Serie A’s Christmas break is under way, but Italy’s leading four clubs received their perfect presents back in the summer; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Hernanes and Miloš Krasic have each made huge impacts on their new employers over the first 17 rounds.
Signed from Barcelona, Ibrahimovic has scored nine league goals for AC Milan, who are three points clear of surprise contenders Napoli and Lazio at the top of the table. Cavani has struck one more for Napoli, while Hernanes and Krasić have managed five apiece for Lazio and Juventus, transforming the fortunes of their new sides in the process.
Ibrahimović, a Scudetto winner with Juventus and Inter Milan, has been instrumental for Milan. His goals are complimented by six assists and Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri says he is already “irreplaceable”, an opinion shared by fellow summer signing Robinho, scorer of six goals himself. “He wins wherever he goes,” said the Brazilian. “He’s smart, strong and fast; it’s so easy to play alongside him.”
If Napoli end their 21-year title drought, much of the credit will go to Uruguayan striker Cavani. Known as ‘El Matador’, the 23-year-old has come to epitomise a side that fights to the death as Cagliari, Lecce and former side Palermo can all attest, having conceded late to lose 1-0 in recent weeks. In all, 16 of Napoli’s 26 Serie A goals have come in the last 20 minutes.
“It’s a sign that this team always believes they can win until the final whistle,” said coach Walter Mazzarri, whose side edged through to the Europa League round of 32 courtesy of a 92nd-minute winner from Cavani against FC Steaua Bucureşti. “I’m always positive but I never imagined I would spend Christmas with my team second in Serie A.”
At this stage last season, Lazio were 17th, but the arrival of Hernanes from São Paulo has turned Edy Reja’s team into Scudetto contenders.
“When I came here I had to learn lots of things: a new culture, the language and different aspects of Italian football,” said the Brazilian known as ‘Il Profeta’ (the prophet). “I’m satisfied with my performances but I know I can still improve, much like Lazio. I’m sure our fans will be satisfied at the end of the season.”
Juventus would be level with Lazio and Napoli had they not conceded an added-time equaliser at Chievo on the last matchday of the year. Krasić’s runs are becoming the nightmare of many a Serie A coach – with the obvious exception of Luigi Delneri.
“I didn’t expect him to make such an impact,” team-mate Alberto Aquilani said of the summer signing from CSKA Moscow. “I can’t believe how devastating he is. We just hope he can keep it going.”
Milan, Napoli and Lazio have similar aspirations for their own talismen. Injury-ravaged titleholders Inter, 13 points off top spot albeit with two games in hand, will need their returning stars to hit the ground running in January.