An Olivier Giroud brace in February’s Derby della Madonnina breathed fresh life into AC Milan’s Scudetto bid. Stefano Pioli’s side had previously lost controversially at home to Spezia before forgettably dropping more points to a Juventus side that had no intention of winning the contest.
Their campaign was on the ropes, but a pair of vintage Giroud strikes in the 2-1 victory over their crosstown rivals ignited a run that left the Rossoneri in pole position to secure their first championship since 2011.
Inter have seized back control of the Scudetto race despite a dismal run of form
Milan had won unconvincingly throughout March, but Inter’s prolonged blip meant the Scudetto was in their hands. That was until a pair of goalless stalemates tilted the tide back in the Nerazzurri’s favour as Simone Inzaghi’s side, buoyed by their gritty 1-0 win in the Derby d’Italia, claimed back-to-back Serie A victories for the first time since early on January on Matchday 32.
Napoli’s defeat at home to Fiorentina at the weekend means it’s likely that one of the Milanese outfits will triumph come the end of May. The Rossoneri are still developing under their vastly improved coach, but their recent setbacks suggest they still have some way to go before they reach their peak.
Inter, meanwhile, looked like the most complete team in the division by some distance up until their Derby della Madonnina defeat which sparked an almost season-derailing run of one win from seven games. Nevertheless, they still boast Serie A’s best defence and, hopefully, Nicolo Barella’s goal in the 2-0 win over Hellas Verona at the weekend, just his second of 2022, will spark a resurgence down the stretch. The Italian’s form is crucial for Inzaghi, who has replicated Antonio Conte’s ideals to an admirable standard during his first season as manager.
For me, Inter remain the best outfit in Serie A with Milan and Napoli on an equal footing just behind them. However, all these sides are distinctly flawed and that’s made for the most enthralling title race in Italy since Juventus duelled with Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli in 2017/18. On that occasion, though, Juve would win the title with 95 points with Napoli finishing on 91. This season’s projected champions, Inter, will win the 2021/22 Scudetto with a measly 81 points (based on points per game) – the lowest haul since Serie A became a 20-team league in 2004/05 (if you discount Inter’s win in 2005/06 thanks to the Calciopoli scandal).
Although, the Nerazzurri’s rather tame schedule to close out the season means they could top Jose Mourinho’s Treble-winners (82 points), Massimiliano Allegri’s Milan (82 points) and Sarri’s Juventus (83 points) when it’s all said and done.
The competitiveness of the Serie A title race is down to a lack of quality among the league’s best teams
The point is: the competitiveness of the 2021/22 Scudetto race is owed to the lack of quality – compared to years past – at the top of the division. Italy is currently bereft of a ‘great’ team, just a season after Conte’s excellent Inter side, one that accumulated 91 points, breezed their way to the title. You get the feeling that the Scudetto may have already been sewn up by now had The Godfather remained in Milan.
Some might argue that the lower points hauls of those at the top are down to the improvements of middling Serie A outfits and those competing in Europe. And while there’s a case to be made, with an influx of new-age coaches reshaping the concept of the archetypal Italian manager, the performance of Serie A sides in Europe suggests that, simply, the quality of the league’s best outfits has declined considerably.
At the time of writing, Atalanta have a shot of reaching the Europa League semi-finals (after failing to make it out of their Champions League group), while AS Roma are stuttering their way through the Europa Conference League. Juventus, Inter and Milan have all been dumped out of Europe’s premier club competition, as have Lazio and Napoli from the Europa League.
Another poor season on the continental front means Italy still hasn’t produced a Champions League winner since 2010, a finalist since 2017, a semi-finalist since 2018, and a quarter-finalist since 2020. The insidious decline couldn’t be more distinct!
The very best Serie A currently has to offer are light years adrift of the continent’s elite, with the division as a whole a far cry from its golden era at the turn of the 1990s and towards the end of the millennium.
But, and there is an important but; the entertainment of calcio this season can’t be disputed. The top three teams, that once appeared a cut above the rest, are much closer to the median than it was initially perceived, meaning a dynamic of ‘anyone can beat anyone’ has been established. We’ve seen Milan fall to Spezia, Inter succumb to Sassuolo, and Napoli stunned by Empoli.
Such unpredictability should be celebrated. It’s why the Premier League garnered the reputation it did before Manchester City and Liverpool emerged as the two best teams on the continent.
The high standards of Serie A have ceased to exist, with the league slowly losing its stars and the lack of a stand-out team evident. However, with Juventus and Milan at different points of their rebuilds and Inter mitigating the loss of their Scudetto-winning core, there’s hope that the league can return to a level resembling its 90s peak in the coming years.