Lecce, Cesena and Novara battle for Serie A survival

Although the first half of the season is not yet complete, the Serie A table already reveals three clear relegation candidates. Lecce (nine), Cesena and Novara (twelve) are at least six points from safety and risk making the task of survival even harder should their form not change for the better in upcoming weeks.


Despite enjoying just two wins each, Lecce and Novara have shown some ability to find the back of the net. With 17 goals apiece in as many matches, the main issue lies in defence. Conceding 34 and 32 goals respectively has been the catalyst for their struggles. Lecce had the worst defensive record in 2010/11, conceding 66 goals, and looked to improve via the transfer market. However, Julio Sergio has struggled in goal and the defence looks out of sorts with Massimo Oddo and Moris Carrozzieri on the decline. The 3-4 defeat against Milan summing up the defensive deficiencies of the only side without a home win. The club has the opportunity to strengthen their stocks this month to help snap a seven game winless streak. Fabiano Santacroce has been linked with the Salentini, who are also chasing a goalkeeper.
Novara has found the step-up to Serie A difficult. The Piedmont side has battled strongly but its defence, the nucleus of which was present in Serie B, has been found wanting. To their credit, Novara has shown spirit and determination; however concentration has been missing late in matches. This cost the Biancoazzurri crucial points versus Catania, Genoa and Napoli. Novara must get the best out of experienced Serie A campaigners Massimo Paci and Pablo Dellafiore and like Lecce, utilise the January window. They have already signed striker Andrea Caracciolo and hope to bolster the defence with Leandro Rinaudo.
In contrast, Cesena’s shortcoming has been in front of goal. Defensively more secure than their fellow strugglers, their record looks worse after consecutive 4-1 drubbings against Atalanta and Udinese. The weekend loss to the Zebrette will be worrying due to the basic errors committed, notably for the first two goals. However, Daniele Arrigoni must be wondering how his side can improve at the other end after just nine goals scored.
The swashbuckling Cesena of 2010/11 has been replaced with greater names but fewer goals. Adrian Mutu has found the going tough under both Marco Giampaolo and Arrigoni, as his position has been shifted from out wide, to behind the strikers and leading the attack. Eder, another to have disappointed, has been rumoured to leave but Cesena would like to sign a replacement first.
Siena, Parma and Bologna will be wary of being dragged into the relegation fight. Siena, the win against Lazio notwithstanding, has struggled since October. Parma’s recent defensive frailties will be a cause of concern for new tactician Roberto Donadoni, who will look to arrest the slide. In contrast, Bologna has recovered from a terrible start and is improving steadily under Stefano Pioli.
While it looks gloomy for the bottom three now, there is still time to turn things around. Teams in recent history have shown even after a meagre start, a season can still be salvaged. Cagliari did it in 2007/08; going into the second half of the campaign in last place and with just ten points, the Sardinian side incredibly finished the season on 42 points, eight clear of relegation. Other notable examples include Lecce last season, who amassed 15 points in 2010 but ended with 41.
In 2009/10 Catania netted 33 points in the second half of the season after heading into the winter break 19th. Chievo the season prior was another to shine in the second half of the campaign, finishing with 38 points after picking up just nine until the new year. Since the expansion to a 20-team league with three relegation places in 2004/05, eleven sides in the bottom three at the start of January have then been relegated, while ten survived.
It is not out of the realms of possibility to avoid the drop, but the bottom three would be looking to start their revival now and not leave it to a week-to-week proposition later in the campaign.
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