Inter reign supreme

Awarded the Serie A title by default last season due to the match-fixing scandal that rocked the country, Inter Milan made it their mission this year to capture the Italian title where it matters most - on the pitch. Not only did they achieve just that, they broke a whole set of records along the way.

There was little suspense at the top of the table asRoberto Mancini's men raced to glory with unrelenting consistency, not once succumbing to defeat away from home (15 wins, four draws). Determined, high on confidence and in scintillating form, the Nerazzuri also smashed a number of Italian football's most longstanding benchmarks, with their points tally of 97 from 38 encounters putting Torino's 1946/47 haul of 91 in the shade. Their 30 victories also surpassed an old Torino record, bettering the Turin outfit's previously untouchable total of 29 from 1947/48.

Similarly consigned to memory is AS Roma's sequence of 11 straight triumphs, a record the capital outfit must surely have expected to endure a little longer after they set it last term. As it happened, Inter strung together an awesome 17 consecutive wins this year, and the San Siro club have also scored at least one goal in their last 89 matches.President Massimo Moratti was likewise thrilled to note that his team posted a better points-per-game ratio (2.55) than Manchester United (2.34), Lyon (2.13) and Stuttgart (2.06), the champions in Europe's other leading leagues.

Behind Inter, the penalties inflicted before the start of the season made for an open championship, allowing a few outsiders to flirt with the top of the standings, even if Roma, Lazio and AC Milan eventually grabbed the remaining UEFA Champions League berths. Further back, Fiorentina enjoyed an excellent campaign and secured themselves a place in the UEFA Cup, despite suffering a 15-point deduction before a ball was kicked. Hopeful of building on that performance next year, the Viola will nonetheless have to swallow the loss of international striker Luca Toni, who hit 49 goals in 71 matches before announcing his departure to Bayern Munich.

Parma and Sienna stave off disaster
If the race for the scudetto failed to last too long, the intrigue at the wrong end of the table captured the imagination right down to the wire. Former giants Parma pulled off a minor miracle by saving themselves from the drop after spending 21 rounds in the danger zone, and they ultimately crossed the finish line in 12th, their highest position all season.

Still, that was nothing compared to the story unfolding at Sienna, where the Serie A strugglers had to wait until the 85th minute of their final match to eke out a crucial winning goal against Lazio (2-1). Paolo Negro hit the all-important strike to keep Sienna in the top flight and condemn 18 th-placed Chievo to a spell in Serie B. Having finished fourth last year, Chievo's fall was spectacular, and after six years among the elite, the club from a small neighbourhood of Verona containing just 2,430 inhabitants (compared to 4,732 season-ticket holders!) will join Messina and Ascoli in the second tier.

Totti, Italian goal king
The Italian season also witnessed a vigorous debate about the number of foreigners on the books of the big clubs, and whether their presence threatens the emergence of local talent. Inter, for example have 25 foreign players from ten different nations in a squad of 34, but a look at the list of top-scorers tells its own tale. The seven most prolific marksmen in Serie A were all Italian, in fact, with Romania's Adrian Mutu the highest-placed foreigner after firing 16 goals in 33 games for Fiorentina. In passing, it is also worth drawing attention to the feats of Reggina's Rolando Bianchi (18) and Nicola Amoruso (17), who together posted 35 of their team's 52 goals.

The player of the season was undoubtedly Francesco Totti, however, and the Roma captain led the way with 26 strikes, giving him an incredible average of a goal every 116 minutes: more than Andryi Shevchenko in 2003/04, when the Ukrainian netted 24 times. Having opted to spend a year away from the international scene to concentrate on his fitness and family, Totti now boasts 151 strikes in Serie A and 202 overall. At the other extreme of the scoring charts, Totti's old Azzurri team-mate Christian Vieri mustered two goals in seven games for Atalanta, earning himself 200,000 euros after offering to be paid according to his performances.

In total, Italian players accounted for 68 per cent of Serie A goals this season, ahead of Brazilians (6.8 per cent) and Argentinians (4.7 per cent), supporting the idea that the country still possesses a solid reservoir of talent and a bright future. But, then again, that should probably come as no surprise. After all, Italian football has reigned supreme on both the world and European stage in the past 12 months.