Is Serie A the most exciting of the big European leagues right now? Shake, shake, flip: "Signs point to yes." But we don't need the Magic 8 ball to explain to us what we've been seeing in Italy. In La Liga, the title is practically sewn up already, and we're barely halfway through the season. Barcelona are running away with the crown, sporting (there's no way that can be the right choice of word) an incredible goal difference of 50. In the Bundesliga, Dortmund are 12 points ahead of Hannover and have a goal difference of 31. Oddly enough, England's table is the tightest. Manchesters United and City are tied at 45, but United have two games in hand, and considering they remain undefeated halfway through the season, many have already virtually awarded them the Premier League title.
And then we have Italy. A mere seven points stand between table-toppers A.C. Milan and Juventus, who occupy sixth, the final European slot. Palmero, Udinese, and even Sampdoria could still challenge for European play. Even the bottom spots are unsettled, with any club below 13th said to be in a relegation battle. With such drama in the table, we've got many questions we hope to have answered this week.
A One Man Team, But Which Juan Will Show For Roma Against Cagliari?
Ok, ok, so Serie A actually starts Week 21 with three Saturday games, including two early kickoffs: Palermo v Brescia and Parma v Catania. But Palermo's meeting with relegation-dwellers Brescia is unlikely to definitively answer any questions raised by last week's weak performance against Cagliari. So we move on to this week's Cagliari match, away against Roma in the late Saturday fixture.
Although one might question a Roma side that needed an own goal from Maximiliano Pellegrino to see off struggling Cesena, the combination of Mirko Vučinić and Jérémy Menez proved too much for Lazio in the Coppa Italia, and will likely be difficult for Cagliari to handle as well, even as they're riding high after two wins. Fortunately for the visitors, Roma will likely field Juan again, apparently having difficulty learning from their mistakes. The center back was almost single-handedly responsible for Roma's loss to Sampdoria, and gave away a penalty that allowed Lazio to equalize in the Coppa game. Perhaps all that is needed is Robert Acquafresca, Nene and Alessandro Matri to run at Juan and wait for hilarity to ensue.
Will Inter Continue To Be "Revitalized" Against Udinese, Or Can We Finally Put That Word To Bed?
Apparently, all football writers got together and decided that the word to describe Inter Milan in 2011 is "revitalized". I wasn't invited to the meeting, so I'm not sure if they simply used Microsoft Word's thesaurus to choose, but after reading countless articles and using the word numerous times in my own writing, it's time to move on. Quite frankly, I'm hoping that the free-scoring Udinese find a win in Sunday's early match, because that would give me quite a bit more to work with. "Faltering" or "Stumbling" could slot in quite nicely.
And indeed, Inter did stumble this week, in their makeup match against Cesena. After going up 2-0 inside twenty minutes, Cesena grabbed two goals of their own. It was only the helmeted head of Cristian Chivu that brought Inter the win. Their defense is not as watertight as one might expect of last year's champions, and with Udinese bound and determined to punch holes in everyone's back line, it is almost inevitable that at least one goal will get through. But who will it come from? Alexis Sánchez? Antonio Di Natale? Germán Denis? My money's on Alexis. As for Inter, they'll be missing Diego Milito, who limped out of the midweek match, but Samuel Eto'o is more than enough to keep Udinese busy.
Just How Far Will Juventus Slide?
Is The Old Lady destined to miss out on European competition for the second year running? Jokes abound about injuries and age, but we'll just stick to the facts: Juventus have struggled to score since Fabio Quagliarella injured his knee against Parma, and with replacement Luca Toni now dealing with his own injuries, Juventus hardly seem a threat. They even managed to make a win over last-place Bari last week look difficult.
Sampdoria, meanwhile, fought hard against Udinese in their midweek Coppa match, finally advancing through penalties. Yet Samp just can't seem to find their footing this season, losing to Brescia, then winning against Roma, and then losing to Lazio. With both sides having difficulty finding the net as of late, as well as showing evidence of weakness at the back, this could either be a grinding draw or a scorcher. I'm guessing the former.
Is Napoli A True Contender For Next Year's Champions League?
Marek Hamšík's goal in life is to make it to the Champions League, and he recently announced that he just wants Napoli to finish fourth this season. Yet prior to last Saturday's match, many were tipping the partenopei to make a race for the scudetto. However, one little stumble against Fiorentina - meaning a 0-0 draw - has brought out the naysayers, who are happy to crow about Napoli being just another flashy upstart. Last week Napoli were missing Hamšík, a vital element in their fluid front three, and just as the absence of Ezequiel Lavezzi caused a minor slip in performance, so did a lack of Hamšík.
Napoli easily disposed of Bologna midweek in the Coppa, and have lost just once in their last nine matches in all competitions. The combination of Hamšík, Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani is practically unstoppable, and it seems almost inconceivable that Bari will be the ones to put the brakes on the Napoli front three. The Galletti have just three wins in Serie A and have conceded 30 goals, including 13 in their ten home matches. So perhaps it's fair to say if Napoli can't win this one with ease, it's right to not take them seriously.
Will Cesena's Bad Luck Finally Turn?
The last match of Week 21 sees relegation-battling Cesena travel to the San Siro to take on first place Milan, a game which seems, at first blush, to be an automatic win for the Rossoneri. Yet the Seahorses have been at the wrong end of some extremely unlucky results recently. After holding Roma to a draw for almost ninety minutes, an own goal brought about a loss. They just barely missed an equalizer against Inter earlier in the week. Prior to these losses, Cesena were undefeated in five games.
Milan, meanwhile, have dropped four points in their last two outings, drawing with both Udinese and Lecce. Had Zlatan Ibrahimović not driven in a wonder shot, Lecce likely would have come away with the win against a Milan side that seemed lethargic and uncertain. Ibrahimović, Robinho and Antonio Cassano have showed flashes of brilliance together and Cesena certainly should be wary. But having already beat them once this season, who's to say the Seahorses can't make it a double?