Another weekend of Serie A action is behind us and it was another that provided countless talking points.
There were last-minute winners, the continuation of good runs of form and more frustration for others, while some players started to find form at a crucial part of the season.
League leaders Inter Milan continued their sprint to the title with a 4-0 hammering of Lecce, while Juventus kept a firm grip on second place thanks to a stoppage time winner against Frosinone.
Mail Sport’s Alvise Cagnazzo picks out 10 things we learned from a fascinating weekend in Italy.
Roma continue to improve under Daniele De Rossi and beat Torino 3-2 thanks to a hat-trick from Paulo Dybala
Inter Milan, meanwhile, continue to dash to the title after beating Lecce 4-0 at the weekend
For defending champions Napoli, however, there were more struggles with the side currently down in ninth
Allegri reaches 1,000 points… but all is not well with Juventus…
Max Allegri has now accumulated 1,002 points in his career as a coach, the last three coming in a difficult game against a strong but not unbeatable team in Frosinone.
301 wins, 99 draws and 96 defeats – statistics that now belong to a top manager that confirms his greatness in his eight years at the helm of Juventus.
He has surpassed Carlo Ancelotti, Marcello Lippi and Fabio Capello, but this may not be enough for him to keep his job going into next season.
Despite the effort and the result achieved only in the dying moments at the weekend, Allegri is the first coach in the history of Serie A to achieve the feat.
The victory came with difficulty, with the Italian coach’s regular gesture on show again, throwing his jacket towards the bench after yet another poor goal conceded by his players.
Juventus’ slogan is ‘until the end’, and according to this year’s statistical data, out of 29 games, nine have seen the ‘Old Lady’ score in the final minutes, four times after 90 minutes.
With Weston McKennie injured and Juventus down to 10 men at the weekend, Allegri was angry when his players pushed to find a third goal and left themselves dangerously exposed to Frosinone’s counterattack.
Max Allegri has reached 1,000 points as a manager in Serie A, earning the feat across three different clubs
His Juventus side are struggling but beat Frosinone 3-2 at the weekend with a stoppage-time winner
His statistics are exceptional, but they are not enough to say that Allegri will remain in the Juventus dugout for a long time to come.
According to Opta data, in 496 Serie A games, Allegri averages 2.02 points per game from three clubs in Cagliari, AC Milan and Juventus.
He has won one Scudetto with Milan, and then won five consecutive Scudettos with Juventus, but, again, this could not be enough to see him on the ‘Old Lady’ bench again next year.
Inter scoring goals for fun as Lautaro Martinez reaches 100 in Serie A
It’s now 78 league goals this season for Inter, with Lautaro Martinez again reaching 20. For the third consecutive season, the Argentine striker has reached the landmark in Serie A, but it is an Inter Milan side that are all the more reliable.
He played a brilliant game against Lecce and left his opponents reeling twice, ensuring he stayed seven goals ahead of Dusan Vlahovic unchanged in the top scorer rankings.
Martinez also scored goal number 100 and 101 of his career in the Italian league.
Inter won against Lecce despite leaving Yann Sommer and Nicolo Barella on the bench, also putting Alexis Sanchez on the field. Compared to the recent past, the team is showing extraordinary maturity, allowing manager Simone Inzaghi to constantly rotate.
Lautaro Martinez has gone past 20 goals again this season and continues to flourish for Inter
The Lecce victory was yet another act of strength from a solid, cynical and spectacular team.
Unlike Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez has become a player capable of leading the team with serenity, relieving all the other players from any nerves. When he is on the pitch, the team almost always pick up a result and rarely lose their identity.
Martinez is the star of the team, and the nine-point gap to second-placed Juventus is an excellent indicator of Inter’s extraordinary season.
The seventh consecutive victory allows us to abandon any doubt of the side storming towards winning their 20th championship in their history.
Napoli continue to struggle with Calzona already under pressure
Francesco Calzona is not the solution to Napoli’s woes, just as Rudi Garcia and Walter Mazzarri were not.
Zito Luvumbo’s goal condemned the Italian champions to suffer a mediocre draw against Cagliari at the weekend and highlighted how the team’s problems have arisen from President Aurelio De Laurentiis’s work in the transfer market.
Juan Jesus’ mistake for the goal is unforgiveable, especially for a player of his experience who cannot and should not be making errors like we saw. In reality, the team suffers from continuous tactical, technical and character errors.
Napoli seem unable to play with order, regularly making catastrophic errors that risk compromising their progress in Serie A and the Champions League.
The return to a 4-3-3 formation is certainly more suited to the players available to Calzona, but the team still continues to concede too many goals, as it did in the 3-5-2.
