Juventus looked sloppy at home to Parma in the first weekend of February, as the champions threw away a two-goal lead at home to the side that got promoted to the top division last season, their defence looking far from sturdy in that 3-3 stalemate.
In truth, Juve have looked sloppy of late, riding their luck in the win at Lazio before two weeks earlier, just about edging past Inter back in December, and suffering that elimination from the Coppa Italia at the hands of Atalanta, meaning for the first time since 2013, the Old Lady won’t secure a domestic double. Good thing is they’ve managed to find some strong footing again, as they dispatched Sassuolo this weekend.
But even if Juve had looked far from steady again, it would have mattered little, at least in the league anyway. The Bianconeri are eleven points clear of second-placed Napoli – who could only draw at Fiorentina – and are still unbeaten in the league so far. And there’s the fact that Napoli, despite their latest setback, seem to be the only team even making an effort to keep up, the rest wallowing in inconsistency and relative mediocrity to stay further behind.
That Inter have had a torrid start to 2018 but are in third place, and their city rivals AC Milan have looked far from solid but are fourth, says much about what’s going on below the top, well the top two. Inter are still five points clear of the side in fifth place despite not having the best run of form of late, even if their most recent result was a patchy 1-0 win at Parma.
But the seeming lack of a foothold from the sides in and around the European places are just about what make it intriguing. The top of the table may be a formality, but immediately below, it’s anything but. Inter are in third place, four points ahead of AC Milan, who are in turn one point above fifth-placed Atalanta. Right behind Gianpiero Gasperini’s free-scoring Bergamo side are Roma and Lazio, only below on goal difference, while Sampdoria were a further two points behind until their recent defeat, a second in a row, at home to Frosinone. That Sampdoria loss means Torino are now in eighth place, four points behind the Atalanta-Roma-Lazio trio and five behind fourth-placed Milan. Fiorentina shouldn’t be ruled out either, as the Viola, despite sitting in tenth spot, are seven points from AC Milan and that final Champions League position.
That means the gap from fourth to tenth is seven points, more than the gap between first and second, or even second and third. Some teams will probably drop away in the nearest, but right now the disorder makes for a compelling view, and things are very much likely to change on a constant. Inter will feel far from safe despite holding a somewhat comfortable position, the Nerazzurri have found goals hard to by, particularly since the turn of the year, and their go-to-man Mauro Icardi hasn’t scored a league goal from open play since October. What seems like a routine winter slump is happening again, even if they won at Parma, and Luciano Spalletti is under quite some pressure.
Milan have optimism on their side, players have picked themselves after a limp start, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Gianluigi Donnarumma in particular, and the winter signings of Paqueta and Krszytof Piatek look to reaping dividends already, Piatek in particular picking off where he left off with Genoa. Eternal City rivals Roma and Lazio and have battled inconsistency so far this season, but are still very much in it. Eusebio Di Francesco’s positions in charge of Roma is far from safe, as the Giallorossi shuffle between games like an unlucky draw at home Milan, to a horror defeat in the cup against Fiorentina; while Lazio will be motivated after missing out last season in such hurtful circumstances.
But the inconsistency shown by the sides up top will give the likes of Torino, Sampdoria and Fiorentina a chance. Torino have, in Walter Mazzarri, a manager whose guided an unfancied to a Champions League spot, Sampdoria have a reliable forward in Fabio Quagliarella, and with him up top, may well have a chance, while Fiorentina have a squad that should be performing much better than their position suggests. It’s all to play in the race for Europe, as chaos looms.
But up top, there’s a lingering sense of predictable superiority, as while the swaps below show a competitiveness among teams, it also highlights how behind the rest are from Juventus. The champions’ recent sense of vulnerability will do them little good in Europe, where they aim to conquer. But back home, it hardly matters.