With a short winter break now being enjoyed by players in the Italian Serie A, a glance at the league table offers the prospect of very exciting few months of 2016 when action resumes during the first midweek of the New Year. No fewer than five teams are separated by four points as they aim to clinch the league title in May, but the recent form of Juventus suggests that the current pause in football activity may have arrived at an inopportune moment for the Turin based team.
The Serie A champions of the previous four seasons won seven successive games prior to the break culminating in a 3-1 home win against Fiorentina and 3-2 away success at Carpi. Juventus now reside in fourth position with Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic beginning to settle as reliable marksmen following their summer transfers. Juve won just one of their opening six league games of the season but since losing 1-0 at Sassuolo in mid-October, their progress in Serie A has sent an ominous signal to the challengers for their title with Inter Milan and Napoli, in particular, failing to secure more substantial leads at the top of the table following unexpected recent defeats.
Inter Milan could have led the table by four points during the current interval but for suffering a 2-1 home defeat by Lazio on Sunday evening. The Roman team had previously only beaten basement team Verona on their travels this season, but Inter allowed Antonio Candreva to net both Lazio goals in suffering a second home defeat of the campaign. Inter had previously won five of their eight home games via a 1-0 scoreline but two defeats in four games has been a setback for manager Roberto Mancini.
Both Fiorentina and Napoli are just one point adrift of Inter in second and third positions respectively and in the case of the former team, that 3-1 defeat at Juventus is a reminder that beating their title challengers remains a difficult task, especially after losing to Roma and Napoli earlier in the season.
For Napoli, the opportunity to lead Serie A prior to the Christmas break was thwarted by a surprise 3-2 defeat at Bologna at the beginning of December. The Naples team had been unbeaten in domestic league football since losing 2-1 at Sassuolo on the opening day of the campaign, but with Gonzalo Higuain already netting 16 league goals this season, Napoli remain a decent bet to remain as valid contenders for the title.
In the case of Roma, occupying fifth position just four points behind Inter Milan, it has been a difficult few weeks since losing 6-1 at Barcelona in the Champions League during late November. A 2-0 win against Genoa was a first victory since that defeat and that may have restored some confidence into a team needing a break.
Yet it could be a case that all four teams threatening to dethrone Juventus may have already missed an opportunity with the champions hoping that their recent impressive form can be extended into 2016.