ALVISE CAGNAZZO: A reborn Moise Kean has transformed Juventus’ fortunes, Inter Milan are in safe hands with Andre Onana and Rafael Leao needed just 91 SECONDS to answer his critics – 10 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM SERIE A last weekend
- Napoli maintained their grip on Serie A top spot by beating Udinese on Saturday
- Rafael Leao returned to the scoresheet to help AC Milan see off Fiorentina
- Edin Dzeko scored twice as Inter Milan edged out a 3-2 win away at Atalanta
- Roma were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Torino on Sunday night
- While Juventus continued their fine run of recent form with a 3-2 win over Lazio
- It was an action-packed final round of Serie A games before the World Cup break
Before being put on hold for the next two months, Italy’s Serie A went out with a bang over the weekend in an action-packed finale ahead of the Qatar World Cup.
Napoli held off a late fight back from Udinese to maintain their grip on top spot, Edin Dzeko and Andre Onana inspired Inter Milan to victory against Atalanta, and Juventus continued their resurgence in a comfortable win over Lazio.
Sportsmail’s ALVISE CAGNAZZO picks out the biggest talking points from Italy’s top flight as we head into the World Cup break.
Serie A’s final round of fixtures before the Qatar World Cup didn’t disappoint over the weekend
1. Unstoppable Osimhen powering Napoli to glory
In the last 15 years, only Juventus’ 2018-19 champions made a better start to a Serie A season than Napoli’s 2022-23 side.
Juve took 43 points from a possible 45 that year and, in the end, cruised to a fifth consecutive Scudetto under Massimiliano Allegri. Now Gli Azzurri sit just behind them with a return of 41 points from the same number of games, which has raised the roof at the Maradona stadium this term as they seek a historic run to their own league title.
Luciano Spalletti’s players are well aware they could write their own history and that is largely down to the brilliance of Victor Osimhen in attack. The Nigerian is currently averaging a goal for every three shots on target he registers in Serie A and leads the way in the scoring charts with nine, despite suffering minor fitness problems.
Victor Osimhen is one of the main reasons why Napoli are eyeing a place in the history books
Right now, Napoli have the best No 9 in Italy at their disposal in Osimhen, who continues to consolidate their position at the summit with every week that passes.
On Saturday he registered his ninth of the campaign so far to open the scoring in their 3-2 win over Udinese, a result which ensured Spalletti’s men head into the World Cup break with their unbeaten record intact.
His side have been in sensational form this season, winning 13 and drawing two of their first 15 matches. And Osimhen’s clear improvements have helped them on their way.
Unlike two years ago, the 23-year-old has learned how to handle the ball and lift the team, while his great application in training has allowed him to make his technical weaknesses less visible.
The Qatar World Cup is coming at the perfect time for Osimhen: he is in exceptional physical and psychological shape, making Nigeria a formidable opponent for any team. This version of Osimhen is an irrepressible panther and, at least until next summer, will remain Napoli’s No 9.
The Nigeria striker added another goal to his tally in Napoli’s win over Udinese on Saturday
He is heading to the World Cup with Nigeria at the top of his game physically and mentally
2. Dzeko brilliance means Lukaku is long forgotten
Edin Dzeko swept Romelu Lukaku even further from the hearts and minds of Inter Milan supporters on Sunday, with his brace inspiring them to a 3-2 win away at Atalanta.
As Lukaku continues to suffer from an injury-plagued first three months back at the San Siro, Dzeko has taken full advantage of his absence with a return of nine goals and four assists so far this season.
The Bosnian’s salary, an estimated £7million per year, is a heavy one but as long as he is putting the ball in the back of the net that is a price worth paying for Inter, who will surely look to extend his deal beyond next summer.
Edin Dzeko swept Romelu Lukaku further from the minds of Inter Milan supporters on Sunday
Dzeko was on hand with a crucial brace in Inter’s hard-fought 3-2 win away at Udinese
On Sunday Dzeko, who is averaging a goal every 93 minutes, came out on top in the battle of the strikers with Duvan Zapata, showing more aggression at the Gewiss Stadium despite being five years older than his Colombian counterpart.
Compared to Zapata, he has also covered more ground and registered a higher number of touches for Inter, while his ability to play every ball with quality is a big help for the defenders and midfielders behind him.
Inter CEO Beppe Marotta should have more confidence in Dzeko, who only stayed at the club over the summer after his hefty salary deterred suitors from taking him off their hands. But as things stand, he is the team’s first-choice striker and it will be hard for Simone Inzaghi to drop him even when Lukaku returns in January.
Even when Lukaku returns in January it will be difficult to drop the Bosnian striker at Inter
3. Gasperini enters Serie A Hall of Fame
While it ultimately ended it in disappointment, Atalanta’s defeat at home to Inter saw boss Gian Piero Gasperini enter Serie A folklore by reaching his 500th managerial outing in Italy’s top flight.
