What we learned in Week 18

With the winter break coming later in Serie A this year, some sides appear to be struggling with the furious pace at the top.

In a weekend which may come to be seen as crucial in the Scudetto race, Napoli and Juventus pulled away in the top two positions.

At the bottom too things are heating up, meaning there are very few teams who can relax over the festive period.

Here’s everything we learned from Week 18.

Fiorentina have quietly put together a run

Fiorentina sold almost all of their first XI from last season over the summer, and many predicted they would struggle under Stefano Pioli.

Quietly though the Viola are putting together a Europa League challenge, and after their win at Cagliari on Friday night they sit just a point behind sixth-placed Sampdoria.

Pioli’s men haven’t lost since they were defeated by Roma on November 5, and there are signs that perhaps that summer overhaul wasn’t as reckless as it first appeared.

Fiorentina have a tough run of games coming up, facing both Milan clubs, Lazio and Sampdoria; but if they come through those games relatively unscathed they’ll be well placed for European football next season.

Inter are suffering from mental fatigue

Last week we wondered how Inter would bounce back from their first defeat under Luciano Spalletti, and this weekend we got our answer.

The Nerazzurri lost their second Serie A match in a row, losing 1-0 to relegation battling Sassuolo.

They’re not known as ‘Pazza Inter’ for nothing, and mental fragility has long been something associated with the Beneamata.

While they’re not playing in Europe this season, allowing them to rest during the week, the Nerazzurri look like a side for whom the winter break can’t come quickly enough.

More than being physically tired, Spalletti’s side look mentally drained and they’ll get no respite over the Christmas period with a game against Milan in the Coppa Italia followed by the visit of Lazio and a trip to Fiorentina.

Inter are only five points off the top, and very much still in the Scudetto race, but they need to ensure the season doesn’t slip away from them in the coming weeks.

Five become two?

One of the best things about this season so far has been having five teams in with a legitimate chance of winning the Scudetto.

Inter, Napoli, Lazio and Roma have all enjoyed stunning starts to the season, with champions Juventus having to win 14 of 18 games to stay in the hunt.

This weekend though the Bianconeri and Napoli showed signs that they may be beginning to distance themselves from the pack.

Juve beat Roma in Turin, moving six clear of the Giallorossi, while the Partenopei took a hard fought win over Sampdoria.

With Inter also losing, there’s now a five point gap between first and third, with just under half of the season played.

The others aren’t out of it – and both Roma and Lazio have a game in hand – but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the top two at the moment occupied those places come May.

The relegation battle is going to be a tense one

While much of the attention has understandably been focused on the top of the table, there’s quite a battle taking place at the bottom.

Apart from poor Benevento, who are surely doomed having lost again, meaning they remain on one point – no-one from Chievo down can be assured either of safety or relegation.

Sassuolo’s shock win over Inter gave them a bit of breathing space, but Bologna winning at Chievo dropped the Flying Donkeys firmly into the mire.

Rolando Maran’s side are 13th, but are only six points above Crotone, who currently occupy the final relegation place.

Benevento will surely be relegated, but after the Stregoni it’s two from seven, and there’s really no telling who the unlucky pair will be.

Mihajlovic was right about Torino

Before their match with Spal, Torino Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic warned his team not to be complacent.

After wins over Lazio and Roma – the latter of which came in the Coppa Italia – the Granata had negotiated a punishing run of fixtures.

The Serbian knew if his men could play as they had done in that run they’d win in Ferrara, but he warned they’d have to be ready for “a war”.

Things appeared to be going well when Toro took a 2-0 lead, but they took their foot off the gas and allowed Spal to grab a point.

These are the kind of matches Torino have to win if they’re to qualify for the Europa League.