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Serie A Preview: Milan Derby And The Sack Race

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Inter Milan are setting the pace in Serie A and perhaps Maurizio Sarri is puffing away on a couple more cigarettes than usual.

Antonio Conte is already playing mind games with his Juventus counterpart and at the other end of the table the sack race has two front-runners already.

We dig into the key story-lines and major plot points ahead of the fourth round of fixtures.

The sack race hots up

Sampdoria’s Eusebio Di Francesco is presiding over a club swaying like a drunk towards the edge of a cliff, with a president rescued from ultras by police, three defeats on the spin and now a manager under enormous pressure to pick up the first points of the season against Torino this weekend.

After limping to a 2-0 defeat at Napoli with just two shots all game and having conceded nine goals already this season, there are problems all over the pitch as well as the boardroom.

On the off chance Di Francesco is reading this rather than maniacally rocking back and forth at home muttering to himself – we can offer a crumb of comfort. The last time Sampdoria lost their first three games of the season in 2004/05 they ended up finishing fifth. They’ve also never started the season with four defeats on the trot.

His early rival in the sack race is Fiorentina’s Vincenzo Montella. The 45-year-old would be forgiven for a full blown crisis of confidence as he still hasn’t picked up a win since his Sevilla side beat Manchester United in the Champions League in March 2018.

His record since then for both clubs is dreadful. No wins, seven draws and 13 defeats. Last week’s stalemate against Juventus was creditable but Atalanta away this Sunday will provide another stern test.

There was an enormous turnover of talent in the Fiorentina dressing room this summer but Montella has been here before. In his first stint in charge of the Tuscan club 17 of the 26 players were new additions so this is a bizarrely similar circumstance.

Guess who La Viola play next week? Sampdoria…

Fighting talk from Antonio Conte

We may only be three games in but Inter Milan are already establishing themselves as title contenders.

Perhaps Antonio Conte can smell blood in the water and he’s already starting the mind games with Maurizio Sarri as Juventus reside two points off the leaders.

Sarri offered some frankly pitiful excuses for the draw at Fiorentina, including the Tuscan heat. Conte jumped all over it and said:

‘I won’t say anything because otherwise I would have to bring up the budgets, the turnover and the balance sheets.

‘Now, he is on the side of the strongest team so he needs to stay calm.’

It will be fascinating to see if Conte continues to crank up the pressure throughout the season and a win in the Milan derby would certainly do that this weekend.

Cagliari and Verona fans in the spotlight

The despicable racist chants directed at Romelu Lukaku from Cagliari fans on September 1 went unpunished this week.

Monkey noises could be heard on video footage of the crowd before the Belgian took his penalty, but the governing body, who have deliberated for nearly three weeks, decided that the sounds were not ‘discriminatory’.

This is now the third time Cagliari have escaped sanctions for racist chanting and Verona also went unpunished. There were widespread reports of racist chants from the home fans at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi towards AC Milan’s Franck Kessie but again the independent panel claimed there was nothing untoward.

Cagliari host Genoa on Friday and the home fans will be under the microscope now more than ever, particularly in their treatment of Christian Kouame, who is expected to lead the line for the visitors. Verona travel to face Juventus.

The lack of action on racism has rightly been condemned across Europe and the lack of serious action in Serie A is becoming an embarrassment. So far their response has been pitiful and you wonder what more evidence they need to bring the hammer down on offenders.

Can brilliant Berardi keep firing?

Domenico Berardi has started the season on fire and already leads the race for the Capocannoniere despite missing the opening game through suspension.

After banging in a hat-trick against Sampdoria, he added two more last weekend in a losing effort in Rome. Berardi is living the dream for his hometown club and is only three goals off his tally of eight from last season.

Sassuolo welcome SPAL to Mapei Stadium in Sunday’s early kick-off and head into the game as favourites so Berardi will be licking his lips.

The forward has always been earmarked as a top-quality player without ever quite producing the numbers to match but perhaps this will be his breakthrough season.

It definitely helps that Sassuolo are playing some of the most swashbuckling football in the league and he’ll have plenty of chances over the course of the campaign.

He’s averaging a goal every 33 minutes. If he kept up this rate until the end of the season he’d end up on 103 goals… Dare to dream Domenico.