Since three points have been awarded for a victory in the division, Gasperini is the third manager to reach the historic landmark, following in the footsteps of Francesco Guidolin and Spalletti.
And his opponent at the weekend, Simone Inzaghi, reached half of that milestone in Sunday’s game, taking charge of his 250th match in Serie A, the majority of which came with Lazio.
Gasperini has always been an authoritarian who is not afraid to upset his club’s most important players, including ‘Papu’ Gomez, Luis Muriel, Pierluigi Gollini, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Jeremie Boga at Atalanta – proving that he always knows how to rebuild year after year and keep them fighting at the top of Serie A.
Among his most recent triumphs is the transformation of Ademola Lookman, who has become a deadly finisher under his tutelage. Since October the winger has recorded the second most Serie A goals behind Osimhen, the current top scorer, after continuing his purple patch by firing them in front against Inter.
Gian Piero Gasperini took charge of his 500th Serie A match in Atalanta’s defeat against Inter
4. Abraham’s woes continue
Not even the slap of missing out on a place in England’s World Cup squad has managed to wake Tammy Abraham from his Roma nightmare.
The young striker still looks a shadow of the player who bagged 17 goals for Jose Mourinho’s side last season, meaning his future at the Stadio Olimpico is becoming less and less likely every day.
It is hard to pinpoint just one of reason for Abraham’s depleted performance levels and goal output his term, but his lack of involvement has at times left him resembling a ghost on the field.
In their 1-1 draw with Torino at the weekend he was a prisoner among the visiting team’s defence, with centre back David Zima not even affording him an inch.
Tammy Abraham’s struggles continued as Roma were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Torino
After a year’s delay, Abraham’s technical deficiencies are finally coming to the surface at Roma, while Mourinho and Co are doing little to put him in the best condition to rediscover his goalscoring touch.
With or without Paulo Dybala in the side, it has been a disastrous campaign for the English forward so far and Mourinho continues to criticise him while failing to find a tactical solution to his problems.
The honeymoon of Abraham’s debut season has been and gone, and now he looks like a player lacking both energy and enthusiasm. On Sunday, Karol Linetty’s opener for Torino came from his error of judgement.
His discomfort heading into the World Cup break is clear but the time for excuses is over. Abraham will have to reset and start 2023 with a different mindset.
Jose Mourinho has been critical of Abraham but he is failing to find a solution to his problems
5. Tables have turned for Kean
It’s now four goals in as many games for Moise Kean after his double helped Juventus seal a 3-0 win over Lazio on Sunday to keep their recent resurgence going.
That return is already one more than the tally Kean achieved in his last 35 Serie A matches, the clearest indication yet of his incredible turnaround in Turin.
The 22-year-old has Massimiliano Allegri’s confidence and is now an important player again for Juve. It has been a difficult 18 months, but now he is finally providing for the team again at its time of need.
Moise Kean is a man reborn after scoring four goals in his last four matches for Juventus
With Arkadiusz Milik misfiring and Dusan Vlahovic enduring muscle problems, Kean has stepped up in their absence to help lift Allegri’s side up the table.
In their three-goal triumph over Lazio, he first produced an excellent lob over goalkeeper Ivan Provedel to become Juve’s second top scorer this season. His second strike, a tap-in from close range that Filippo Inzaghi would have been proud of, displayed his newfound killer instinct.
Kean is a player reborn right now after shipping heavy criticism in recent years, which is thanks to the trust installed in him by Allegri.
Kean scored twice to help Juve claim a 3-0 win over Lazio and keep their resurgence going
The 22-year-old has stepped up for Massimiliano Allegri’s side at their time of need this term
6. Leao answers critics in 91 seconds
It only took a minute-and-a-half for Rafael Leao to recapture his crown as Serie A’s standout player in an AC Milan win over Fiorentina.
A string of below-par performances had recently raised doubts over his future at the club, but after opening the scoring in just 91 seconds of Sunday’s victory Leao heads to the Qatar World Cup with high hopes of dragging Portugal into the latter stages of the competition.
The 23-year-old raced through on goal with the ball glued to his feet, opened up his body and tucked it home into the bottom-right corner, before emulating a recent Cristiano Ronaldo celebration.
Thanks to television cameras Stefano Pioli’s message to his star striker was visible: ‘Now let’s go ahead, let’s not pull the plug!’
When Leao is in the right frame of mind he is the best player in Serie A, producing runs that even the best cartoonist would struggle to draw. He is a racehorse in attack who runs with elegance and overcomes everything in his path.
Olivier Giroud is the perfect foil for him in attack and has even transformed himself into an assister to help get the best out of him. And if they can tie him down to an expensive new contract, AC Milan will have a very good chance of winning the Scudetto again in the next few years as Leao is a top, unique player.
