The 2018/19 Serie A season is around a third of the way complete, which is plenty of time for teams to establish a rhythm and new arrivals to bed in to their new surroundings.
Champions Juventus lead the way and will be the team to beat it seems, with Napoli and Inter Milan several points off their searing pace.
As ever, a raft of signing were made in the summer. But which ones are struggling badly in the early part of the season?
Here, we pick our five best signings of the season so far:
Keita Balde (Monaco to Inter Milan, loan)
Luciano Spalletti made a special request to his Nerazzurri paymasters to bring Balde back to Serie A.
On the evidence of the early months of the season, this belief was misplaced.
The on-loan Monaco forward has failed to net during 352 minutes in the top flight, spread across three starts and eight cameos. Dry spells can happen to any forward, but where Inter will be concerned is the fact that an average of 0.8 attempts per match is just the 12th best for them.
It is no wonder that a €34 million permanent option has reportedly been dismissed out of hand and talks have begun to send him back to Ligue 1 in January.
This is a stark contrast to a successful spell at Lazio from 2013-17. The now 23-year-old then scored a respectable 37 times in 137 run-outs, impressing Spalletti along the way.
Inter must hope this month’s email farce that denied Balde’s Senegal duty instead provides time to reflect on what is going wrong.
Diego Laxalt (Genoa to AC Milan, €14 million)
Questionable hair style aside, Laxalt had earned himself a reputation in Serie A as a full-back of real promise.
Last season’s return of three assists and three goals created interest. This was only strengthened throughout a solid World Cup 2018 for Uruguay.
AC Milan looked to have made an uncharacteristically sensible signing when they headed off Premier League-interest to land a 25-year-old once owned by rivals Inter. Reality has not been as kind.
No one can question the player’s effort. It is his quality which has been queried by the Rossonero – plus, seemingly, head coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Even amid a defensive crisis, Laxalt was moved back to the sidelines for November 11’s 2-0 loss to champions Juventus. In total, he’s made four starts and six substitute appearances.
From these, only striker Patrick Cutrone has registered a worse pass completion (75.9-77.5 per cent) in the top flight for Milan.
This step up to the San Siro looks to be a step too far.
Simone Zaza (Valencia to Torino, loan)
Heads are currently being scratched in the maroon half of Turin.
A temporary arrangement to bring Italy striker Zaza back to Serie A in the summer seemed a smart one. Especially after 2017/18’s return of 13 goals in 39 matches for Valencia – figures he hadn’t bettered since 2012/13’s breakthrough campaign with Ascoli in Serie B.
The €2 million loan fee with a €12m obligation now appears onerously priced.
Zaza simply hasn’t come close to finding his space at Torino. From head coach Walter Mazzarri’s 3-4-2-1 formation which only leaves space for Andrea Belotti, to the calf injury which caused regression after a goal at Chievo and assist against Frosinone prior to October’s international break.
Zaza was given 42 minutes during the 2-1 defeat at Parma last time out. He made just nine touches and saw two harmless attempts sail wide.
A reputation as a polarising figure has only been enforced.
Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht to Udinese, €7 million)
Udinese will hope the surgeon’s knife provides the cure to the malaise of their major summer acquisition.
Poland striker Teodorczyk rocketed in 45 matches during 93 run-outs for Belgium giants Anderlecht, with such form sparking a wave of excitement at Dacia Arena when he was landed in August.
A goalless eight Serie A matches have followed – one start, seven substitute appearances –for new employers stationed one place outside the drop zone.
In mitigation, a medical intervention to cure a hernia problem was carried out at the end of last month. This would be a serious impediment for any athlete, never mind one who relies on graft and physical prowess to unsettle defences.
Of greater alarm for Udinese is a deeper look into his Anderlecht statistics. From the highs of 2016/17’s return of 30 goals in 53 matches, a decline during the following campaign saw the net bulge only 15 times in 40 games.
Worrying reading for a club with plenty of problems to be dealt with.
Kevin Mirallas (Everton to Fiorentina, loan)
Mirallas turned into persona non grata at Everton.
Alarmingly, he hasn’t fared much better at Fiorentina.
At his best, Mirallas was a ruthless – some would say selfish – forward, expert in the arm of cutting inside from the wing to cause havoc. At 31-years old, the glory days are an increasingly distant memory.
The ex-Belgium international was bombed out of Olympiakos last term and another temporary move to Serie A is not proving to be any more successful this time around.
A grand total of zero top-flight goals or assists have come from 356 minutes of deployment, across three starts and five substitute run-outs.
In this month’s 1-1 draw with Roma, his 15 touches was the least of any starter. No attempts on goal or key passes were made, plus his 53 minutes on the pitch produced a pass accuracy of 60 per cent.
The Viola will surely be wondering why they bothered bringing in such a useless foil for youngsters Federico Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone.
AC Milan are convinced they stand a good chance of securing a return for forward Alexandre Pato in January, according to reports.
Pato, 29, spent an injury ravaged spell at the San Siro from 2007-13. He did, however, manage to score 63 times in 150 matches before his exit to Corinthians and is remembered fondly.
Calciomercato have stated that sporting director Leonardo is aware that the club’s top transfer targets – Aaron Ramsey, Leonardo Paredes and Adrien Rabiot – are unlikely to be available in the winter market. This means he has instead decided to bring in Corinthians centre-back Rodrigo Caio on loan and explore taking advantage of Pato’s desire to leave China’s Tianjin Quanjian.
Since he left Milan, the Brazil attacker has also featured for Sao Paulo, Chelsea and Villarreal. In the Chinese Super League, he’s plundered 25 goals in 40 appearances.
AC Milan’s stretched medical department will need to work their magic for Gonzalo Higuain to haunt Juventus on Sunday night.
The availability of the ex-Bianconeri centre forward dominates the talking points about of this grandstand Serie A meeting.
GONZALO’S READY TO GO?
For once, not all attention is focused on Cristiano Ronaldo.
The availability of Higuain has transfixed Italy, after his removal from last Sunday’s dramatic 1-0 win at Udinese with a back complaint. A gentle return to training in the wake of being absent for Thursday’s Europa League draw at Real Betis provides promise.
‘El Pipita’ rocketed in 55 goals in 105 matches for Juve, prior to August’s sacrifice – initially on loan – to make way for the aforementioned Portugal superstar.
The Bianconeri also know his lethality against former employers. A decisive five goals were plundered in six run-outs against Napoli.
Repeat the trick and new life will be breathed into both Milan, and Serie A.
NO TIME TO PANIC… JUST YET
Juve will still wonder how a first defeat of the season was registered in midweek against Manchester United.
The late collapse to lose 2-1 in the Champions League, however, highlighted some issues.
By 11 Serie A games last term, they’d scored 33 times. Now, that figure is 24 for the leaders.
October 20’s 1-1 draw with Genoa began a run of five fixtures, in all competitions, during which Juve’s superiority has not been reflected in the scoreline. Head coach Massimiliano Allegri must rediscover a ruthless edge
“We’ll battle on. Excuses get you nowhere.”
These words are a neat summation of Milan’s fitness crisis and boss Gennaro Gattuso’s frame of mind.
Obituaries were written after October 21’s depressing 1-0 derby loss to Inter Milan. Injuries have piled up since, Argentine centre-back Mateo Musacchio becoming the latest at Betis courtesy of a sickening collision with team-mate Franck Kessie.
And yet fuelled by the brilliance of Spanish playmaker Suso, the Rossoneri remain in the Champions League spots. If a five-match losing streak against Juve can be corrected, Gattuso’s standing will only increase.