Who´s afraid of the Premier League? Not Serie A
With English clubs so competitive in the Champions League in recent years, you might have expected Italy to react with trepidation after Inter Milan, Juventus and AS Roma were pitched against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal in the last 16.
The teams in question betrayed no nerves after the draw, although they could hardly be expected to raise the white flag before a kick of the ball.
But the media and pundits have also been upbeat about the Serie A sides’ chances of pulling off a 3-0 whitewash over their Premier League rivals, surprisingly so given the recent history of knockout-stage ties between the nations (Italian clubs have been on the losing end in most knockout ties against English clubs, the most significant exception being AC Milan´s win over Liverpool in the 2007 final).
Nevertheless, Italy’s top sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport borrowed some optimism from Barack Obama to greet the draw with the headline, “Yes We Can”.
They found an ally in Britain in The Observer’s Paul Wilson, who wrote that Real Madrid’s opponents Liverpool looked England’s best bet of making the quarter-finals in a blog on Sunday.
Former Italy and AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi, frequently a harsh critic of Italian football, struck a confident note too.
“The distance between Roma, Inter, Juve and their respective opponents Arsenal, Manchester and Chelsea has narrowed,” he wrote in Gazzetta this week.
“The time is right for them to pull off this extraordinary feat… They must believe they can do it because they have the capabilities and quality to win convincingly against very strong opposition.”
So can Serie A’s representatives really dent the Premier League supremacy this year? Sacchi said they can if they avoid the negative play often associated with Italian soccer and take the ties to the English.
Roma, Juve and Inter certainly have the firepower to do damage with the likes of forwards Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Amauri and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
And Italian football is not as defensive as it used to be.
But this could be because, as Mark Meadows pointed in a recent blog here, Italians are simply not as good at defending as they were when their sides ruled the European roost. Once it would have been unthinkable for a Serie A team to ship seven goals in the way Roma did at Old Trafford two seasons ago.
If Italy’s traditional forte has become its Achilles heel, the optimism Sacchi and company have expressed looks misplaced.
PHOTO: Kaka celebrates with the trophy after AC Milan´s Champions League final win over Liverpool in Athens, May 23, 2007. REUTERS/Phil Noble