Turati heroics and lethal Lazio offer hope of vintage Serie A title race

By on December 2, 2019

Stefano Turati learned on Saturday morning that he was about to make his Serie A debut. One day later, he stood in front of a mob of reporters at Juventus’s Allianz Stadium, wearing a turtleneck and a bewildered smile. “It’s hard to explain everything that has happened,” he said. “I’m still trying to understand it myself.”

The short version goes like this: Turati, at 18 years old, put in a man-of-the-match performance to help Sassuolo earn a 2-2 draw at the home of the Serie A champions. He thwarted Cristiano Ronaldo, extending his 6ft 2in frame to tip a second-half free-kick over the bar, and denied Gonzalo Higuaín, too, smothering a shot from the Argentinian at point-blank range.

Turati did all this while sharing a pitch with the greatest goalkeeper of all time. Gianluigi Buffon, 23 years his senior, was among the first to come and congratulate him at full-time. The Juventus player had been a teenager himself when he made his Serie A debut for Parma.

It is tempting to draw parallels with that day in 1995. Buffon denied George Weah and Roberto Baggio back then, earning an unexpected draw against a juggernaut Milan team that was on its way to winning the Scudetto.

Of course, there are also countless stories in football of debutants who dazzled only to fade quickly from view. We do not know yet if Turati will even play again next weekend. His opportunity against Juventus arose following injuries to starter Andrea Consigli and his regular backup, Gianluca Pegolo.

Regardless, Turati has left his mark on this Serie A campaign. Sunday’s draw – inspired also by an exquisite chip from Jérémie Boga – left the door open for Internazionale to vault back into first place. They duly did, sinking Spal with a pair of goals from Lautaro Martínez.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Inter were top of the table on 3 December 2017, and finished that season by barely scraping into fourth place. A year ago today, however, Juventus were already 11 points clear. It is encouraging to think that this title race should at least endure beyond the winter break.

There are reasons for Inter to believe that this time could be different. Never before have they won 12 of their opening 14 games in a top-flight campaign. Antonio Conte’s coaching imprint is visible everywhere, from the confidence with which Lautaro and Romelu Lukaku are already interpreting each other’s movements, to the improved crossing of Antonio Candreva.

With all the inevitable focus on the top two, however, it is also easy to overlook the sides right behind them. Lazio have won their last six games in Serie A – a run not even Inter can match – and swept Udinese aside 3-0 at the weekend. They are the division’s top scorers, with 33 goals from 14 games.

An extraordinary 17 of those belong to Ciro Immobile, and he could have had even more. On Sunday he gave up the opportunity to complete a hat-trick, allowing Luis Alberto to take a penalty at 2-0. It is the second time this season that he has yielded spot-kick duties to a teammate he thought might benefit from a confidence boost.

Immobile himself is full to the brim. He could not ask for a better setup than the one he has at Lazio. His manager, Simone Inzaghi, has built his tactics around the striker since they arrived at the club, three months apart, in 2016.

Ciro Immobile is the focal point of a Lazio team packed with creative talent. Photograph: Marco Rosi/Getty Images

The striker has a particular skill set. He is neither a refined technician nor a physically imposing No 9, but he boasts explosive acceleration and rare efficiency of movement that aids him both with shedding markers and releasing shots in tight spaces.

Inzaghi’s first Lazio sides used these attributes by playing on the counter, sitting deep and drawing opponents forward before releasing Immobile into space. That remains a weapon in their arsenal, yet they are now capable of unpicking more cautious opponents, thanks to a wealth of creative talents behind Immobile, from Alberto – whose nine assists lead the division – to Joaquín Correa and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Each member of that trio offers something different. If Alberto is the precision passer, and Correa the dribbler, then Milinkovic-Savic is the fascinating hybrid: a 6ft 3in colossus with deceptively delicate feet. His lack of pace means that at his worst he can look like an ineffective plodder. At his best, though, he is capable of holding off multiple defenders while picking out a teammate in a crowded penalty area, as he did for Sunday’s opener.

Such precision is necessary against opponents like Udinese, who had arrived with a clear intention to stifle in Luca Gotti’s 5-3-2. Conceding early obliged them to come out of their shell. Correa exploited the gaps ruthlessly, twice drawing fouls inside the box. Immobile converted the first before leaving the next to Alberto.

Could Lazio’s attacking blend yet propel them into the title race? They have an opportunity to close within three points of Juventus on Saturday, when they host the champions at the Stadio Olimpico. Inter face Roma in Milan the night before. The Giallorossi are in excellent form themselves with five wins in their past six.

We are not quite back in the days of the Sette Sorelle – the ‘Seven Sisters’ (Juventus, Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina, Parma) whose lavish spending fuelled ferocious title races in the late 1990s and early 2000s, yet there is something nostalgic about seeing both clubs from the capital nipping at the heels of the top two.

Or maybe all that is just for us old folks. Stefano Turati, after all, has only known one Serie A champion since he turned 10 years old. No wonder he was feeling a little overwhelmed, after thwarting them on his professional debut.

Talking points

Yet another setback for Napoli, beaten at home by Bologna despite having more than 60% possession, a half-time lead, and taking 30 shots to their opponents’ 11. Carlo Ancelotti is taking his team back into ritiro (mandatory training camp) from Wednesday even as the fallout continues from the decision by owner Aurelio De Laurentiis to impose similar conditionslast month.

Carlo Ancelotti could face a player mutiny after enforcing another mandatory training camp.

Carlo Ancelotti could face a player mutiny after enforcing another mandatory training camp. Photograph: IPA/Shutterstock

It’s fair to say that Atalanta’s supporters enjoyed their derby win over Brescia. Defeat appears to have cost Fabio Grosso his job as Brescia manager after just three games in charge, with reports that his predecessor, Eugenio Corini, could be reappointed on Monday.

The knee injury suffered by Franck Ribéry during Fiorentina’s loss to Lecce is less severe than first feared, with reports variously suggesting he could return either against Roma on 20 December or soon after the winter break. In any case, the early-season optimism around the Viola has evaporated. Fans have called for a change of manager at the Artemio Franchi, but the club’s president Rocco Commisso has insisted that he can see progress, and “wants to protect the manager and the team”.

A win, at last, for Milan. How long before Stefano Pioli gives up and just puts Theo Hernandez up front? The left-back, whose instinctive finish sealed the points against Parma, is now Milan’s joint-top scorer. On three goals …

Fiorentina 0-1 Lecce, Genoa 0-1 Torino, Brescia 0-3 Atalanta, Verona 1-3 Roma, Napoli 1-2 Bologna, Inter 2-1 SPAL, Lazio 3-0 Udinese, Parma 0-1 AC Milan, Juventus 2-0 Sassuolo 

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