Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Euro round up: Inter join Milan in the last 16, Napoli put one foot in it

Round five proved to be a decent one for Italian clubs in the Champions League as Inter Milan joined AC Milan in the last sixteen of the Champions League. Inter traveled to Turkey, never an easy destination and picked up a 1-1 draw against Trabzonspor. Ricky Alvarez opened his Inter Milan account in the Champions League after 18 minutes but the Turkish outfit leveled through a deflected effort not long after. It ended 1-1 and Inter, without Forlan, Sneijder and Maicon on the night, had to be satisfied that the point not only qualified them but secured them top place in the group thanks to Lille winning 2-0 in Moscow earlier in the evening.  

The big game of the night was Napoli's encounter with Manchester City. Napoli were on top from the start and Edinson Cavani again rose to the occasion to head home from a tight angle. It was tight and tense but a defensive blunder from Salvatore Aronica let Mario Balotelli fire home from close range. At that moment it looked like the game may turn, but after the break Napoli came out strong and Cavani again found the net. It could, and should, have been more for Napoli with Hamsik hitting the post, Lavezzi testing Hart and Maggio blundering a 1 on 1 attempt. But instead Napoli fluffed their lines and had to endure ten minutes of really pressure at the end of the game. If finished 2-1 and Napoli are in the driving seat for the last round where they head to Villareal. They could go through even in defeat so long as Man City do not beat Bayern.

In the clash of titans Barcelona got the better of Milan 3-2 at the San Siro. It was a great game where Milan came from behind twice to level against the current holders but Xavi finished off a superb Messi pass to secure the three points and the group itself. Milan are through though in second place and given their performances against the best team in Europe will be a match for virtually any other side in the tournament. They will however look to avoid trips to Madrid and Bayern especially but the Diavolo can be confident that they can have a good run in this tournament this year. 

So Inter and Milan through to the last 16 and Napoli almost there as well. Not bad at all for Serie A so far. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The tide appears to be turning as Udinese get green light for Stadia renovations

Udinese look set to become the second Serie A side to embark on Stadia reconstruction after being given the go ahead by their city Council to build a new Stadium. Club President Giampaolo Pozzo remarked on tuttomercato web that he was pleasantly surprised to have been given the go ahead, and that the project would hopefully begin this Summer. This is great news for Serie A as numerous clubs have wanted, but been unable so far, to push through projects of this nature. But it is clearly even better news for Udinese. 

The current Stadio Friuli is rarely full and currently only has one covered stand with an athletics track bridging the pitch from the stands. A new stadium would remedy this, as seen by the effect that Juventus' stadium has had upon their club. Average gates in Turin have gone up from 21,000 to 35,000 so far this season and there is no doubt that will improve so long as the club maintains their high league position. Whether Udinese will aim for that level of increase is doubtful, and in fact improbable given that a Stadium of 25,000 for them has been mentioned in the past. That would still represent a significant increase on their current average gate which is around 16,000. More important however it will hopefully continue the trend of new stadia. 

If Lazio, Roma, Fiorentina and Napoli follow suit, and they all have plans to do so, then grounds of between 40,000-60,000 can be expected given their strong local fan bases, which would do wonders for the leagues reputation and average attendance statistic. And, while they all occupy grounds able to hold that capacity now it is the quality of them and the match day experience that is in question rather than the football on the pitch. La Viola's ground for example, much like Udinese', has only one covered stand and while the Sun shines well in Italy during the Summer months rain and snow is not absent during the Winter as any follower of Italian football would let you no.

Today's news represents a good sign for Udinese and Italian football and one looks forward to see this project begin next Summer, hopefully.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Mihajlovic losing his grip on Fiorentina throne

Another away match for Fiorentina, another defeat. This is something that the Viola have become accustomed to this season under the leadership of Sinisa Mihajlovic. Too often his sides have looked to preserve a point first before even contemplating obtaining all three, especially when away from home.  The stats back this up, given that in his tenure as manager on the viola bench the free kick taking machine has achieved just two away wins in Serie A. Combine that with a 9th place finish last campaign and what seems to be another drab season in the offing this year, without European commitments once again, it is hard to see how much more patient the Della Valle brothers can be. 

Fiorentina are however no Palermo. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters the Della Valle brothers have far more patience than Maurizio Zamperini. Mihajlovic would have been sacked a long time ago if he had produced the same record with the Rosanero. Still, with a highly competitive squad at his disposal it is hard to argue that the Viola are not underachieving. Jovetic, Vargas, Gilardino, Montolivo, Gamberini, Behrami, Cerci, Ljajic and Cassani are all quality players. Yet, they are part of a side that has already been beaten four times this season and has only ten goals to their name, with half of them scored by Jovetic. Only five sides in the division have a goal scoring record worse than that and they are Cesena, Lecce, Bologna, Chievo and Cagliari. Hardly great company.

