Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS: Sun Nov 22 Juventus 1-0 Udinese, Livorno 2-1 Genoa, Sampdoria 2-1 Chievo, Napoli 0-0 Lazio, Siena 0-2 Atalanta, AS Roma 3-1 Bari, Palermo 1-1 Catania, AC Milan 4-3 Cagliari. Sat Nov 21 Fiorentina 2-3 Parma, Bologna 1-3 Internazionale
Italy’s four representatives are handily placed to ensure that Serie A will have their full complement of teams through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
However, at a crucial stage with two games remaining, all four need to hold their nerve – and that may be the undoing of Fiorentina.
The Viola were taught a lesson at home to Parma at the weekend: sometimes it's better to settle for what you have rather than go hell for leather for the winner.
Having gone ahead twice through the impressive Alberto Gilardino – surely the new Filippo Inzaghi, minus the diving and put-upon expression – they were pegged back on both occasions before being drawn into the visitors' defensive web to be hit on the counter-attack.
Expectations are high in Florence, with the city decked out in purple for the game against Lyon – who are the past masters of pouring cold water on any celebration.
It will be the biggest test of Cesare Prandelli’s managerial career so far; without possibly Stevan Jovetic and definitely Adrian Mutu, the coach needs the less well-known players to remain composed against dangerous opponents.
No such stage fright should befall Inter - and ‘Bring on Barcelona’ would have been the chant on the team coach on the way back from Bologna on Saturday evening.
Jose Mourinho’s men had just the sort of run-out they would have desired before the more demanding surroundings of the Nou Camp.
The Portuguese knows those surroundings very well and he will have to ensure the mental attitude of his players is iron-set on not conceding any advantage to the Catalans.
Maicon is the weak link when it comes to psychological preparation, as witnessed by his needless sending-off at Bologna for a foul-mouthed rant at the referee’s assistant in injury-time.
The Brazilian’s phlegm-filled outburst may land him with a two or three-game ban; even a two-gamer would rule the full-back out of the Juventus showdown on Saturday December 5.
Mario Balotelli is another player of questionable temperament.
Although he had a decent outing at Bologna, the teenager couldn't last more than 45 minutes before picking up a booking for a petulant trip.
As usual, his coach had the last word and the youngster did not return after the break as the Nerazzurri ran amok through a Bologna side that typifies the dearth of talent in the lower reaches of the league table.
However, Inter on the whole seem to have found some measure of a state of grace and will be further buoyed by reports of swine flu in the Barca camp, along with an ailing Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
AC Milan have been playing mind games with themselves: Leonardo has highlighted how much he admires Tele Santana’s Brazil side of 1982 – all that attacking flair and sun on their backs.
Certainly, Leo’s Rossoneri of 2009 are playing pleasing football going forward – but possess similar failings to Brazil ’82 at the back.
When there's no Alessandro Nesta marshalling the defence - as was the case yesterday - then the cover, in the shape of Kakha Kaladze, leaves something to be desired.
With Cagliari scoring three and remembering what happened against FC Zurich, Milan will no doubt be more guarded in their approach to Marseille.
Juventus will also be calling on their European experience to close out their qualification at Bordeaux.
Juve haven't conceded a goal since playing the French side on Matchday 1 and a 1-0 to the Old Lady would be just the ticket – like on Sunday night, in fact.
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The new Inzaghi without the diving?!?! Mr Gilardino is guilty of one of the worst dives i've ever seen, I'm sure celtic fans will remember....
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