Could this finally be the season to end Juventus’ reign over Serie A?
While clear favorites are starting to emerge across the other big European leagues, Italy’s top flight is still very much up for grabs. After winning the last six consecutive titles, and claiming the Serie A/Coppa Italia double in the last three, Juve are no longer the odds-on favorites to claim the 2017-18 title.
Their loss to Sampdoria last weekend marked the second Serie A defeat of the season for Juventus (10-1-2). The 33-time winners now sit four points back of first-place Napoli (11-2-0) and two back of second-place Inter Milan (10-3-0). Massimiliano Allegri chose to rest Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Barzagli against Sampdoria, perhaps anticipating an easy win. If that’s the case, he made a foolish mistake. Juve no longer towers over the rest of Italy, and the league is keen to overthrow its king.
Both Napoli and Inter Milan have yet to lose a Serie A match this season, and Roma (10-0-2; fourth-place) is currently riding a five-match winning streak. Where does that leave the odds, and who should bettors wager on? Let’s take a look.
After a convincing 2-1 win against AC Milan last weekend, Napoli are now the slight favorites to win the title. Under the guidance of Maurizio Sarri, they’ve become one of the most effective — and also one of the most entertaining — teams in Europe.
Lacking the same star power as the bigger clubs, Sarri has developed a system that is tailor-made for his squad. They showcase a fearless brand of soccer, playing the ball from the back and often maintaining possession deep within their half. Their attacking duo, Lorenzo Insigne and Diers Martens, have both been regular starters for Napoli for the last five seasons, but something has clicked this season and they’re playing better now than ever.
It’s been almost three decades since Napoli last won the title, and this is their best shot in a very, very long time. With only a two-point lead over Inter Milan, they still have a tough road ahead. But they’re off to a great start.
Juve’s loss to Sampdoria was a huge blow for the defending champs. They’re only four points from the top, but now they trail two unbeaten teams. Sitting in third place is not where they expected to be at this point in the season, and they also have a tough Champions League group to worry about.
Unlike Napoli, who have clearly stated their priority for the domestic title over the Champions League, Juventus are committed to fighting on both fronts. That could end up stretching them a little thin.
They lost a few crucial players over the summer but also picked up a few in return. Chelsea’s Juan Cuadrado has been a huge asset so far, and their Argentinian attacking duo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín, are still two of the best strikers in the league.
Finishing in a dismal seventh-place last season could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Inter. Unlike Napoli, Roma and Juve, Internazionale do not have to concern themselves with European Cups this season and can completely devote themselves to the domestic title.
It’s been seven long years since Inter’s five-season run, which ended with them winning the elusive treble. A change in ownership and a drastic decline has left the club a shell of its former self, but it seems the Inter ship may finally be changing course.
Mauro Icardi, their 24-year-old star striker, has matured into one of the best in Europe and could carry Inter to the top of the table. As their only reliable goalscorer, all of Inter’s hopes are pinned to the young, volatile Argentine.
Roma have finished within the top three in each of the last four seasons, but we have to look all the way back to 2000-01 for the last time they claimed the title. They’re currently in fourth-place with one game to spare over the top three, which puts them in an enviable position.
They lost key players over the summer, including Mo Salah to Liverpool and Antonio Rüdiger to Chelsea, and failed to find a suitable replacement for either. But hasn’t hindered their performance so far. They defeated city rivals Lazio last weekend and recently dismantled Chelsea 3-0 in the Champions League.
Lazio just had their six-game winning streak terminated by rival Roma. The result saw them sink to fifth-place, seven points from the top. Without the individual talent of the other title contenders, it’s going to be an enormous task for Lazio to close the gap. Though I wouldn’t be so quick to rule them out. They’ve managed to beat Juventus twice already this season and trounced AC Milan, 4-1.
Pick: Juventus (11/8)
Everyone who’s not a Juventus fan would love to see the champions dethroned. But that doesn’t justify picking against them. Especially at an inflated 11/8 odds, this is where the value is. Serie A is competitive once again and the other title contenders have vastly improved this season, but they still don’t have the raw talent to match Juve on paper, and that will prove decisive over the long haul.
Just take a look at their roster: Dybala, Higuaín, Matuidi, Alex Sandro, Douglas Costa. Even though they lost a few key players over the summer, they still have a star-studded lineup that outshines any other Italian club. They may feel a little uneasy in third-place at the moment, but they’re still only four points from the top. That’s a very manageable deficit for Juve to overcome.