With Edin Dzeko improving match by match and Arkadiusz Milik down and out, Roma has overtaken Napoli as the top challenger to Juventus in Serie A.
Dzeko scored twice in Roma’s 3-1 win at Napoli over the weekend, giving him a league-best seven goals in eight league appearances this season – just one less than he scored in 31 appearances in his first season with Roma.
Initially a disappointment after transferring from Manchester City in August 2015, Dzeko is now displaying the same ruthlessness in front of goal as in his best seasons in the Premier League. Still, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti is not satisfied.
“Edin is an exceptional player but considering the skills that he has he’s still not fully taking advantage of them,” Spalletti said.
The win moved Roma into second place, five points behind five-time defending champion Juventus.
“It’s too early to say, even though it’s evident that if we play these matches like this we can attempt to be the anti-Juve,” Spalletti said.
Napoli, meanwhile, needs to find a better solution with Milik out for six months after tearing a ligament on international duty. The Poland striker had a great start to the season and replacement Manolo Gabbiadini looked lackluster at center forward against Roma.
Gabbiadini was booed by the crowd at the San Paolo Stadium after getting replaced by Dries Mertens early in the second half.
The energetic Mertens was one of the few bright spots for Napoli and looks to have earned a spot in the lineup against Besiktas in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, 40-year-old Roma captain Francesco Totti should play in a Europa League match against Austria Vienna on Thursday after being left on the bench for two straight games.
Here are a few other things learned over the weekend in Italian soccer:
JUVE’S LUXURIES: That Juventus can still win with an error by Gianluigi Buffon and Gonzalo Higuain on the bench has to be worrisome to its rivals.
Buffon gifted an early goal to Udinese but Paulo Dybala responded with two scores in a 2-1 win over Udinese that saw Higuain stay on the bench until midway through the second half – after all of the goals had been scored.
The Bianconeri visit Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday.
MILAN’S YOUTH MOVEMENT: AC Milan has consistently featured the youngest team in Serie A and two teenagers were in the starting lineup in a 3-1 win at Chievo Verona that moved the Rossoneri up to third place, level on points with Roma.
Seventeen-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma has been a fixture in goal for Milan and 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli has taken on extra responsibilities since captain Riccardo Montolivo was sidelined for six months with another injury.
With Silvio Berlusconi in negotiations to sell a majority stake in the club to Chinese investors, Milan is aiming to return to European competition after a three-year absence.
“We’re starting to smell it,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said.
Up next for Milan, which is on a five-match unbeaten run and won four of five, is a home game against Juventus on Saturday.
The last time Milan collected 16 or more points over its first eight matches was in 2010-11, when the Rossoneri won their last title.
INTER, ICARDI IN CRISIS: Mauro Icardi risks being stripped of Inter Milan’s captaincy after taking aim at the club’s hard-core “ultra” fans in his autobiography.
Things only got worse for Icardi after he missed a penalty in a 2-1 loss to Cagliari – his third miss in his last four penalty attempts.
While Inter beat Juventus in September, the Nerazzurri are now on a three-match winless streak in the league and risk being eliminated from the Europa League when they host Southampton on Thursday following embarrassing losses to Hapoel Beer-Sheva and Sparta Prague.
CRAZY GOALS: With 10 goals in six matches, former Italy forward Giampaolo Pazzini has helped Hellas Verona to the top of Serie B and is on pace to break Luca Toni’s modern-day scoring record for the second division.
Pazzini, nicknamed “il Pazzo” – the crazy one – scored twice in a 4-1 win at Ascoli on Saturday.
Toni scored 30 goals with Palermo in 2003-04 and paired with Pazzini at Verona until he retired at the end of last season. Toni is now a member of Verona’s staff.