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THE LIBERO

Serie A is beginning to look a lot like the good ol’ days once again

This week's Libero column looks at how, after years of being a Juventus +19 league, Serie A is getting back to its best

The last six Serie A seasons have been like watching the second series of True Detective or the third season of The Wire.

A good joke is one you don’t need to explain, but for those who haven’t watched either it’s been like watching something you know you used to like, and will probably like in the future, but currently find incredibly boring.

Thanks to Juventus’ dominance Serie A has been one to avoid for the neutral. But times are changing. As things stand the Italian top flight is probably the most exciting in Europe.

So what caused the turnaround?

They love a flag in Italy

Massimo Pinca
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They love a flag in Italy

Capocannoniere competition

During the golden era of Italian football you had Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Roberto Baggio, Ivan Zamorano, Alvaro Recoba and Adrian Mutu banging goals at the same time. And that was just at Inter Milan.

Now a new crop of genuinely world-class strikers are coming to the boil and battling it out to be Serie A’s top goalscorer (Capocannoniere).

Mauro Icardi has come out the other side of a turbulent relationship with Inter supporters and is proudly carrying the club on his shoulders.

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain’s perfectly contrasting styles have been a joy to watch for The Old Lady when they click.

Dries Merten’s transformation into a ruthless poacher has everyone wondering what he was doing on the wings for most of his career.

The two clubs out of Rome are powered by throwback no.9s in Edin Dzeko and current Capocannoniere leader Ciro Immobile.

With teenagers Moise Kean and Pietro Pellegri coming through the future looks bright for Serie A’s goalscorers.

He’s only 16

AP:Associated Press
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He’s only 16

Italian school of defending

Hoping to ensure the aforementioned strikers don’t get a sniff are Serie A’s defenders.

In bygone days Paolo Maldini, Lilian Thuram and Alessandro Nesta ensured that the Italian top flight was known as the finishing school for elite defenders.

After years of abject mediocrity Serie A can now put forward multiple worthy nominees when it comes to the best defender in world football.

Have fun scoring against those lot

EPA
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Have fun scoring against those lot

Gnarled veteran Giorgio Chiellini continues to get better with age while Leonardo Bonucci, despite his shaky start at Milan, remains a classy operator.

There’s also fresh blood in the mix.

Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is likely to become the world’s most expensive defender if he ever leaves Napoli, such is his mix of power and finesse in demand.

Talking of transfers, the signing of the summer is looking like being Inter’s Slovakian centre-back Milan Skriniar, who’s playing like a league veteran despite being 22.

World’s best coaches

What’s the point of having all these fine ingredients without having some world-class chefs to cook with them.

You only need to watch Napoli’s vibrant revival under Maurizio Sarri, and the glowing praise from Pep Guardiola, to appreciate just how good a coach he is.

Best of friends

AFP or licensors
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Best of friends

Likewise Luciano Spalletti, who’s turned Inter’s fortunes around without signing a recognised ‘big name’ in the summer, unlike the noisy neighbours in red and black.

Simone Inzaghi is also quietly impressing with Lazio where he’s inspired Immobile and Luis Alberto to bounce back from difficult spells.


MORE FROM THE LIBERO:


Still ignoring no.10s

We couldn’t get through an article about Serie A without touching on Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

In the immediate aftermath there were clumsy comments blaming the influence of foreign players blocking Italian youngsters’ routes to first-team football.

But closer to home it’s hard to look past Gianpiero Ventura’s failure to play Lorenzo Insigne, who’s repeatedly run the show at Napoli this season but never got a look in for the national team.

History repeating itself? This is a nation who only handed Francesco Totti 58 Italy caps, three less than James Milner won for England.

While the national team is in decline, the league is in rude health. Sound familiar, England fans?

The forgotten man

AP:Associated Press
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The forgotten man

The best red card you’ll see this week came courtesy of former Argentina international German Lux.

When you need an early bath, you need an early bath.

Fair play to River Plate for trying to act like it wasn’t the most clear cut red card the ref had ever handed out.