Serie A has seen certainly seen its fair share of legendary teams over the past 90 years, but no club in the history of the league has put in a run of dominance quite like Juventus in the 2010s. Thanks to a bevy of talent at their disposal and an absurd financial advantage over the rest of the league, the (detestable) Old Lady of Italian Football has ripped off nine-straight league titles since the 2011-2012 season, seven of which included leads of four points or more, including a stupendous 17-point gap over second place Roma in 2013-2014; the very same year Roma started off 10-0 under Rudi Garcia.
With results like that, you can't help but laugh; the league might as well have created a separate award for the second place team, which was usually Napoli (four times) or Roma (three times) during Juve's streak; AC Milan (‘11-’12) and Inter Milan (‘19-’20) grabbed the other two. It's not a great look for the league when one team wins nine straight, leaving the same two clubs to battle it out for second nearly every other year. Italian football does a lot of things right, but parity isn't one of them.
For the past nine years, Juve's spot on top of the table was (literally) unassailable, leaving Roma and Napoli to battle it out for scraps, but the scrum for spots four through six has generally been a pretty pitched battle between the likes of Lazio, Inter Milan, Atalanta, AC Milan, as well as the odd appearance from upstarts like Fiorentina or Torino.
European football will never enjoy the level of parity seen in the NFL—not without firm salary caps, better revenue sharing and a draft—but, Juventus notwithstanding, there's generally a pretty intense rivalry between the league's top six sides. When you're living paycheck to paycheck, the European income that comes with Champions League qualification can quite often mean the difference between continuity and massive summer sell-offs; a lifestyle to which Roma has become painfully accustomed.
As 2020 draws to a close, the Giallorossi find themselves stuck on that same hamster wheel, but thanks to an impressive start to the season, Paulo Fonseca has the club trending upward and should keep them in the thick of the European hunt until the bitter end. And we do mean thick: AC Milan may have a five-point lead at the top of the table, but places two through eight are separated by a mere five points and are likely to remain quite congested as the season progresses.
Despite disappointing results in their last two matches, Roma remain one of the hottest teams in Serie A, winning an average of 2.13 points per game over their last eight; the second-best mark in the league over that span. That's a bit of an odd selection given that the season is only 10 weeks old, but Roma have lost only one match on the pitch all season long.
And a large part of that success has been Roma's ability to beat up on the clubs below them. With a 5-2 walloping of Benevento, a 2-0 blanking of Fiorentina, a 3-1 victory over Genoa and a 3-0 shutout over Parma, Fonseca's bunch has gotten the job done against the minnows of the league. They've also done pretty well against the bigger clubs, tying league-leading Milan in a wild 3-3 draw and sharing the spoils against Juventus in a 2-2 tie back in September.
Still, despite taking points off two of the league's top clubs, the notion persists that Paulo Fonseca can't win the big ones. Sure, he can stack up points against the Beneventos and Parmas of the world, but when it comes to Serie A's ruling class, Fonseca often comes up short.
And, as much as we wish it weren't true, that notion is entirely accurate. If we count Italy's “Big Six” as Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Napoli, Lazio and Atalanta, then Roma's record is pretty bleak. Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 season (Fonseca's first at the helm), Roma has faced these clubs 15 times in league play, winning only 33% of all possible points, with only three actual wins, one of which came against a Juve side in Round 38 last year after they'd already wrapped up the title.
That's not pretty (not by a longshot) but how do the rest of the top clubs fare against one another? Is there a clear winner or is the battle between Italy’s seven biggest clubs a war of attrition?
The table below shows the number of wins and percentage of points taken by all seven clubs against one another since the start of the 2019-2020 season through Matchday 10 of the 2020-2021 season. (Please note: all clubs have played 15 such matches, except Napoli, who have played 16).
As you may have guessed, Juventus have thoroughly dominated Italy's other top clubs, winning 8 of 15 matches and taking 60% of all possible points since the start of last season, followed somewhat closely by Atalanta (who are succeeding thanks to the cult of Gasperini and a cycle of shrewd signings and sales) and Inter Milan (who have benefitted from Antonio Conte's quick rebuild, plus a bit of money; let's be real).
And then there's Fonseca's Roma. While the Portuguese tactician has Roma playing much better, he's struggled mightily against those six clubs, eking out only three wins and taking only 33% of all possible points against Juve, Milan, Inter, Atalanta, Lazio and Napoli—the lowest mark in each category among those seven squads.
It's too early to draw any definitive conclusions from this data, particularly since Roma have only faced half of the “Big Six” so far this season, but this doesn't really dispel the notion that Fonseca can't (or at least hasn't yet) succeeded against Serie A's top sides.
Now, dropping roughly 67% of all points to their direct competitors doesn't necessarily preclude Roma from finishing in the fop four, but it means they have to be practically flawless against the rest of the league—but just how flawless is flawless?
Last season, Lazio claimed the final Champions League spot with 78 points. Using Roma's results against the “Big Six” last season (13 points or 36% of all possible points) as a guidepost, Roma would have needed to win 83% of all possible points from their remaining 26 matches to qualify for the CL—that's pretty fucking flawless.
And with only two of nine possible points from their first three matches against the “Big Six” this year—draws against Juve and Milan and a loss to Napoli—Roma are actually behind last season's pace, taking only 22% of all possible points against their rivals thus far.
Fonseca will get nine more cracks at those clubs before the season concludes, so there's plenty of time to improve upon his record, but if this trend continues, it's the hard knock (Europa League) life for us!