MILAN - Just like striker Zlatan
Ibrahimovic, the balance of power has shifted to AC Milan from
Inter Milan but at the mid-season break seven teams have a
chance of the Serie A title in one the closest races for years.
A change of coach, injuries and a possible lack of hunger
after last term's treble mean Inter's bid for a sixth straight
scudetto is floundering with the side down in seventh, 13 points
behind leaders Milan with two games in hand.
Inter coach Rafael Benitez departed on Thursday after a
torrid time since replacing Jose Mourinho in June.
"He need times to develop his role, his way of playing. I
think removing him is mistaken," ex top-flight coach Renzo
Ulivieri, head of Italy's managers' association, told Reuters.
Moaning about a lack of signings after Inter's Club World
Cup win last Saturday has also contributed to Benitez's demise
and the side do need new recruits in January if they are not
going to relinquish their title without a fight.
Leonardo, Milan coach last term in his first job in
management, is being tipped by the media to take over at rivals
Inter in a move which would seem incredible in other leagues but
is nothing new in the wacky world of Italian football.
Milan and their fans can have no complaints about their old
coach switching allegiances given their success this term has
been built on the signing of ex-Inter forward Ibrahimovic, whose
skill and power have added a new dimension to their attack.
The Swede, seeking his own seventh consecutive league crown,
was a major factor in Inter winning the 2007, 2008 and 2009
scudettos and after one mixed title-winning season at Barcelona
he is back wowing Serie A but in red and black stripes.
Another reason for Milan leading by three points just before
the halfway stage of the season is coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Almost a novice at this level having only ever managed
Cagliari in the top flight, Allegri is a shrewd operator and his
decision to drop the fading Ronaldinho to the bench has allowed
Milan to develop a more urgent and direct style of play.
The lethargic Brazilian could head home in the January
transfer window given Milan are bringing in Sampdoria's
combustible but skilful forward Antonio Cassano while the return
to fitness of striker Alexandre Pato also boosts options.
However, Milan are guaranteed nothing yet and defeats to
Cesena, Juventus and AS Roma suggest the fragility shown under
Leonardo when they finished third last term still lingers.
Rather than watching Inter run away with the scudetto, this
title battle is enthralling because of the new teams involved.
Lazio, whose last title was in 2000, were relegation
candidates last term but coach Edy Reja has guided the Rome club
to joint-second to everyone's surprise thanks also to the
cut-price purchase of superb ex-Sao Paulo midfielder Hernanes.
"Calmness, the right balance, a united dression room and a
coach who has an incredible rapport with his team. Reja is the
key," Lazio owner Claudio Lotito told reporters.
Napoli are level with Lazio after a series of stoppage-time
winning goals which have led media to coin the phrase "Mazzarri
time" in homage to mulletted coach Walter Mazzarri.
The passion of the Naples fans, starved of scudetto success
since the days of Diego Maradona in 1987 and 1990, could carry
them far along with Edinson Cavani's goals but defensive
weaknesses might have to be addressed in January.
Juventus lurk five points behind Milan and although still
rebuilding after a 2006 match-fixing demotion, new coach Luigi
Del Neri's return to 4-4-2 and the good form of winger Milos
Krasic and striker Fabio Quagliarella mean they pose a threat.
Last term's runners-up Roma and Palermo are outside bets to
fully join the title race but anything is possible in Italy,
meaning no one is counting against Inter performing a stunning
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