Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and the Capocannoniere Contenders
It's remarkable to think that there are only 12 games left to be played in the Serie A this season. With so few games remaining, it's possible to look ahead toward the end of the season with a bit more clarity.
Today, we'll be focusing not on clubs but on individual players—strikers to be exact—as they race toward the coveted title of capocannoniere.
In a league as difficult to score in as Serie A, being the top goalscorer is a high honor. Here we'll look at five players who have the best chance at winning the prize—as well as one honorable mention who should have had the award in the bag before an unfortunate injury.
So who will top the scoring charts? Let's take a closer look at the candidates.
Players other than the honorable mention are listed in reverse order of their position on the scoring charts as of 9 a.m. EST on March 7, 2014.
Honorable Mention: Giuseppe Rossi
Chances: Almost nil
Before we get to the countdown proper, recognition must be given to Giuseppe Rossi.
Had he not been injured by a fantastically bad tackle by Livorno's Leandro Rinaudo, Rossi would almost certainly still be atop the list by a clear margin. The fact that it took eight weeks for anyone to pass him after his injury is a testament to just how devastating he was as the tip of the spear for Fiorentina.
He's had two multiple-goal games this year, including a hat trick in a come-from-behind victory against Juventus. He also proved himself in the biggest fixtures on the schedule, breaking through against the likes of Juve and Napoli.
If all goes well, Rossi will be able to play again this season and go on to the World Cup. Still, the best-case scenario is that he'll be back in mid-April, at which point he would likely have an uphill climb to reclaim the top spot.
Had Rinaudo's borderline-dirty challenge not felled him, Rossi would have made an article like this irrelevant, because no one would be close. He should be recognized for having the title yanked from under him by the Livorno defender.
Chances: Virtually nil
The 19-year-old Berardi is a good bet to top these charts one day, but this year it is almost certainly beyond him.
The biggest strike against him is that he plays for one of the weakest teams in the league. On the defensive in most games, Berardi has fewer chances than other strikers on this list and therefore must convert a greater proportion in order to keep pace.
That said, a few things keep Berardi in the discussion. The first is that he is the team's primary penalty taker, so it is possible for him to run up a few easy tallies if his team can find their way to the spot. Five of his goals have come via penalties this year, and he hasn't had one saved, so if he gets a few more opportunities he can potentially sail up the charts.
Berardi has also showed a propensity to score in bunches. This is perhaps the biggest reason he's still conceivably in the running. He's scored two hat-tricks this year, including a four-goal masterpiece that sounded the death knell of Massimiliano Allegri's tenure at AC Milan.
After he serves his one-game suspension for a red card this past weekend, he'll have the perfect opportunity to run off a few against defensively challenged Catania.
Any sort of multi-goal explosion could put him into a position to truly challenge for the top spot by the end of the year, but odds are he'll have to wait for another day.
Team: Hellas Verona
Few stories in Serie A this year have been as uplifting as Luca Toni's return to the top of the scoring charts.
After arriving at Hellas on a Bosman, the World Cup-winner started the season on a high with two goals in an upset of AC Milan and has kept on rolling. His form has lifted the Mastini, who have shocked everyone by staying in serious contention for a Europa League spot the entire year. With the Europa League zone likely extending to sixth this year, they have a good chance of getting there.
If they do, Toni will have been the catalyst. He has scored three braces this season—including in consecutive wins against Lazio and Udinese—and has scored in four on the bounce, including a set-piece strike against Juventus that brought Verona back into the game and set up a 2-2 draw.
Verona has already finished its slate against most of the league's best teams, but Napoli and Fiorentina do lurk. Also of interest will be a showdown game with Inter that may go a long way to deciding fifth place.
Verona will be playing important games down the stretch, and Toni's experience will go a long way for them. The question will be if his newly promoted team can keep him supplied to deal with higher-profile competition.
That's where he probably falls short. The likes of Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain have much more quality around them, and that could make all the difference.
After taking the Serie B scoring title two years ago, big things were expected from Ciro Immobile. Instead he fell flat in his first taste of top-flight soccer at Genoa.
To be fair, everyone at Genoa fell flat last season. After a switch to Torino this summer the young striker seems to be finding that form again.
Giampiero Ventura ditched the 4-2-4 formation he grew up a disciple of after acquiring Immobile and instead combined him with Alessio Cerci in a 3-5-2, moving Cerci from winger to a "seconda punta" role.
The results have been fantastic for both players. Cerci has scored 11 times, and Immobile is tied for third in the league with 13.
It's his recent form that has catapulted him up this list. He has scored in seven of his last 10 matches, a run that has accounted for eight of his tallies.
The midfield behind Immobile isn't nearly as impressive as those of Gonzalo Higuain or Carlos Tevez, who are fellow residents of this list. His partnership with Cerci, however, has huge potential, and Torino is in shouting distance for a Europa League place.
So long as Cerci is his partner, Immobile has an outside shot at going on another tear. He likes to score in bunches, having had two three-game scoring streaks and a four-game scoring streak this season. If he goes on another run like that at the end of the season he might make a challenge, but his competition is probably too high-quality.
Gonzalo Higuain was the high-priced replacement for departed striker and capocannoniere Edinson Cavani, and he's been as good as advertised so far.
With Napoli undergoing a major renovation under Rafael Benitez, Higuain was charged with taking hold of the front line and keeping the team ahead in games while the rest of the team adjusted behind him. As the team adjusts from Walter Mazzarri's three-man defensive system to Benitez's 4-2-3-1, it has relied on the Argentine to make sure that things were solid up front.
So far he has delivered with 13 goals in 24 appearances.
His suppliers have been varied. No Napoli player—not even last year's assist leader Marek Hamsik—has notched more than three assists this year except for Higuain himself, who leads the team with seven. It's a testament to his ability that he has been able to develop chemistry with the entire team and not rely on a single source of service for his chances.
Higuain has a good chance of making up the two-goal difference between himself and the top this season. Napoli is one of Italy's best teams and have only been shut out three times this season.
The vulnerable defense of Catania beckons in a little less than a month and a few other provincial sides remain on their schedule as well. Even the return match against Juventus—one of the three teams to keep the Partenopei to a clean sheet this season—is an opportunity, as not even mighty Juve has been able to shackle Napoli in the San Paolo in the last few years.
So long as he stays healthy, Higuain has an excellent chance to overtake his rivals and claim the top spot.
Carlos Tevez has the best chance of bagging the award this year, but there are some potential snags.
First off, he can be streaky. Before his brace against Verona in February he had gone six matches without scoring, and he's endured similar smaller droughts throughout the season before scoring in bunches. If he hits a cold spot, he could open up room for one of the three men currently tied on 13 to catch up.
Ironically, Juve's own success could work against him. Eleven points clear at the top, Juve may already have the trophy polished.
With such a massive cushion, Antonio Conte can afford to start leaving Tevez out of league games with an eye on having his best forward on the field in Europa League play. That would obviously lead to fewer chances to score in Serie A, again leaving the door open for his pursuers to close the gap.
That being said, unless one of his competitors really crashes the gates, Tevez is likely to finish the season on top. His streaky season hasn't been enough to keep him from the top so far. Antonio Conte now has a quality striker in Dani Osvaldo who can be relied on enough in the Europa League that Tevez will probably get decent minutes in the league.
It's difficult to adapt to the Serie A in your first season in the league, but Tevez—and Higuain, it must be said—have done so brilliantly. Expect the race for capocannoniere to come down to these two Argentines—and for elder statesman Tevez to bring the award home.