Mi­lan, In­ter, Napoli and Roma

The National - News - - SPORT / FOOTBALL - IAN HAWKEY

On the 30-man short­list for the 2017 Bal­lon D’Or, Italy’s Serie A has five can­di­dates. Next to Real Madrid, from whose ranks seven reign­ing Euro­pean club cham­pi­ons are can­di­dates, that might seem a scant rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

But things are look­ing up. The Ital­ian top flight weighs in above the Bun­desliga – three on the short­list – and France’s Ligue with four con­tenders.

There is a chance the Juventus cap­tain, Gigi Buf­fon, may even make the podium, although this is not likely to be the year when the Ron­aldo-Messi du­op­oly is bro­ken at foot­ball’s an­nual red car­pet for in­di­vid­ual achieve­ments.

Time was that Italy’s top division dom­i­nated this award with 13 Serie A win­ners in the past 18 years of the 20th cen­tury.

Any an­nounce­ment that Serie A is well on the up should prob­a­bly wait un­til after next week’s in­trigu­ing round of Uefa Cham­pi­ons League matches, when Roma meet the Premier League cham­pi­ons Chelsea and Napoli, top of the ta­ble in Italy and the team who have con­trib­uted most to mak­ing this sea­son’s Ital­ian top flight the home of the most reg­u­lar sup­ply of goals among Europe’s top leagues, have come back from their game at Manch­ester City.

But, at this early stage of the sea­son, Italy in­trigues. There is the goal glut and there is the prom­ise of a tight ti­tle race, or at least some mus­cu­lar re­sis­tance to Juventus’s bid to claim a sev­enth suc­ces­sive scud­etto.

A happy co­in­ci­dence of fix­tures this week­end should of­fer clues about how mus­cu­lar. Six of the top seven clubs play one an­other.

The sev­enth placed of those are the club who made the strong­est sug­ges­tions in the sum­mer about a re­nais­sance for Ital­ian foot­ball, spend­ing the most in as­sem­bling a squad to chal­lenge Juve.

AC Mi­lan’s €250 mil­lion (just over Dh1 bil­lion) out­lay on re­in­force­ments has bought them onto the Bal­lon D’Or list, with the bold seiz­ing of Leo Bonucci, a swoop that not only gave no­tice to Juventus that their fa­mously iron de­fence might be dis­man­tled by mar­ket forces as well as by quick-footed strik­ers, but that, now backed by Chi­nese in­vestors, Mi­lan were ready to shop in the most fash­ion­able bou­tiques after a long pe­riod scrab­bling around the cut­price re­tail bazaars of the game.

With Bonucci pinched from the

cham­pi­ons, mid­field­ers Lu­cas Biglia and Franck Kessie hired from two of last sea­son’s over-achiev­ers, At­lalanta and Lazio re­spec­tively, and striker Nikola Kalinic signed from Fiorentina, Mi­lan’s lo­cal raids have given the club an im­pres­sive spine.

There was more. An­dre Silva, the Por­tu­gal striker, joined from Porto for just un­der €40m and the ac­qui­si­tion of Ri­cardo Ro­driguez, the at­tack­ing left-back, and Hakan Cal­hanoglu, the pass-mas­ter and free-kick wiz­ard, gives them a pair of ad­mired spe­cial­ists.

Cer­tainly the Mi­lan line-up for Sun­day’s show­down against In­ter, third in the ta­ble, will look very dif­fer­ent from the XI who took on their neigh­bours at the end of last sea­son, a 2-2 draw in which Mi­lan came back from 2-0 down thanks to goals from a pair of cen­tre-halves.

On pa­per, the new Mi­lan ought be more po­tent in at­tack, although no goals in their past two Serie A matches, both 2-0 de­feats have spread anx­i­ety.

Sun­day is an im­por­tant ex­am­i­na­tion for man­ager Vi­cenzo Mon­tella.

Lose and the dis­tance be­tween the Mi­lan clubs in the league would ex­tend to 10 points and, con­ceiv­ably, Mi­lan could slip into the bot­tom half of Serie A.

“This a club in re­con­struc­tion,” ar­gued An­driy Shevchenko, the for­mer striker, who won the Bal­lon D’Or while at Mi­lan, “and they are still find­ing their way back up.” Shevchenko has heard word that Mon­tella’s po­si­tion is un­der scru­tiny. He told Gazzetta dello

Sport: “He needs to be given time.” In­ter, on their sixth dif­fer­ent man­ager in 16 months in Lu­ciano Spal­letti, could by Sun­day evening be eye­ing a sig­nif­i­cant prize for vic­tory in the derby. They are on the shoul­der of Juventus, joined with the cham­pi­ons on 19 points, two be­hind Napoli, who take their 100 per cent record to Roma.

With fourth-placed Lazio at Juve, In­ter sense an op­por­tu­nity to leapfrog into first spot.

Lazio are buoy­ant, with nine goals in two matches. Ciro Im­mo­bile, their cen­tre-for­ward, needs to add one more to his nine for the sea­son to catch Juve’s Paulo Dy­bala at the top of the marks­men’s chart.

Last sea­son’s lead­ing goalscorer, mean­while, Roma’s Edin Dzeko, with seven this term, con­fronts Napoli’s Dries Mertens, whose seven so far keep him ahead of any­body in terms of goals this cal­en­dar year. In 2017, no­body has struck more in Serie A than the Bel­gian.

AFP

AC Mi­lan’s ac­qui­si­tion of de­fender Leo Bonucci from Juventus serve no­tice they are ready to spend big while also mak­ing the Serie A ti­tle hold­ers weaker

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