Rafael Leao only needed 91 seconds to answer his critics in AC Milan’s win over Fiorentina
7. Inter in safe hands with Onana
Andre Onana promises to be one of the stars of this year’s World Cup. Aside from Lookman’s penalty, the Inter Milan goalkeeper’s heroics got them over the line in a close-run win away at Atalanta.
At Inter, Onana seems to have overcome the confidence problems he suffered in his time with Ajax despite spending a number of weeks on the bench. He withstood the pressure inside Inter’s dressing room and now finds himself a crucial member of Simone Inzaghi’s side.
The Cameroonian has great elasticity, throwing himself from one side of the goal to the other and covering plenty of space inside Inter’s penalty area.
Unlike Samir Handanovic, Onana is comfortable with the ball at his feet, which he proved with a superb 60-meter pass against Atalanta, proving the importance of having a modern goalkeeper capable of playing a part in offensive build-ups.
Inter’s superb win at the weekend was thanks to a series of superb saves from their goalkeeper, who does not lose concentration throughout and rarely tires of shouting at his backline. After Handanovic, Inter are finally in good hands.
Andre Onana’s heroics in goal earned Inter their hard-fought win away at Atalanta on Sunday
8. Redemption for Monza outcasts
Carlos Augusto and Dany Mota struggled for game time under Giovanni Stroppa before his departure at Monza, yet on Sunday the duo played starring roles in their 3-0 win over Salernitana.
Since Raffaele Palladino took charge of the club Monza have propelled themselves up from the bottom of the table in an extraordinary turnaround, and now their hopes of moving into the top half of the table are no longer just a dream.
That is largely down to the inspired decision of Adriano Galliani and Silvo Berlusconi to promote Palladino to manager, which has since turned Monza into one of Serie A’s most pleasant surprises.
Carlos Augusto is one of two previous Monza outcasts who inspired their win over Salernitana
Their victory against Salernitana demonstrated all the great qualities associated with Italian football; a team defending well and attacking with speed and precision, the mechanisms are perfect right now and even the heroes of their Serie B-winning season are beginning to prove their worth.
The signing of Armando Izzo is one of Galliani’s best, with his solid defensive performances making Marlon Santos’ adaptation a lot less worrying.
In this kind of form, Monza are destined to secure a stable position in Serie A and move close to the Europa League qualification places. Palladino’s job is to restore the team’s confidence, and with that any dream can come true.
Dany Mota also played a starring role in a 3-0 victory for Raffaele Palladino’s side on Sunday
9. Unlucky Udinese
Udinese have now failed to win in their last seven games, drawing five times and losing twice, following their defeat at the hands of Napoli.
Though despite this disastrous run of form, President Pozzo’s team deserved more than to come away empty handed against Gli Azzurri, a game in which they showcased plenty of ideas and quality.
An injury to Gerard Deulofeu complicated matters for Andrea Sottil, who had to make do without his most talented star while attempting to rebuild the balance of his side.
Udinese showed plenty of promise despite their poor run extending in the defeat at Napoli
After falling three goals behind, Udinese pulled out their claws and demonstrated why they are known as the ‘Cinderella’ team of Italian football by fighting back to within a goal of the league leaders.
Lazar Samardzic is only 20-years-old but looks 30: he has strength inboth legs and a velvet left foot. Samardzic changed the game after entering the fray at Napoli, turning on the light for Udinese in midfield and scaring the life out of Spalletti’s men. In around 200 seconds the hosts conceded twice and stared a potential collapse directly in the face.
Nevertheless, several players are beginning to suffer physical problems and the quality in the team is therefore dipping, meaning Sottil should think about rotating more often after the World Cup break.
That break comes at a brilliant time for his squad, who will return in better physical shape for the second half of the campaign and make Udinese a far stronger outfit.
Andrea Sottil should think about rotating his squad more often after the World Cup break
10. Serie B looms for Sampdoria
A team that once enjoyed a lead role in both Italian and European football is today a fragile creature awaiting the final whistle of this season already to confirm their relegation to Serie B.
Tumultuous events in the boardroom have weakened the self esteem of a Sampdoria side currently experiencing a delicate moment in its history.
A change of manager has now had the desired effect: Unlike Marco Giampaolo, Dejan Stankovic has built a team that heads into every match with no hope of victory, despite the clear determination of his players.
Sampdoria appeared destined for Serie B next year after a disastrous start to the season
This is admirable but greater quality is required if they want to stay in the top flight. Harry Winks was supposed to provide this, but the on-loan Tottenham man recently underwent ankle surgery and Sampdoria are therefore without his quality and experience.
Their weekend defeat against Lecce was another worrying indication that they are no longer suited to the Serie A stage. An ageing attack is failing to guarantee a sufficient number of goals, while the team’s overall technical quality is vastly inferior to the rest of the league.
At the end of the match against Lecce, Sampdoria fans let rip at their underperforming players, who remained prisoners inside the stadium for many hours.
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