12 Days of Football 2019/20: Two title races
On the second day of football,
UEFA gave to me
Two title races and
Liverpool and Man City
Welcome to this year's edition of the 12 Days of Football on It's Round and It's White. Over the holiday fixtures, our writers will look back on the 2019 calendar year and ahead to the season's end in a series of 12 articles covering different issues and leagues in European football. Today, Uttiyo Sarkar looks at how Juventus and Bayern's long title reigns in Serie A and the Bundesliga are under serious threat. Enjoy.
This season, the tides shifted in Europe’s two-most “predictable” leagues. The Serie A and Bundesliga are typically dismissed for Juventus and Bayern Munich's respective hegemonies. In 2019/20, however, there is real hope for the oppressed. The competition evolved. Rivals bulked up to lay siege to the battlements at the Allianz Arena and Stadium. In Lega Calcio, the challenge comes from a familiar foe. In Germany, the masses have risen.
After years of mediocrity, Inter are suddenly winners again. While the Bianconeri take time adapting to Maurizio Sarri, a Ghost of Christmas Past, Antonio Conte, arrives to end the dynasty he began. Inter took to his counsel immediately, intensifying the title race.
The Nerazzurri’s efficient summer investments helped. Romelu Lukaku ploughs in goals while establishing an unbreakable bond with Lautaro Martinez. The duo combine for 27 in all competitions. Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella’s creativity feeds them while Diego Godin’s experience minds the store.
Barring Matthijs De Ligt, none of the Old Lady's signings are regulars. Despite their superior squad, as exemplified through their strong Champions League showing, Juve aren't as domestically imperious without Massimiliano Allegri at the helm. While Conte's group romp, Sarri's must grind out victories. They lack the consistency to separate themselves from the Beneamata. Yesterday's action was typical. Inter romped over Genoa 4-0 while Juve eked out three points away to relegation-threatened Sampdoria.
Through 17 rounds, the two sides share identical records but Inter tally more goals and ship fewer. Their goal difference is eight better than Juve's. The Milanese giants aren't the only problem. Simone Inzaghi's high-flying Lazio lurk six points behind and Paulo Fonseca's Roma charge up the table. After eight years, the Old Lady's grip on the Scudetto is tenuous.
Lukaku scored the first goal
Lukaku assisted the second goal
Lukaku handed a 17 year old his penalty duties for the third goal
Lukaku did a goal line clearance.
Lukaku scored the fourth goal https://t.co/xjy2zyuGlN
While the Italian campaign rivets, the Bundesliga rollicks like a runaway rollercoaster. League leaders change like Watford managers. Bayern Munich’s drop in form was taken as an open invitation by nearly half the league. Hans Dieter Flick needed a few matches to sort the champions following Nico Kovac's dismissal. Once he did, Joachim Loew's former right hand with die Mannschaft won his last three to lift die Roten into third. Prior, the six-times-running German champions wandered outside the Champions League places. Still, clubs crowd all around them and RB Leipzig remain four points beyond as fussball retires for the festive period.
Julian Nagelsmann tapped into Leipzig's full potential in his first season. Timo Werner already sits three goals off his personal Bundesliga-season record with 18 goals. That came in his breakout 2016/17 season when he made just one appearance in the DFB Pokal, die Roten Bullen's only other competition that campaign. Thus, his 23 goals in all competitions this term represent a new milestone with the session only half complete. With Marcel Sabitzer’s fierce creative impact, Christopher N’Kunku’s emergence, Patrik Schick's renaissance and the usual contributions from Emil Forsberg and Yussuf Poulsen, Leipzig average almost three goals a game.
Then there's that other Red Bull coach. Marco Rose’s fierce, high press drives Borussia Monchengladbach. Die Folen wedge between Leipzig and Bayern for the winter break, on 35 points, boasting the Bundesliga's joint-best defence with a meagre 18 goals conceded. The difference between Gladbach and equally parsimonious Wolfsberg in ninth is that, even though Rose left Erling Haaland behind in Salzburg, die Borussen score goals. Shrewd signings, Marcus Thuram, Breel Embolo and Remy Bensebaini inspire victories. Mediocrity no longer resides at Borussia Park.
Bayern's strong finish to the first half may mark a sea change in Bavaria. Injuries haven’t helped but Robert Lewandowski's Ballon d'Or form hasn't been supported by teammates. Every time they get going, the Bavarians seemingly encourage an opponent to bite them.
Just as inconsistent, Dortmund’s attack is venomous but inadequate summer recruitment leaves them vulnerable. Lucien Favre’s job is routinely saved by his superstars but their mental discipline remains unresolved as Jadon Sancho's reported tardiness testifies.
David Wagner's Schalke are also in the mix, level with Dortmund on 30 points. Bayer Leverkusen linger another two points behind. Hoffenheim is surging, recovering from Nagelsmann's abandonment. They won their last two heading into the break, the only side beside Bayern and Koln with a winning streak. Surprise package Freiburg fell off the pace in December, taking a single point from their last three games.
Bayern are the one Bundesliga side we know possesses the mental steel to go the distance. Usually, the Rekordmeister's challengers lose their footing after the winter break whereas the Bavarians step on the accelerator. It's up to the rest to prove they can match the perennial champions this time out.
Both Juventus and Bayern have their work cut out and the Champions League will play a role in both marathons. The holders drew Lyon and Chelsea respectively. Leipzig and Dortmund face stiffer challenges from Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain. Inter dropped down to the Europa League where they must contend with Thursday evening matches. Early elimination could be a blessing in disguise for any and all although the Bianconeri and die Roten won't view failure in that light. Whatever lies in wait on the continent, neither can afford to coast domestically this season, perhaps the best Christmas gift for which Bundesliga and Serie fans could ask.