There can be only one major focus point following this week’s round of matches and that is obviously congratulating Jose Mourinho and his Inter side on recapturing the Scudetto for a fourth successive time. Inter’s convincing 3-0 drubbing of Siena once again proved the quality and somewhat merciless juggernaut of the Nerazzurri as they have swepped all in their path throughout the season, while at no point looking likely to surrender their title.
Mourinho’s arrival signalled il Biscione’s intent for this season as they looked to not only consolidate their domestic success but target European domination as well. Clearly that has not proved the case but what the Special One has done is at least hold on to the Scudetto – although he had a helping hand along the way. Some may point the way of a few major refereeing decisions going the Nerazzurri’s way – Adriano’s handball in the Milan Derby and Mario Balotelli’s penalty at Rome both highly contentious. But it’s not refereeing decisions or “lady luck” Inter will thank for the helping hand on their way to the title – but the challenge from their title rivals.
Last season saw an impressive Roma push il Biscione all the way before being pipped at the final post, while a resurgent Juventus impressed with an excellent third place finish off the back of the Calciopoli scandal, and with Milan strengthening in the summer, it looked all set for a tantalising Scudetto battle. I Lupi’s horrific start all but ended their title assault while the Rossoneri lost their opening two to leave them chasing from the start. This left Juve alone and able to keep to Inter’s relentless early pace.
Il Diavolo’s mid-season blip saw them slip to an almost unassailable gap, with Week 24’s defeat at arch-rivals Inter proving the final nail in the coffin and the Rossoneri’s title bid was out of reach as early as February. Silvio Berlusconi’s recent outburst in the direction of Carlo Ancelotti summed up the frustration at the San Siro but whilst the Milan supremo slammed his Coach’s tactics – the simpler truth is their blatant inconsistency. Ancelotti will point to Kaka’s injury-plagued season or the misfiring Ronaldinho as well Gennaro Gattuso’s absence, but the Rossoneri has quality throughout their ranks and although it’s squad is ageing, there is strength all over the pitch and there should be no excuses to what is undoubtedly a poor season. There were good results and excellent performances dotted around but too many points dropped when visiting the lesser sides in the division, whereas the Nerazzurri promptly steamrolled most of their inferior opposition.
The likes of Napoli, Lecce and Cagliari all held the Rossoneri on their travels while Palermo and Sampdoria took all three points when the Milanese giants visited. Sloppy draws at home to Genoa and Reggina along with the opening day defeat by Bologna at the San Siro have all contributed to Milan’s lack of title challenge. This is by no means disrespectful of the sides noted above but the facts remain – three of them currently occupy the relegation spots while most of the others are sat in mid-table. There are no easy games in this division and if 11 men don’t turn up with the right hunger or sharpness – precious and ultimately costly points will be dropped.
A fiery title run-in between the two Milan sides would have made fantastic viewing for all Serie A fans but the Bianconeri proved to be Inter’s main challengers. Claudio Marchisio’s first Serie A goal was enough to dispatch of Fiorentina in Week 20 and also earn Juve a place at the summit, albeit with Inter playing the following day. But Claudio Ranieri’s men buckled under the pressure and two defeats in three days served a massive dent into their title aspirations, starting with a shock reverse at lowly Udinese followed by an even more shocking home defeat by Cagliari. The Old Lady now had a mountain to climb and with Mourinho’s men on a seemingly relentless march – it looked all over. However, the Bianconeri did well to regroup and followed their abysmal week in late January with six wins from seven culminating with the romp in Rome as they desperately chased the Nerazzurri – who rather ruthlessly put together an identical run at the same time. Juve’s desperation quickly turned to despair as since that emphatic win in the capital, Ranieri’s troops have failed to win a single league match.
This weekend’s disappointing draw with Atalanta summed up their recent plight with the Old Lady’s defence leaking a remarkable number of goals and handing Inter the title. It’s not the fact that the Nerazzurri has gone on to secure the title that will rile the harden Milan and Juventus tifosi – it’s the fact their respective teams failed to sustain a reasonable challenge to them. Saturday night’s title celebrations from the Nerazzurri faithful has been an inevitable sight since February, as Inter cruised to league glory. We will never know if the now 17-times Scudetto winners would have buckled under any increasing pressure. Inter’s Champions League exit and ensuing criticism of their Coach from all quarters would’ve been the perfect time to add pressure to an under-fire side but their rivals just weren’t close enough and continued to slip-up.
The drama of a title scrap is becoming a more and more sporadic event in Italy as il Biscione continue to sit comfortably at the top of the pack. Inter’s points total of 97 was something only to be admired two seasons back but they hit an commendable 85 last campaign and are seemingly on course for something similar this term too. Its dominant – yes, but unassailable – certainly not.
Lets not take anything away from Inter – they are worthy and deserved Champions. However, its not the sight of the Nerazzurri’s tifosi waving their “17th Scudetto” flags and scarves on Saturday night that will be hurting the likes of Roma, Milan and Juventus right now – it’s the fact those flags were being made in February.