Fight for the Serie A podium
At the end of August, the prevailing sentiment was that Juventus had effectively killed Serie A by playing at being Genghis Khan on the market. And while their lead is currently not so wide that it could not be challenged, the Bianconeri remain the overwhelming favourites to take home the Scudetto.
In spite of that, Serie A is providing us with considerable spectacle in the form of the power struggles taking place just below the holding champions.
There are currently four teams that can aspire to second place, in the short and the long term alike. These are Roma, Napoli, Inter, and Milan, the latter by the skin of their teeth. (The likes of Fiorentina and Lazio have unfortunately not shown sufficient growth or potential to join this group yet).
These four teams all represent different ideas and models of football, so which one of them will eventually prevail is a matter of importance.
Napoli, for example, are the only one of these teams that is still owned by an old-time Italian patron, anachronistic Aurelio De Laurentiis. Should the Vesuviani prevail, it will send a powerful message that globalising is not mandatory for success. This would resonate among fans of smaller, Italian-owned clubs like Fiorentina, Sassuolo, Lazio and Torino.
Milan are the least fancied of the four, for the simple reason that they have the weakest squad. Nonetheless they stand four points above Napoli and eight above Inter. In many ways, theirs is the most appealing model: they rely on an Italian core of players and on beautiful football whenever this is possible. They have much to work on, but at least that's a good example to set.
Inter are the opposite of Napoli. Their team and their club are international to a fault. The appointment of Stefano Pioli should be seen as a temporary patch, an interlude between Frank de Boer and whoever else (Diego Simeone?) lands in from foreign shores.
Their club is being severely mismanaged right now, but they compensate for that with some of Serie A's best talent in their squad, and they could well end up making it to second. The effect would be that of pushing Serie A more and more towards a Premiership style.
Finally, Roma's identity is perhaps the most difficult to pin down, as they are currently midway through a long-term transitional process. Many of the familiar faces of the club are either gone (Walter Sabatini) or soon-togo (Francesco Totti), whilst the stadium is yet to be built. They represent an interesting hybrid of local and international identity, and it's hard to say what their rise would mean for Serie A.
It's also going to be interesting to see how these four teams combine. Inter and Milan represent the old school of Italian football, whilst Roma and Napoli are relatively unaccustomed to the position of regular title-challenger. If the latter two clubs end up predominating, then in the long run this could well represent the end of an era for Italian football.
A return of the Milanese teams to the top would be almost as dramatic, although the most interesting scenario would be a combination of the old and the new. For instance, the next 'triad' of Italian football could be Juventus, Milan and Napoli, or possibly Juventus, Roma and Inter.
Roma and Napoli are better equipped in the short term, with the Lupi in particular riding on the great form of striker Edin Dzeko. The Partenopei are struggling with injuries and low morale, but they have the foundations in place for a strongcampaign, and will surely strengthen themselves greatly in the winter transfer window.
Milan and Inter will benefit in the long term from their newly-found financial resources, which are aweinspiring.
New owners Suning increased Inter's capital by €242m last summer, whilst Milan's owners haven't even started flexing their financial muscles.
Roma are currently second in the standings, but we've seen in the last month how quickly that can change.
While it's exciting to think of multiple teams all being candidates on an equal standing, it's more plausible that a hierarchy will eventually be established, with a second and perhaps a third power of Serie A rooting themselves to the podium. At this stage, it's anyone's guess who that will be.
'Juve-Berardi option still valid'
Sassuolo director Giovanni Carnevali insists “our agreement with Juventus is still valid” for Domenico Berardi.
There is a great deal of confusion around the Italy Under-21 international’s fate.
Over the summer the clubs and player agreed by mutual consent that Juve would not activate their option to buy him for €25m.
Inter, Milan and several overseas clubs are interested in Berardi, but the situation is not very clear.
“Berardi did not reject Juventus,” Carnevali told Rai Sport.
“He is a Sassuolo player, but our agreement with Juventus is still valid from last season. At the end of this term, we’ll see what happens.”
Gabbiadini-Babacar loan exchange?
Fiorentina could exchange Khouma Babacar with Napoli outcast Manolo Gabbiadini in a dual 18-month loan deal.
According to La Nazione newspaper, the two clubs are in negotiations over a possible switch.
The plan would be to send the forwards out on loan until the end of the 2017-18 campaign.
That would enable them to rediscover their confidence and get regular first team football, but also to ensure the clubs don’t lose money.