In 26 games, Napoli have conceded 29 goals, an average of more than one goal per game, too many for a team that aspired to win title at the start of the season. It’s clear that the transfers in the January window didn’t help the team.
Napoli continue to make individual errors and suffered a mediocre draw against Cagliari at the weekend
Leao silences his critics
Rafael Leao scored after two minutes and 26 seconds, Milan’s fastest goal this Serie A season, silencing critics who had accused him of lack of effort in his side’s recent matches.
The extraordinary goal against Atalanta on Saturday is goal No 42 of his Serie A career, with the Rossoneri No 10 now equalling Rui Costa in second position among the top Portuguese scorers in Serie A.
The attacker has also reached 51 goals in his time as an AC Milan player. Before his strike against Atalanta, he had scored his only goals in Serie A in September, against Roma, Inter and Verona, and was then without a goal until the match against Atalanta.
It had been five months since Leao had scored in the league, but a fine top-corner finish put an end to the spell and and criticism of his attitude on the pitch.
Leao missed two more good chances, but put Atalanta’s defence under siege throughout the match. He tends to start wide on the left, then moving into the middle of the pitch, skipping over defenders and playing on the edge.
Rafael Leao silenced his critics as he scored his first league goal since September for AC Milan
The forward could have scored more than once but will have been happy to break his duck
Vlahovic needs more help
‘Mister, they do what they want in the middle, they go straight through.’
Dusan Vlahovic said these works to Allegri in full view of the DAZN television cameras. Allegri, sitting on the bench, just spreads his arms.
This is the perfect picture of a Juventus team that without their Serbian centre forward, would certainly have lost the match against Eusebio Di Francesco’s courageous Frosinone.
With nine goals, he is the top scorer for 2024 in the five major European leagues and, unlike in the past, he has finally shown greater charisma.
The injury to the adductor in his right thigh that forced him to miss the match against Udinese left no consequences.
Vlahovic is a fantastic player but the team leaves him alone too often, he is isolated and like a runaway bull he insists on shoulder strikes and quick runs against the whole Frosinone defence – inciting the noisy fans at the Allianz Stadium to cheer up his sleepy team-mates.
The goals of Dusan Vlahovic will be vital if Juventus want to return to the Champions League
Targeted physical preparation, specific training and a pinch of luck have given Juventus a ravenous top plater, a striker who by scoring 20 goals a year can bring the ‘Old Lady’ back to the Champions League after a year of enforced absence.
Vlahovic’s problem until now has been excessive solitude in attack, as if he were a foreign body compared to the rest of the team.
In the last phase of the season, coach Allegri will have to try and help him more. AC Milan, eager to conquer second place in the standings, are only four points behind and Vlahovic’s goals are needed to resist them.
Two goals in the Coppa Italia, a penalty also in Serie A, and Teun Koopmeiners becomes the player with the greatest feeling at the ‘Meazza’ Stadium.
The Dutch boy confirmed himself as the best midfielder in the Italian championship, the only one for whom Juventus would be willing to sacrifice an Under-23 talent in their negotiations with Atalanta.
Against Milan, unlike Ederson and Martin De Roon, Atalanta’s No 7 is the top of the midfield trident who uses his feet like a magnet to catch balls and direct play to the flanks.
He has a powerful and precise left foot for finishing, becoming the main threat for the Rossoneri defence.
Teun Koopmeiners scores a penalty for Atalanta against AC Milan, the highlight of a good performance by the Dutch midfielder
Yacin Adil suffered from his presence in the middle of the pitch and Ruben Loftus-Cheek was also a bit limited by Koopmeiners’ movements.
Coach Giampiero Gasperini built his team around Koopmeiners with an extraordinary tactical strategy, deploying his No 7 behind Milan’s midfielders.
The lesser danger of Pioli’s team in attack is precisely because of the fear of not being able to contain ‘Robocop’ Koopmeiners.
When the pace of their star drops, due to the great expenditure of energy in the first 60 minutes, Atalanta also suffers and begins to defend the result with great determination, defending with five men on the line in front of goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi.
‘Concrete’ Retegui offers hope to Genoa and Italy
A ‘plunger’ who convincingly covers the entire attack, inexhaustible in strength and vertical runs, Mateo Retegui has become the idol of the Luigi Ferraris Stadium with an extraordinary bicycle kick goal.
For once, he doesn’t have to do much in midfield or on the wing, he isn’t tired and he concentrates on his duel with defender Lautaro Gianetti.