That being said they are defensively strong, as only five sides have been better at the back, those being Udinese, Lazio, Juventus, Napoli and Siena. Now given their respective positions in the table that is great company and it illustrates the problem. Fiorentina are not adventurous enough going forward, especially away from home, and when they do attack they are not efficient enough at killing off games. Take their home game against Catania as an example. Twice they were pegged back from a leading position, while against Lazio they blew a 1-0 lead despite, for the first half an hour, dominating proceedings.

The answer right now, sadly for Mihajlovic, is a change for la Viola. The fans have begun voting on their feet despite the ultras giving Mihajlovic their support in a recent training session. Attendances have dropped and the recent game against Catania yielded a support of just 18,783. Ultimately, this is a club and a squad that should be contesting for a European spot. The fact that they seem nothing more than an afterthought in that contest suggests that the axe does indeed need to fall. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Euro watch: Milan Qualify

Milan qualified for the Champions League in drab fashion tonight in Belarus securing a 1-1 draw with Bate. Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Milan ahead with a smart counter attacking move from Milan but it was not enough as the home side rallied in the second half to level through a penalty on 55 minutes. Milan were wasteful with their chances in the first half and have relinquished their top spot in Group H to European Champions Barcelona. They will now need to beat Barcelona in the San Siro in the next round to recapture top spot. Clearly, this will be no easy task but perhaps it will give Milan the right attitude in terms of playing to actually win the game, rather than play for a draw had they still been level on points come round five.

Tomorrow night sees more difficult encounters for the Italian clubs. Inter take on Lille at home and they will look to move up to nine points in the group so they can focus on more pressing domestic troubles away at Genoa on Sunday. It is vital that they win and qualify as group winners given to avoid tougher fixtures come the knock out rounds.

Napoli however have Bayern Munich to contend with away from home and with Manchester City closing in on the top two both Bayern and Napoli will see this as an opportunity to take control of the group. This will be tough for Napoli, although not much should be read into their defeat to Catania at the weekend. Walter Mazzari has stated today that Napoli will try to impose their game on Bayern and this is refreshing to hear, and if they adopt their smart counter attacking style that they did against Manchester City and AC Milan this season then they will be tough to contend with. They key will be not going down too early and frustrating the Bavarians whose great form has already slipped somewhat with a recent Bundesliga defeat. Difficult? Very much so but not impossible.

Attention will turn to the Europe League on Thursday night where Udinese head to Madrid to take on Athletico. Having beaten them 2-0 in the last round Udinese will be confident of qualification but a defeat here would give hope to the others in the group. Given their great form this season it will be hoped that Di Natale will start to provide a threat to the Athletico backline.

Lazio however have not mirrored their domestic form in Europe and have only two draws to show for their efforts so far. The game against Zurich at home is a must win then and one hopes that they put out a squad that is capable of delivering this in emphatic fashion. Mirslav Klose is set to be on the bench, and that is not a good start when one thinks how good he has been this season.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Derby D'Italia: Inter v Juventus

What a game, and what a time for it. With Juventus sitting pretty top of Serie A and Inter sitting, well, abysmally off the pace the contrast in this seasons league form does not mirror that of recent seasons gone by. Champions of Europe in 2010, Inter did what Juventus could not do in 2003, 1998,  and 1997 by climbing that elusive final hurdle in the Champions League final. True, Juventus did achieve that in 1996 in Rome but in recent years Inter have been Italy's finest export whilst Italy awaits Milan and Juve to catch them up, on the continent at least. Expect that to happen this season as Milan look set to do very well in the Champions League, but don't count Inter out just yet. 

Despite a poor start under a totally misguided manager who seemed determined to play every player out of position Inter have quality in abundance and will be keen to show that in today's mammoth encounter. And while Juve have started very well this season question marks have been raised about their true ability to take the Scudetto and whether they really have gotten over two totally atrocious campaigns by their own high standards. Recent matches have shown a soft defensive underbelly that Napoli, Milan, Udinese and Lazio, who all sit close behind Juve, will look to take full advantage of.

Inter however continue to stay alive, albeit only just. They sit top of their Champions League book having registered two excellent away wins against CSKA and Lille, and since Ranieri has taken over they have been resuscitated somewhat with wins over Bologna and Chievo, with the draw away at Atalanta not a bad result given their blistering start to the season so far. The Napoli game stands out, on paper, as a huge disappointment but those having seen the game will realise that it was a false economy of sorts in the sense of the poor referring performance which completely changed the shape of the game just before half time, even if Napoli were on fire that night.

