Serie A: 5 Biggest Storylines That Will Decide the Championship
With the Italian Serie A season having just surpassed the halfway mark, it's shaping up to be a tumultuous climax. Similarly to last season, Juventus are leading the way, with 45 points from 20 games.
However, in a fashion distant to their unbeaten campaign last year, the team known as the Old Lady are appearing far from a doyenne: Having lost three games so far—one of which being delivered last week by struggling Sampdoria, in a surprising 2-1 result—they hold only a three-point lead over second-placed and resurgent Lazio.
Furthermore, the chasing pack behind Lazio are gunning to shoot down la Vecchia Signora: Napoli, in third, are five points behind Juve, with Inter Milan—a constant threat—two points further behind in fourth. Fiorentina—famed for being perennially unpredictable—are three points behind the Milanese, in fifth.
And so, with only 10 points separating first and fifth place, Serie A is once again the league that provides entertainment, erudite play and—similarly to the dramatics on show at Milan's La Scala theatre—a host of colourful characters.
But, with the season now past the 20-game mark, which contributing factors could potentially play a part in deciding whether Juve make it title No. 29 or if the holders will be left empty-handed, ruing their errors?
For How Long Can Miroslav Klose Keep Scoring?
Since being recruited from Bayern Munich in June 2011, Miroslav Klose appears to be experiencing somewhat of an Indian summer at Lazio: After scoring only 24 goals in four seasons for the German giants, Klose has bagged 23 in just a season and a half for Rome's blue team. With 10 league goals already this term, he's proving to be a shrewd acquisition.
But for how long can the seasoned striker maintain this form? At 34, and with 18 months of his current deal to run, it is beyond doubt that this will probably be his last foray at this level. With many winners medals and personal accolades accrued during his time in the Bundesliga, it is clear he wishes to add to them.
For the Lazio faithful, however, keeping him fit takes precedence. With nobody yet brought in to replace the recently-departed Tommaso Rocchi—the striker was purchased by Inter for a nominal fee—there is a heavy reliance on Klose to keep up his prolific form. If he can, Lazio will continue to push Juventus. Without him, though, their options look thin.
Will Napoli Be Able to Hold onto Edinson Cavani?
After very almost vanquishing the eventual winners Chelsea in last season's Champions League campaign, much has been made of Napoli and their free-flowing football.
With their aesthetically-pleasing style dealt a heavy blow in the summer when Argentine striker Ezequiel Lavezzi departed for cash-rich Paris Saint-Germain, it was expected that his teammate and fellow entertainer Edinson Cavani may also be heading for the exit.
Despite flirtatious remarks emanating from the Premier League, neither the billions of Manchester City's pounds nor the promise of being heavily financially rewarded by Chelsea was enough to prise Cavani away from southern Italy.
He has gone on to experience his most prolific start to a season in the blue of the Partenopei yet: 16 goals in 16 appearances, including a thumping hat-trick at the start of this month against Roma.
Although repeatedly stating how happy he is to be pushing for Napoli's first title for over 20 years, the media has continually speculated about an impending move. Valued at €40m, however, it may only be Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain—both backed by Middle East investment—who can lure him away.
What Impact Will Roma Have on Proceedings?
With Lazio chasing leaders Juventus to the hilt, things are not looking so rosy at cross-city rivals Roma. Languishing in sixth place, it is fair to say that, since being purchased in August 2011, i Giallorossi have not lived up the big expectations of owner Thomas DiBenedetto.
First there was the distinctly average performance last season under former Barcelona captain Luis Enrique, where the team failed to qualify for any European competition. And then this campaign, under Zdenek Zeman—who enjoyed a successful time at the helm from 1997-99—they have again not hit title-winning form.
However, things may soon to fall into place. Whilst they are yet to win a game in 2013—they began the year with a resounding 4-1 defeat at the hands of a Cavani-inspired Napoli and this weekend lost 1-0 to mid-table Catania—they had ended 2012 with a thumping 4-2 home victory against AC Milan.
If they are to pick up the pace, it will owe largely to the prowess of strikers Erik Lamela and Pablo Osvaldo. With 10 goals apiece in the league thus far, the two are in scintillating form. What's more, talismanic veteran and local boy Francesco Totti has also waded in with six goals.
Whilst this kind of leadership did lead Roma to their last title in 2001, even the most ardent of purists won't hold out much hope for them winning the league this year. It is indisputable, however, that they may still take points off any of the top five.
Can Fiorentina Get Giuseppe Rossi Fit Before the End of the Campaign?
Fifth-placed Fiorentina are proving to be somewhat of a surprise package this campaign. Famed for infighting and internal disruption—as exemplified by Adam Ljajic's petulant response to being subbed last season, something which later cost then-manager Delio Rossi his job—owners Diego and Andrea Della Valle utilised last summer's transfer window to bring about much-needed change.
After appointing former Roma and Italy striker Vincenzo Montella as coach, goalkeeper and Italian international Emiliano Viviano was recruited, as well as Chilean playmaker Matias Fernandez and Spanish midfielder Borja Valero.
Additionally, Alberto Aquilani, David Pizarro and Juan Cuadrado were all acquired, providing Fiorentina with firepower and structure in midfield. Furthermore, Daniele Prade came in at board level, assuming the role of Sporting Director.
These changes, coupled with retaining the services of this season's leading scorer Steven Jovetic, has clearly paid dividends on the pitch for La Viola: 10 wins out of 20 sees them in fifth place and certain to better last season's 13th-place finish.
During this month, they made one of the transfer window's most boldest decisions, picking up Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi from Spanish side Villareal. Whilst Rossi's talent is clear, it remains to be seen how this will pan out. Having been sidelined with persistent knee injuries for the last 18 months, he is some way off being match-fit.
Fiorentina's rivals, however, will be hoping that Montella is not true to his word when he recently declared that Rossi may yet play a part in this campaign. If they can get him back playing, it is inevitable he will score goals.
Will Juventus Spend in This Transfer Window?
Judging by last summer's spending spree, the decision-makers at Juventus hadn't heard the phrase "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Despite going the entirety of last season unbeaten (that record only ending in November, at the hands of Inter Milan, one game shy of 50) as well as having the best defensive record in Serie A (only leaking 20 goals), Juve spent over €50m last summer. New, costly recruits included Mauricio Isla, Martin Caceres, Richmond Boakye, and Sebastian Giovinco.
Of these, it could be said that only Giovinco has consistently delivered. Despite beginning his career in the black and white of Juventus, the striker hit a rich vein of form last season for Parma, prompting the Old Lady to shell out €11m to bring him back.
And he hasn't disappointed, notching six goals and five assists, helping Juventus assume their familiar position as league leaders.
However, with three times more defeats this season, they are far from the all-conquering outfit they were last campaign. This has, largely, been owed to the fact that not one of their player is yet to reach double figures in the goal scoring charts.
In addition to Giovinco's six, Fabio Quaglirella has six and Arturo Vidal has five. If they are to capture title No. 29, it is undeniable that they need more firepower. With loanee Nicklas Bendtner not impressing, Juventus may need to dip, once again, into the coffers to recruit someone of Edinson Cavani's ilk: a prolific player to ward off the threat of Lazio et al.