Sunday's Derby D'Italia between Inter Milan and Juventus ended in a 0-0 draw, but that "boring" result actually made Serie A the most interesting league in all of Europe. Even though Juventus and Inter Milan have combined to win nine of the last 10 Serie A crowns, the 2015-16 campaign of Italy's top flight is shaping up to be the most competitive title chase on the continent.
After winning four straight Serie A championships, Juventus would have been expected to run away with a fifth title. Remarkably, the team from Turin sits in 14th place with only two wins and nine points after eight rounds. Not suprisingly, losing Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal had an impact on the champions.
Frenchman Paul Pogba and Spaniard Alvaro Morata have already displayed the Champions League sparks, but so far, the duo has not been able to do enough domestically. Although Juan Cuadrado has been playing well since his return to Italy, the lack of results has the Old Lady of Italian football in trouble. Key summer signing Paulo Dybala, who has yet to fully contribute, should find his way at some stage. Even if he doesn't, Juventus' depth is quality enough to overcome any single player.
This team may not win the league, but it will surely challenge or Massimiliano Allegri may get his walking papers despite winning the league and domestic cup and going to the Champions League final only a season ago … because that's how the Serie A rolls.
With Sunday's draw, Juve finished the weekend nine points back of league leader Fiorentina, which lost 2-1 to Napoli on Sunday. That goes to show that title contenders state their claims every weekend in Italy. After all, Fiorentina only ascended to the top of the pile after laying out a 4-1 drubbing against an Inter Milan team that started perfect over the first five rounds.
After eight rounds, truthfully, no favorite exists.
Only four points separate the top eight teams in Serie A with Roma and Inter only one point off the pace. New addition Mohamed Salah has had an instant impact for Roma, which finished second in each of the past two seasons, and Edin Dzeko expects to make a difference at some stage. But, more than ever, this is Daniele de Rossi's team. After all, De Rossi is the highest paid player in the league for a reason, so Roma should be in the Scudetto conversation, right?
Similar to Roma, Napoli has been involved in recent title chases. Well, the Southerners have at least been hunting in and out of the Champions League spots in recent years since Juventus has not truly allowed title chases to get all that interesting over the past three seasons. Napoli is only three points back of Fiorentina following Sunday's win, and the Neapolitans have only suffered one defeat this term. That defeat came at Sassuolo in the season opener.
While beating Napoli may have seemed like a shock in the opening round, Sassuolo managed a 2-2 draw against Roma at the Olimpico – a match the visitors could have won after taking the lead twice – and beat Lazio 2-1 to complete round eight. Tied with Lazio and Napoli, Sassuolo is only three points back of the Serie A title.
Sassuolo may be for real, and that's a great story considering the club only made its first-ever Serie A appearance in 2013. Going back a bit further, Allegri helped Sassuolo earn promotion to Serie B in 2008, so a Serie A title challenge only eight years later would be remarkable in any league and in any country. Eusebio Di Francesco, who managed Sassulo to the Serie B title in his first season with the club, is a name worth remembering at this point.
Roberto Mancini back at Inter Milan automatically makes the Nerazzurri title contenders, but the additions of players like Felipe Melo, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Miranda, Jeison Murillo and Martin Montoya point to Inter's heavy defensive focus over the summer. Inter winning the title is entirely plausible and possible, but this team is not head and shoulders above the crowd. Fiorentina scoring four times at the San Siro proved that point.
With no runaway favorite, the door remains open for teams like AC Milan and Juventus to rally and even surpass the field.
Still, Milan has been one of the more disappointing teams thus far. After signing Colombian striker Carlos Bacca and Shakhtar Donetsk forward Luiz Adriano, Milan should have managed a better start than losing four of the first eight league games. Manager Sinisa Mihajlovic faces a great deal of pressure to figure out the right formation and make Milan work. Otherwise, firing managers is as common as pasta in Italy, especially at Milan (see Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi).
One other major reason to keep an eye on Milan is Mario Balotelli. The former Liverpool striker started well since returning to Italy and is back in discussions for Italy's Euro 2016 team. A strong season at Milan would do wonders to reinstate the player that helped lead Italy to the final of the 2012 European Championships.
Four points separate first from fourth in England and Portugal, and five teams are within two points at the top of the Spanish table. France has one team five points clear at the top, and Bayern Munich is sitting on a seven-point cushion in Germany. But, with eight teams within four points of the top, the Italian Serie A is the most competitive league in Europe, especially when Milan and Juve are not included in those eight.