It’s only Week 6 and yet some themes are already emerging in this Serie A season, but as we all know, it’s a marathon not a sprint, so go easy before ruling some clubs out of the Scudetto race altogether.
Napoli have started with a 100 per cent record and seem to be blowing everyone out of the water, but have very little strength in depth for their key areas, specifically midfield and full-backs, so that might not necessarily last. This weekend, Cagliari shouldn’t provide too much of a test, even if Walter Mazzarri is returning to what was once the Stadio San Paolo, now the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Lazio vs. Roma, the bitterest derby in Serie A
The biggest fixture of the weekend is without a doubt at the Stadio Olimpico, the bitterest derby in Italian football, the Derby della Capitale. As if the tension weren’t already cranked up, we also have Jose Mourinho and Maurizio Sarri crossing paths again, a pairing that created sparks in the Premier League.
While Roma got off to a much stronger start this term, winning seven out of eight competitive matches, the last couple of performances have been a long way off stellar. Lorenzo Pellegrini is suspended following a harsh second yellow card against Udinese, so Stephan El Shaarawy or Carles Perez should step in, but they have very different characteristics and skills to the captain. The lack of squad rotation could also start to create some fatigue, particularly in defence.
Lazio fans have been hearing the comments out of Sarri’s camp that will already be very familiar to supporters of Chelsea and Juventus, namely that ‘the team has not yet assimilated the tactical principles.’ This is inevitable when bringing in a coach who has such radically different approaches to his predecessors, but he keeps joining clubs at a level that will not allow time for adjustment. The relative lack of transfer activity also made it tougher, having to shove square pegs into round holes with a team built for 3-5-2.
The Aquile have moved into the classic stage of Sarri adjustment, where they just pass it around horizontally to whoever is closest and slow everything down, whereas the ideal is to pass quickly and vertically into the space where you know your teammate will run. That takes a very long time to get right and since leaving Napoli he has not been given the chance to achieve that smooth motion.
So while the derby is always a tough one to call and Roma are missing a key player in Pellegrini, I don’t see Lazio winning this and they’ll be lucky to scrape a draw. What we may well see are cards and penalties, because it just isn’t the derby without controversy and tension.
Elsewhere, there’s another fascinating clash between Inter and Atalanta at San Siro. This is a curious one, because Gian Piero Gasperini’s side tends to struggle against opponents set out with three at the back. Fatigue is also a big risk, with Luis Muriel’s injury meaning Duvan Zapata has no time to rest. La Dea improved lately, but are still nowhere near their usual form, so Inter would be a strong tip to win and consolidate their Scudetto candidacy, especially if Denzel Dumfries starts.
The most fascinating question of the round might be: can Juventus keep their first Serie A clean sheet since March? Fabio Quagliarella is still looking for his first goal of the season, so this would be an ideal time to break that duck.
Serie A Week 6 fixtures
Saturday September 25
Genoa vs. Verona
Sunday September 26
Empoli vs. Bologna
Udinese vs. Fiorentina
Sassuolo vs. Salernitana
Lazio vs. Roma
Napoli vs. Cagliari
Monday September 27
Venezia vs. Torino