Still, their is no denying the simply awful start Inter have made to live in Serie A this season. While even at this stage Scudetto chances look slim at best a win over Juventus would put some life back into their campaign and show the old lady and city rivals AC Milan that Inter can, and may well, have their say in the Scudetto race this season.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Napoli end Udinese's unbeaten run

A consummate home performance from Napoli saw them brush past Udinese who had up until this match been unbeaten in Serie A this season. Udinese, without Antonio Di Natale and Isla lacked somewhat in creativity but fell behind thanks to a wonderful Lavezzi strike after Cavani provided what seemed like an impossible assist. Udinese did fight back and Morgan De Sanctis produced an outstanding save after a well worked Udinese corner saw Antonio Floro Flores improvise with a volley that tested the Napoli goalkeeper. But he was up to the challenge and Napoli added to their lead just before half time when Maggio headed home to make it 2-0.In many respects after having just picked up one point from their last six this was a must win for Napoli who take on Catania, Bayern Munich and Juventus in their next run of fixtures.

Speaking of Juventus they continued their unbeaten start with a solid 2-1 home win against Fiorentina. It should have been buried at half time with Juve totally dominating their opponents but Fiorentina came out determined after the break to get themselves into the match and another superb strike from Stefan Jovetic leveled the tie. However, Alessandro Matri added to his growing reputation with the winning goal late on and his third in two matches to keep Juventus clear at the top. 

With Udinese defeated Lazio had the opportunity to take over at the Serie A summit against Catania and they started well in this encounter taking the lead after 17 minutes through Miroslav Klose who scored his 5th goal of the Serie A campaign so far. Despite being decimated with injury problems Lazio looked good for their lead but unlike Napoli they could not establish daylight between. They paid the price for this as Catania leveled after some poor defending by the Lazio backline. Depsite this Lazio did rally and the introduction of Hernanes and Kozak showed their attacking intent, but it was to no avail despite dominating the proceedings late on.

Elsewhere Roma fell to defeat in Genoa by 2-1 and Bologna surprised Chievo by winning 1-0 in Verona. Cesena continued their winless start with a 1-1 draw at home to Cagliari while Inter could only draw 1-1 against Atalanta away from home, with the home side continuing their fantastic start. Milan continued their ressurgence with a 4-1 win at home to Parma and move up to joint 4th in the table. Finally, Siena continued their good start with a 1-1 draw away at Novara. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Juve only draw but continue to show Serie A the way forward

Juve 2 - 2 Genoa was the final score in Turin tonight after a cracking game ended all square. Juve were sublime at times going forward, Andrea Pirlo rolling back the years with inspirational contributions to both goals, from the quickly taken corner that found Marchisio on the first goal where Matri fired home to the simply majestic dummy that let Matri again hit the back of the net. Juve looked set for the win but Genoa continued to advance forward, much through the inspired play of Milan owned Alex Merkel and drew level late on through a Caracciolo equaliser. Shambolic defending and poor goalkeeping led to Juve's demise in this encounter and in the end a point was all they could take from this one.

With this in mind you may wonder what on earth the title to this article is on about. Despite going top of Serie A, albeit temporarily, tonight was a disappointment for the home side before they go on a run of games that sees them take on Fiorentina, Inter, Napoli, Palermo and Lazio. Hardly an easy run and two draws on the trot has taken the sting out of their blistering start. But, irregardless Juve this season with their new Stadium have shown the rest of Serie A what they need to do to modernise and essentially revolutionise the league.

Juventus so far this campaign have had an average attendance of 36,293. It's not huge by any stretch and only ranks sixth overall in Serie A but it is a massive improvement on their gates from last season which culminated in an average of 21,966. You could argue it has been the difference between a great start and a poor one as well. Last season at the Stadio Olimpico Juventus lost at home to Milan, Parma and Bologna, their first three home games. This season they took seven points from those same encounters instead and the crowd played their part in these fixtures as well, becoming the the essential 12th man that had been missed and the frankly limp and lifeless Olimpico in recent seasons passed. Much of course has to be attributed to a decent Summer mercato. But, their is a freshness around this club that could well take them out of the doldrums, which undoubtedly the last two campaigns have been and their is no doubt that the new Stadium is part of this.

But how does this relate to the rest of Serie A? Well aside from the revenue opportunities that a self own Stadium would provide new stadia for the other clubs would have massive knock on effects for game day attendances which so far this season are at an average of just under 24,000. This will increase as the season goes on and games become more vital to the campaigns final outcome, but it is fair to say that this number has not been helped by teams like Chievo, Lecce, Novara and Siena who barely pull in an average of more than 10,000 a game and in that regard the sooner the likes of Torino and Sampdoria come back to Serie A the better. But, for the likes of Fiorentina, Lazio, Palermo, Roma and Cagliari, teams who have been trying to build new stadia for some time, the impact could be huge. Indeed, such has the delay been in the case of the Viola that they have considered building a new Stadium out of the city limits itself. 

Much of the problem has to do with current legislative restrictions and the frustration that local Council's in Italy will miss out on revenue generated by their currently owned Stadiums. But, the sooner the other clubs are able to follow the path that Juventus have then the better off they will be, and the better off the league will be too.