletti. However, it remains to be seen if the new boss is able to coax a decent run of results out of a very competent and capable squad.
They seem to have second place in Champions League Group C sewn up behind Real Madrid, and will be a side to watch closely for the next month. The ten point lead Inter have on them is not insurmountable, but also not too easy to make up.
Level on points with Atalanta and only behind on goal difference sit Fiorentina. The Viola under Vincenzo Italiano are a markedly better side than in years past, with the up and coming manager returning the once-great European campaigners back into continental competition in his very first season in charge.
Despite finishing six points behind seventh-placed Juve (after a ten point deduction), the Florentines inherited the Bianconeri’s Europa Conference League berth by default and are top of Group F with four games played. This season they’ve already had some ups and downs but look good value for another European spot next season as well.
A further two points behind them are AS Roma. Where Jose Mourinho goes utter chaos often follows, so it is in many ways surprising that some full scale implosion has not happened as yet in the nation’s capital. Not from the Giallorossi anyway, we’ll get to the Aquile’s woes in a bit.
Their Europa League campaign is going along fine duking it out with Slavia Praha at the top of Group G, but the same cannot be said of their domestic campaign. Jose’s band of cast-offs from other Serie A sides like Romelu Lukaku, Paulo Dybala, and Leandro Paredes among others aren’t quite firing in unison, and despite winning the Europa Conference League with Roma, it appears ‘The Special One’ will not be extending his contract past next season. Meanwhile, this is his third year with the Giallorossi, and also the ‘witching year’ for Mou who seems to have a huge drop-off in the third year of his last handful of stops.
Which then leaves Lazio as the sixth of the top seven traditional Italian powerhouses. And ‘leave’ is the right word to use because they have quickly become an afterthought in this season’s league campaign thanks to a miserable start. Le Aquile sit in tenth place with three wins and a draw in their last five games ensuring they have climbed away from the nether regions of the table.
Maurizio Sarri finished fifth in his first year with Lazio before climbing to second last season. They sit in second place in Group E of the Champions League, a point behind a suddenly-fragile Atletico Madrid side and one point ahead of Feyenoord with two games left to play. Already fourteen points behind leaders inter, it’s difficult to envision them even contending for one of the two lesser continental berths.
So now let’s talk about Juventus. Expected to be scrapping it out for Europa League and Europa Conference League berths, instead a run of consistent performances has seen Allegri’s side rise up to second and then put some distance between them and the chasing pack while maintaining the pressure on the Nerazzurri who have twice had to watch Juve win and rise to the top of the table before reeling them back in.
Only the most hardcore of diehard Juve fans could claim they saw this coming. Given the threadbare squad laden with youngsters that the coach started the campaign with, this was widely expected to be a rebuilding year, especially with the austerity measures that have hobbled the club in the boardroom. To add to that the drama surrounding the club off the pitch, namely Paul Pogba’s doping scandal and the suspension of Nicolo Fagioli for illegal online gambling, just made this campaign feel a lot like last season when the threat of a points deduction paralyzed the club.
When you add injuries to that mix, then it becomes even more of a minor miracle that Juve have gotten here. The big test does lie ahead however, when the weather gets chillier and the fixture list more congested. Again, Juve do have a clear advantage with not having to play in Europe this season, so game management does become that much easier for Allegri.
The football has not been pretty, but the run of clean sheets recently shows that Allegri is still capable of defensive organization while play pragmatic (read: boring) football which is primed to grind out results.
The war of attrition starts on the other side of the international break though, with Juve hosting Inter in the Derby d’Italia. A win for either side will not doom the other, but you have to think that if the Nerazzurri pull five points clear then they might be able to keep their noses ahead for the rest of the way. Then again, the winter champions don’t always win the title either, so it does remain all to play for.