As the World Cup break has given time to reflect, it’s clear that one side have set themselves apart from the pack. After their 3-2 victory over Udinese, Napoli head into the break eight points clear of reigning champions AC Milan.
Few could have predicted that Napoli would enjoy a historic start to the season after losing the likes of Koulibaly, Mertens, Fabian Ruiz, Insigne and Ospina in a single summer. They have won 11 on the trot and 13 of their opening 15 matches, a feat only matched by Juventus in the past. Luciano Spalletti’s side is now on course for their first Scudetto since the glory days of the late Diego Maradona in 1989/90.
Inter will already have the chance to reduce that gap to eight in their first match back from the World Cup break against the league leaders, and at the same time do a favour for the Rossoneri. Talented young players are a part of the blend of youth and experience that was so important to Milan’s title win.
Seasoned veterans such as Oliver Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are serial winners who helped guide the younger players to what was for many their first title success. The two groups will have to come together again if they are to close the gap on the league leaders and claim back-to-back Serie A championships.
After the lengthy break in the season, the complexion of the race could change as Milan will be hoping all the momentum from before the break dissipates. With 23 matches still left to play after the World Cup break, the teams behind Napoli will certainly feel that they have a chance to catch up.
According to these betting sites, Milan are 6/1 to win Serie A. Many of the AC Milan squad were hungry for more at the start of the season with several players cutting their holidays short and starting pre-season earlier than scheduled in preparation for defending their Scudetto.
This is the sort of spirit that will need to be evoked again if they are to complete the fightback and successfully defend their title. They were still riding high after the success of the previous campaign and were bolstered in the summer with some notable additions to their squad.
Divock Origi came from Liverpool having lifted six major trophies, including a Champions League in which he scored the decisive goal in the final whilst at the Anfield club. Charles De Ketelaere is an exciting young prospect who has already appeared for the Belgian International side and came from Club Brugge having secured the Belgian title having contributed 18 goals and 10 assists during the 2021/22 season.
In addition to those two signings, Milan brought Junior Messias and Alessandro Florenzi back into the fold having made their loan moves permanent having shown their worth in the previous year. These are names that should have AC Milan fighting toe-to-toe with Napoli for the top spot but it hasn’t come to fruition just yet this season.
Origi has only found the net once in the Serie A this season and assisted as many times in his ten league appearances for the Rossoneri this term. De Ketelaere hasn’t realised his full potential in the red and black having contributed only one assist in his ten appearances.
Messias is only slightly improved on that tally with two goals and one assist in his eleven appearances and Florenzi is recovering from an injury. These additions were meant to provide a bit more impetus while maintaining the continuity of the side that were so successful last year and it simply hasn’t happened.
If this side is to rediscover some of that title-winning form then these are the players that will have to come to the forefront and step up their game. Their general play may not be to the detriment of the side’s output but there is only so much they can do without making tangible contributions on the scoresheet. Teams have seemingly figured Milan out from last year and the new additions brought in this summer will be the key to making that question harder to solve.
It’s not all doom and gloom at the San Siro though as one of their young guns is a star in the making. Rafael Leao has comfortably been their best player on the pitch this season with the Portuguese winger creating 23 chances, assisting four times and scoring six from the opening 14 games this domestic campaign. It is a continuation of his fine form that helped see them lift the Scudetto last season and has made him one of the most sought-after attacking players in the world.
The interest is inevitably big for the Milan winger and Chelsea are closely following the situation, but Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara have thus far made it clear that any club interest must pay the €150m clause.
While the Rossoneri find themselves eight points adrift, they have been plagued by more injury problems throughout the first part of the campaign amid what has been an unprecedented season in terms of being such a compact schedule. Once players come back from the world cup and others return to the training squad from injury Milan with more strength in depth gives them a good footing to recuperate and go again in the second half of the season.