19 appearances, six goals, two assists and four yellow cards is the summary of his season in Serie A to date and faithful to his growing influence after a slow start due to some tactical misunderstandings and annoying injuries.
At 24, Retegui is at the peak of his physical strength and has ample room for tactical and technical improvement.
Mateo Retegui scores an overhead kick as Genoa defeated Udinese 2-0 on Saturday
It looks increasingly likely that Retegui will be called up to represent Italy at the Euros
His Italy call up for Euro 2024 is increasingly probable and Italy seem to have finally found a strong and concrete centre forward – inconspicuous but decisive.
Alberto Gilardino’s team ended the first half against Udinese with a 2-0 lead, something that hasn’t happened since 2021, when Genoa beat Napoli 2-1.
Retegui’s presence in the centre of the attack seems to have increased the danger Genoa can produce and if the home stadium remains an impregnable fortress, maybe the Ligurian team can even dream of a return to Europe after so many years.
Hat-trick hero Dybala is reborn
Paulo Dybala, in excellent physical shape, is Roma’s best player and that is demonstrated by his first hat-trick in Serie A for the team who welcomed him at the end of his troubled experience with Juventus.
Dybala is rejuvenated under coach Daniele De Rossi, who has reconstructed his charismatic abilities and created personalised training sessions for him.
He has finally returned to being a decisive player, he runs and fights without being afraid of getting hurt. He has healed in his head as well as his legs and returned to being a leader.
Against one of the best defences in Serie A in Torino, the Argentine began to spice up his game by playing at a frenetic pace.
Paulo Dybala scores his hat-trick goal as Roma defeat Torino 3-2 on Monday evening
Up against him, Adam Masina had his worst game of 2024 because Dybala made him travel many kilometres, moving back to midfield and waiting for the right moment to turn and run towards Torino’s goal.
Roma’s change of speed in the rankings has finally occurred and has coincided with the arrival of De Rossi and Dybala’s physical growth.
Victory No 5 out of six in Serie A has opened new horizons and the team can now dream of finding a place in Europe.
This is probably Dybala’s best season after leaving Juventus because unlike in the past he has managed to have a greater continuity of performance without suffering too many injuries.
If Dybala continues to play in this way, the best international clubs will start looking at him and Roma will have to try and offer him a better contract.
Niang feeling at home again in Italy
His return to Italy initially raised doubts and his purchase by Empoli was considered a minor operation.
Yet today, at 29 years old, M’Baye Niang has returned to shine in Serie A after a rather difficult period spent between Al-Ahli, Bordeaux, Auxerre and Adana Demirspor in Turkey.
After the ups and down of time spent at AC Milan and Torino, Niang is once again an important player in Serie A, becoming then first foreigner to score in three consecutive games with the Tuscans in the top division.
Empoli beat Sassuolo 3-2 thanks to Niang, the new star who shines in attack despite his part-time job.
M’Baye Niang scores from the penalty spot as Empoli play Fiorentina earlier this month
Niang has scored with impressive regularity since returning to play in Serie A and in just three games he has already risen to second place among Empoli’s top scorers for the year behind Szymon Zurkowski – joining Franceso Caputo on three goals.
Empoli’s character and concreteness emerge in all its clarity when Niang enters the pitch, changing the outcome of the match and demonstrating he can be the team’s salvation.
The sporting miracle that Davide Nicola is performing at Empoli deserves a brief consideration, because the Tuscan team had scored 13 times in 20 games.
Then with the arrival of Nicola on the bench, they scored 12 in six. Niang gives the team added value.
Freuler thriving back in Italy after nightmare spell in England
Remo Freuler was one of the most underrated players of the Atalanta team that caught the eye in the Champions League.
Now, at 31, after just enough experience at Nottingham Forrest, he has returned to Italy to become a key man in Thiago Motta’s Bologna.
He is the pivot in front of the defence in the Italian-Brazilian coach’s 4-1-4-1, the player capable of offering balance and dynamism without ever stopping for 90 minutes.
Remo Freuler (pictured) has become a key player for Thiago Motta’s Bologna side this season
In the match against Verona at the weekend, he was practically perfect, always choosing the best position to make the opponents’ choices difficult.
Freuler was a great luxury for Nottingham Forrest, but the English club let him go after just 12 months, facilitating his return to Italy.
The City does continue to dream, and the credit goes to Freuler, who never stops running but tends to stay quiet.
One of Europe’s most modern coaches, Motta, has chosen to bet on Freuler, receiving courage, strength and dedication in return.
The fifth-consecutive victory for Bologna also came thanks to his first goal of the season and now his side dream of qualifying for the Champions League.