C'mon Thiago, give us a kiss...
One club is considered the best in the world; the other is a team that has found its way back to the top of its domestic league. Both were surprised this weekend by so-called lesser sides. Tonight, it was Barcelona that showed its quality over AC Milan. Unfortunately for Barca, the scoresheet didn’t reflect it.
Two goals by Milan’s Brazilian stars bookended the game and stole a point for the Rossoneri. The World Champions dominated up until that point: Barcelona had 80% possession at the 75th-minute mark… a calling card for the Catalonians. Gaffer Pep Guardiola says he’s not worried… nor should he be.
It’s the Italian club that should be wringing its hands. The consensus is that AC Milan will have a tough time defending the scudetto… and judging by their last two performances, they may prove the pundits right. Not only did Barca’s tiki-taka have Milan on the back heel for most of the match, but the Italian champs kicked off the Serie A season on Thursday by having to fight back against a new-look Lazio. Add the Roman club to Milan’s growing list of league rivals:
– Internazionale is aging but still potent.
– Juventus may be an Old Lady, but she may find a sabbatical from Europe rejuvenating.
– Udinese was the better team against Arsenal in CL qualifiers, and could build on last year’s success.
– The South seems to be rising again with Palermo beating Inter 4-3 (again, the Nerrazzurri looked slow and old)… and Napoli being picked as a dark horse for the title.
Zlatan the Terrible
And while he didn’t play tonight, Milan still has its good luck charm: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Every team he has played on since 2004 has won its domestic title (if you include Juventus’ revoked trophies). He is a big, black belt-wearing nutter who has a goals-per-game average of at least 50% in the last six seasons. Plus, NOW he’s eating his Wheaties.
Very Neapolitan: An Uruguayan and an Argentine, playing in Italy.
Ask most Italian football fans about their favourite teams, and the usual suspects are mentioned: Juventus, Roma, Lazio, AC Milan, or Inter Milan. These have been, without question, the top dogs of Serie A for the last two decades. All of these teams have one thing in common: they are based in the wealthier northern or central regions of the country. In recent times, southern Italy was considered the wasteland of Italian football. Until now that is.
Not since the days of Diego Maradona has southern Italy fielded a competitive team for the Champions League, and maybe even the Scudetto. For the first time in ages there are two such teams in the south, both with a real shot at fourth place or higher.
Naples is once again full of optimism as Napoli currently sit tied for third and Sicily is equally thrilled now that Palermo are tied for fifth with Sampdoria, Roma, and mighty Inter. Napoli look to have developed quite a strike force, with Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi popping in a combined 13 goals this season. Add in the sublimely talented midfielder Marek Hamsik (who has 6 goals himself), and the pizza capital of the world looks to have a team that has come of age.
A Sicilian kiss-off would cost 70 million Euros...
Palermo’s rise can be attributed to the wonderful play of Javier Pastore, who is perhaps the most sought after young player in Serie A. Rumours are awash that both Barcleona and Real Madrid are very interested in the young Argentine (with a price tag rumoured to be around 70 million euros), who has scored seven goals already this season and is being hailed as the next world superstar.
One thing is for certain; no matter where Napoli and Palermo finish this season, they have once again restored the pride of southern Italian football.