Minnows Chievo look set to continue defying the big boys of Serie A by maintaining their sole grip on the Italian league lead this weekend.
The Verona-based team caused a stir in the opening two weeks of the season by becoming the only side to secure a maximum six points, courtesy of wins over Catania and Genoa.
And with Serie A newboys Brescia the visitors this Sunday, the Chievo have a great chance of extending their moment in the limelight.
Their surprise start has evoked memories of the ‘Chievo miracle’ from their debut season in Serie A in 2001/02 when they led the table for six straight weeks before finally finishing fifth.
It remains their best season to date, although Chievo ended up in fourth place in 2006 after three teams that finished above them were deducted points due to their respective roles in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal.
Although coach Stefano Pioli has insisted his team’s aim is merely to survive another season in the Italian top-flight, there is no reason to expect their bright start to end just yet.
“We need to get to 40 points as quickly as possible, that’s our aim,” said Pioli after their Genoa success.
That may be doing his team a disservice, though, as they showed remarkable maturity to hang tough when falling behind to an early goal as Genoa dominated, before striking back with three unanswered goals.
Chievo’s opportunity to grab their 15 minutes of fame has in no small part been aided by the failures of Serie A’s traditional heavyweights.
Juventus and AS Roma have only one point to show from their two matches while AC Milan suffered a humbling 2-0 defeat at Cesena last time out and Inter opened with a 0-0 draw at Bologna.
Inter will probably be the most worried of that lot this weekend as they face a tricky trip to Sicily to tackle Palermo, who shot themselves in the foot repeatedly last weekend in their 3-2 defeat at Brescia.
Palermo’s home form, though, is usually very good and given Inter’s uncertain start to the season, they would be well advised to be a little fearful in Sicily.
Inter have been far from impressive so far, starting with their 2-0 European Supercup defeat to Atletico Madrid.
Against Bologna the strike-force misfired while they rode their luck at times in the 2-1 defeat of Udinese.
And in midweek they proved vulnerable at set-pieces as FC Twente held them to a 2-2 draw in the Champions League.
Milan will be looking to bounce straight back from their Cesena nightmare at home to Catania and will hope Zlatan Ibrahimovic can continue his scoring form from their 2-0 defeat of Auxerre on Wednesday.
Juventus’s task in earning their first league win of the season — their Europa League form has in general been good — will be tested away at Udinese, who sit rock bottom but who never make life easy for their opponents, particularly at home.
Roma coach Claudio Ranieri will be looking for a big improvement from his team after they were thrashed 5-1 at Cagliari last week and then beaten 2-0 at Bayern Munich in Europe.
But the team’s preparations haven’t been helped by stinging criticism of the coach from star player and captain Francesco Totti, who lamented the team’s defence-led strategy.
“We’ve gone back to the old ways of catenaccio,” Totti told La Gazzetta dello Sport following the game in Munich.
“We didn’t pass the ball, we thought only about defending. It’s going to be hard to win matches playing this way.”
Ranieri responded by claiming he hadn’t read the quotes but the tension is clearly there as Totti, idolised by the club’s fans, has an influential voice.
Fiorentina v Lazio, AC Milan v Catania
Bari v Cagliari, Cesena v Lecce, Chievo v Brescia, Palermo v Inter Milan, Parma v Genoa, AS Roma v Bologna, Udinese v Juventus, Sampdoria v Napoli
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