By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) - Talking-points from the Serie A weekend:
UNPREDICTABLE SERIE A
While AC Milan have been relentless at the top of Serie A, winning seven and drawing two of their first nine games to move five points clear, the teams below them have had been wildly unpredictable, especially those playing in Europe.
Only four points separate second-placed Inter and Lazio in ninth.
Inter, who gave a dismal performance when they lost 2-0 at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, were unrecognisable as they won 3-0 at Sassuolo, who started the weekend unbeaten and in second place.
Napoli, after suffering home defeats to Sassuolo and Milan, bounced back with a 4-0 drubbing of visitors AS Roma, previously unbeaten apart from the game at Verona which they forfeited 3-0 for fielding an ineligible player.
Meanwhile, Lazio, unbeaten in the Champions League, collapsed to a 3-1 defeat at home to a Udinese side missing half a dozen players due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.
Lazio were unbeaten in their previous eight games in all competitions, although before that had suffered three-goal defeats to Atalanta and Sampdoria.
Atalanta were humbled 2-0 at home by Verona, only four days after winning 2-0 at Liverpool in the Champions League -- having lost 5-0 at home to the English champions earlier in the group.
The wild swings in form are mainly attributed to COVID-19, which led to the season starting a month later than usual with almost no break, and is also depriving teams of key players.
"We know that with such a crowded fixture list, we can’t always be at 100 percent in every single game," said Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso. "But that’s why mentality is so important, because it can allow you to push through difficulties and to keep going and raise the bar."
NO EXCUSES FROM INZAGHI
Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi did not offer any excuses for his team's showing in their 3-1 home defeat by Udinese.
"We were presumptuous and not humble, we knew how Udinese would play, were going to play. They played well and we made too many mistakes," he said. "It was a bad day.
"We are all responsible, we needed something more that we didn't give on the pitch."
Lazio's marathon run of fixtures continues with a Champions League match at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
BOLOGNA TRY TO INSPIRE BARROW WITH MARADONA VIDEO
Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic showed his misfiring forward Musa Barrow a video of the late Diego Maradona to try and inspire the Gambian ahead of their match against Crotone.
"I showed him a video of Maradona, the greatest of all, not for his achievements but for the anger, the sacrifice and humility of going in for every ball," said Mihajlovic.
"If Maradona had that tenacity, then I can't accept that a 22-year-old playing for Bologna doesn't have it."
Bologna won 1-0 but Mihajlovic was still not satisfied.
"Even today, he (Barrow) wasn't playing well. He has skates instead of boots, he always slips. But he is an important player for us, we have to get him back to his best."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)