By David Mosse
It is very difficult to find fault with a club that goes unbeaten throughout its entire league campaign, but Juventus did benefit last season from the absence of European competition. Antonio Conte was able to guide a relatively thin squad without the rigors of midweek activity against the top sides in the continent, and the end result was a pronounced fitness advantage over AC Milan in the closing weeks.
The reward, of course, was a return to the Champions League, and fortunately for Juventus supporters, team president Andrea Agnelli recognized the importance of adding depth because the Old Lady now boasts one of the strongest squads in all of Europe, which Massimo Carrera has put to very good use.
Last weekend, both Mirko Vucinic and Kwadwo Asamoah were left out of the starting XI in Genoa, while Arturo Vidal was given an opportunity to rest his ailing ankle, and Juventus still came away with a 3-1 victory. Not surprisingly, all three players made significant contributions to the sensational midweek performance at Stamford Bridge, while Fabio Quagliarella, who had logged a total of just 16 minutes in the first three league games, came on late to score the equalizer.
Quagliarella was promptly handed his first Serie A start of the campaign Saturday against Chievo, and celebrated by scoring both goals in the 2-0 win, as Juventus dominated the center of the park, despite using 19-year old Frenchman Paul Pogba in place of Andrea Pirlo. Both Lucio and Nicklas Bendtner made their Juventus debuts, while fellow summer signing Mauricio Isla saw his most extensive action to date.
Such is the wealth of talent at Carrera’s disposal that eight different players have found the back of the net in the first four Serie A games, and that list doesn’t include Alessandro Matri or Claudio Marchisio who combined for 19 league goals last term. Even with Conte relegated to the stands for another nine months, Juventus look potential runaway champions, particularly with so many competitors making sputtering starts to the campaign.
AC Milan manager Massimo Allegri received the dreaded vote of confidence from CEO Adriano Galliani following a third defeat in four games, but the vultures are circling with Rafa Benitez even mentioned as a possible replacement. The Rossoneri fell this time around to previously winless Udinese (1-2) on Sunday at Friuli Stadium with Antonio Di Natale bagging the winner midway through the second half.
For Francesco Guidolin’s side, the victory represented the first signs of life since last month’s devastating Champions League elimination at the hands of Braga. Inter-Milan’s problems may pale in comparison to those of its city neighbors, but Andrea Stramaccioni has suddenly come under fire after the Nerazzurri suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to newly-promoted Siena on Sunday.
The young coach was forced to defend his team selections following the match, but Inter’s wastefulness proved its undoing, while Siena took advantage of a suspect back line with two second-half goals on the counter. Amazingly, Inter and AC Milan remain winless in a combined eight matches at the San Siro in all competitions this season, and the Nerazzurri already find themselves six points behind Juventus.
Lazio’s impressive start to the campaign came to a halt with a 1-0 loss to Genoa at the Olimpico, as Vladimir Petkovic failed to become the first Biancocelesti boss to win his first four league games in charge. The introduction of Miroslav Klose with 15 minutes remaining provided a spark, but Lazio paid the price for its Europa League exertions against Tottenham with tired legs in the center of the park.
Napoli no longer boasts a 100 percent record after being held to a scoreless draw away to Catania, despite enjoying a man advantage for the final 88 minutes. Edinson Cavani forced a number of great saves from Mariano Andujar, but not even Lorenzo Insigne or midweek hat-trick hero Edu Vargas could rescue the Partenopei, and the home side actually hit the woodwork late in the second half.
Elsewhere, Sampdoria and Torino played to a 1-1 stalemate in a battle of newly-promoted clubs, as Ciro Ferrara’s side maintained its unbeaten record to start the season. Fiorentina put forth another strong performance in the 1-1 draw away to Parma, but will be disappointed after conceding an equalizer in stoppage time, while Pescara earned its first point of the season against Bologna (1-1).
Some Other Thoughts:
*Zdenek Zeman’s Roma has struggled for victories thus far, despite playing an entertaining brand of football, but the Giallorossi might be gifted a win -- and a clean sheet – after the bizarre weekend events in Sardinia. The new Is Arena once again failed to meet safety requirements, and Cagliari was promptly ordered to play behind closed doors, but club president Massimo Cellino had other ideas.
Cellino released a statement on Saturday night urging supporters to flock to the stadium regardless, only for the league to intervene following an emergency meeting and to call off the match. A final decision has yet to be reached, but Roma is likely to be awarded a 3-0 result for its troubles.
*New Palermo manager Gian Piero Gasperini suffered a 1-0 defeat away to Atalanta in his first match in charge, and may well be on the hot seat himself in a couple of weeks. The Orobici, meanwhile, remain the best-kept secret in Serie A with Stefano Colantuono seemingly poised to guide the club to another top-half of the table finish. Cristian Raimondi produced the winner late in the second half.
*Marco Borriello found the back of the net in Genoa’s upset win over Lazio, and after four frustrating seasons bouncing around between AC Milan, Roma and Juventus, the 30-year-old striker seems to be enjoying life again with the Grifone. Borriello shot to fame back in the 2007-2008 campaign, scoring 19 Serie A goals for Genoa, and might be the sort of player more suited to a smaller club.