SERIE A is back tomorrow after its extended break, waiting over a week longer than other leagues in Europe returned, even though Italy played no part in the recent World Cup AC Milan ended an 11-year wait to get their hands on the Scudetto in 2022 and their cross-town rivals and 2021 champions, Inter Milan went into this campaign as favourites.
But there is a new runaway leader in the race for the Scudetto.
Luciano Spalletti currently has Napoli looking unstoppable and he’ll be hoping the World Cup break hasn’t put any stop on their momentum when Serie A returns.
Napoli finished third last season, and have been runners-up four times in the past 10 years). They have only won Serie A twice (when inspired by one Diego Maradona) and are already eight points clear at the top of the table.
Still unbeaten, they have won an incredible 13 of their 15 Serie A games so far, only dropping points in draws against Fiorentina and Lecce.
But those draws came all the way back in August, with Napoli going on an 11-game winning streak since, including victories over Roma, Atalanta, AC Milan and Lazio.
Napoli’s closest rivals are defending champions Milan, who are currently second with 10 wins from their opening 15 games. As well as the defeat to Napoli, Milan also lost to Torino before the World Cup break and drew with Cremonese, which saw them dragged into what is a close top-four battle.
The men from Naples face an Inter side at the San Siro tomorrow that trail them by 11 points.
The match will be broadcast on BT Sports 1 and the away side are 2/1 outsiders in the game, with the hosts 5/4.
Spalletti’s men are 4/9 to lift a third league title, 33 years after their previous win.
AC and Inter are 6/1 and 7/1 respectively, with the team that has won the most, Juventus, (on 36 titles, Inter come next on 19) 16/1 outsiders.
THERE I was on Stephen’s Day when up he sidled next to me at the bar.
“I used to read your betting pieces back in the day.”
It always pays to be non-committal when there is sidling involved.
“The tips were bad enough. But I remember you used always do these stupid Christmas stories too.”
“I’m glad you read them, at least.”
“I noticed there was none last week.”
He took the stool one down from me. I gave him the once over.
Green and white beanie, tired eyes and a big bushy white beard, a whiff of Bensons off him.
He took a sup and half his pint glass vanished into his fuzzy face.
“You haven’t remarked on the resemblance.”
“Most people on first meeting me say I look like Santy.”
“And do you mind that?”
“I do a bit.”
“You remind me more of Buster Merryfield. But don’t you invite such comparisons with a beard like that?”
“Uncle Albert was bald. I’ve got plenty of hair left under this hat. And why should everyone with a white beard get Santa jibes? I’ve had this beard a long time. I got old. It went white. Big swing.”
“Fair enough. But you were the one who brought the resemblance.”
“You remind me a bit of Rodney.”
“I look nothing like him.”
“Not in appearance, no. More like you’re a bit gormless.”
“I’ll leave you be,” I said, thinking of a quiet corner with the crossword.
“Don’t you want your Christmas Wish?”
“Will you ever feck off?”
And just like that he disappeared in a puff of smoke.
- Get on Man Made of Smoke in the final race at Wolverhampton this evening at 7/4.
IT’S always nice to have a big-priced accumulator on the year ahead.
Former Russian president and Putin puppet Dmitry Medvedev had a crack last week, forecasting: oil at $150 per barrel, Poland and Hungary seizing the western parts of Ukraine, Germany creating the Fourth Reich and the civil war in the US for 2023. He signed off: “Happy New Year Anglo-Saxon friends and their happily grunting pigs.”
I can’t see any of that happening, but might be just as deluded suggesting this double: McIlroy for the Masters and Liverpool to shrug off domestic woes and win the Champions League (both 9/1) at 99/1.