Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

The bissextile or leap year has, despite its unswerving will to make the world work for free, aligned itself with some great things. The first Playboy club was opened on a leap year, the Olympics and European Championships are on leap years, and the motivational speaker Tony Robbins, described as “banana hands” by Jack Black in Shallow Hal, was born on a leap year becoming one of four million quasi-Tolkien figures known as a leaplings.

In the middle earth of Italian football, Serie B is staging its own quadrennial tradition with Torino (56 points), Sassuolo (55), Hellas Verona (54) and Pescara (52*) doing battle at the top of the table. The season has been marked by brilliant spurts of consistency; Torino won ten of its first thirteen games, Sassuolo have lost once in twenty-two, Verona racked up eight wins in a row from October to December and Pescara put together two seven-game streaks with twelve victories.

After 28 rounds the quartet have accrued the second highest amount of points collectively, 217, in Serie B history, the most coming during the last leap year in 2008, when Chievo, Bologna, Lecce and Albinoleffe took 231. Three of those went on to become the first to finish a season with 80+ points.

The 2003/4 season,  which featured 24 teams, was the first to see two sides, Palermo and Cagliari, break 80 points, with Livorno and Messina  just back on 79.

So will the trend continue and all four of this season’s contenders become leapling octogenarians, and which two from four will take the rings of automatic promotion power?

Despite Giampiero Ventura’s stubborn persistence with a 4-2-4 that offers few goals or fluency, Torino remains top of the table and has a squad that boasts greater Serie A pedigree than its rivals and a current Italian international in Angelo Ogbonna.

Ogbonna’s presence has contributed to the joint best defence in the league along with Sassuolo, but a question mark remains over Il Toro following the defeat away to Brescia. The Rondinelle are worth a mention for former Udinese centre back Alessandro Calori’s inspirational appointment that’s yielded seven wins and two draws since taking over in December, and has Brescia as the favourites to break into the top-six in the coming weeks.

Torino are widely expected to return to the top division for the first time since 2009, but intrigue resides with Sassuolo, Verona and Pescara and those illusory fairytales that make grown men weep.

After play-off defeat to Torino in 2010 Sassuolo have been a revelation this season led by Inter’s former Primavera coach Fulvio Pea and are on course to better the 69 points that saw them finish fourth two years ago. The Neroverde have never played in Serie A and have a huge game with Pescara away at the Stadio Adriatico on Saturday.  Three points would be a psychological boost for Pea and his team in only the fourth ever meeting between the two sides.

Verona were promoted last season from Lega Pro and the 1985 Scudetto winners seem to have emerged from a tough start to 2012 with away losses to rivals Pescara and Sassuolo, but will be tested again in the coming weeks with games at Sampdoria and Torino.

Pescara led by the mercurial Zdenek Zeman are typically as brilliant up front as woeful in defence and look to return to Serie A for the first season since 1993. Having molded the talents of Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile into the most lethal attack in the division, Zeman has garnered praise from Arrigo Sacchi and current Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, and the Czech’s work has even seen Italian media suggest him as a replacement for Claudio Ranieri at Inter Milan.

On average in the last three seasons 76 points has been enough to take second spot, but Bologna needed 84 in 2008. The best proposal is for Torino, still unbeaten at the Stadio Olimpico, but has to play five of the top ten sides, including all of their closest rivals in the final fourteen games. However, il Toro can count on Ventura’s experience as a veteran of two promotions from Serie B guiding Lecce then Cagliari to third in 1997 and 1998 respectively.

Sassuolo are the greenest of the four but have a coach who seems destined for a long career in Serie A, and in Gianluca Sansone and Simone Missiroli two of the best creative players in the league. However, eight away games including Torino, Brescia and Padova will test the squad’s belief in benefactor Giorgio Squinzi’s dream of one day playing in the San Siro.

Verona also has eight trips away from the Bentegodi, and having failed to win on the road since the 3rd of December a play-off place is most likely while Pescara’s cavalier attitude toward defending suggests another wobble before the season’s close.

Statistics aside, with the quirk of the year, and the narrative of the respective clubs it’s still hard to predict who will be leaping into Serie A in May.

 

* If Pescara win their game in hand, lost to the persistent snow on the Adriatic, there will be only a two point difference between the four sides, and nine to Padova in 5th.

  • Alessandro Venturi

    A-ha! With 4 poisoned meatballs in Ventura’s dish Verona is turning tables now…

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