Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS Sat 13 Nov Fiorentina 1-0 Cesena, Juventus 1-1 Roma Sun 14 Nov Lazio 2-0 Napoli, Bari 0-1 Parma, Bologna 1-0 Brescia, Cagliari 0-1 Genoa, Palermo 3-1 Catania, Sampdoria 0-0 Chievo, Udinese 4-0 Lecce, Inter Milan 0-1 AC Milan
Mid-November and the first mists of early winter begin to hang over the country, but the league starts to take a clearer form – and with the top eight facing each other over the weekend, it seemed an appropriate moment to bring some order to the table.
AC Milan had displaced Lazio at the top of the table with Napoli leapfrogging Inter while Juventus and Roma loomed just outside the top four.
With the Milan derby, Juventus against AS Roma and the meeting between Lazio and Napoli there promised a mouthwatering weekend of drama, goals and no doubt contentious refereeing decisions.
And even if seventh-placed Sampdoria against eighth-placed Chievo held little for the appetite, a dash of some great football and sprinklings of individual skill made the weekend crackle and fizzle like a frying pan of pancetta.
Fifth-placed Juventus and sixth-placed AS Roma was more than just a tasty little appetiser and certainly got the juices flowing: always a grudge game, especially for the Romans, and this time with Claudio Ranieri still seething with rage over the way the Old Lady dumped him while Alberto Aquilani faced his old "family".
Such affairs need strong referees and looked as if Mr. Rizzoli was going to stand for no nonsense when he booked Jeremy Menez inside 40 seconds for a late lunge on Fabio Grosso.
However, moments later when Felipe Melo rattled into Francesco Totti, the yellow card remained firmly in the official’s pocket – which only encouraged the players to play on the edge of legality for the rest of the game.
Roma were better at maintaining possession because their players are more technically adroit, but Juve are a tenacious and obstinate bunch – apart from the nimble-footed Aquilani, whose cheeky nutmeg on Leandro Greco followed by defence-splitting cross set up Vincenzo Iaquinta for the opener.
Both sides were up in arms at the referee just before the break: first the visitors, when Giorgio Chiellini dived into a challenge on Philippe Mexes inside the area but play was waved on; then the home side surrounded the official after a penalty was given when Totti’s free-kick cannoned off Simone Pepe’s arm.
After dispatching the spot-kick for his first league goal of the season, Totti baited the home faces and a heated debate continued all the way down the tunnel.
Words were exchanged between the Giallorossi captain and Juve goalkeeper Marco Storari – the origins of which dated back to Storari witnessing Totti and his team-mate Daniel de Rossi verbally abusing the Sampdoria players after they had all but ended the Romans' title hopes last season.
The second half was even more blood and thunder, summed up perfectly by the image of Chiellini in the dying seconds with blood streaming down his face, after a collision with Mirko Vucinic, refusing to leave the pitch to receive treatment.
Sunday lunchtime served up more delectable fare in the sunshine of Rome's Olympic Stadium. Against Napoli, Lazio coach Edy Reja allowed Mauro Zarate to dish up a smorgasbord of delightful skills to fire the Biancocelesti back to the top of the table in a 2-0 win.
It was an important victory, especially after the derby and midweek defeat at Cesena – even if Zarate’s opener had the touch of handball about it as the Argentine raced on to a bouncing ball inside the area.
However, to be really sated only an evening feast of fancy footwork, flying tackles and Milanese artistry out on the lush greenery of the San Siro would suffice.
This being Inter v AC Milan, everyone was expecting Marco Materazzi to make one of his meaty challenges from behind on Zlatan Ibrahimovic early on. The veteran obliged but misjudged his position, which happened to be inside the penalty-area.
There was only ever going to be one man to take the spot-kick and how the big Swede must have enjoyed his former fans choking on their jeers when he stepped up to dispatch the ball firmly into the corner of the net. Revenge and cold dishes, as they say.
Injuries have dogged Inter all season, but the latest seemed to help them get back in the game. When Joel Obi limped off with Esteban Cambiasso stripped off and ready to come on, Rafa Benitez changed tack and chose Philippe Coutinho. With Dejan Stankovic moved inside and the young Brazilian playing wide right, the Nerazzurri were potentially more of a threat – although you would never have known it with barely a shot troubling Christian Abbiati.
Another substitute Goran Pandev, on for another limper Diego Milito, attempted a different approach when he wound Ignazio Abate up by shoving the full-back to the ground.
The Milan man fell for it, so to speak, raising his hands to his opponent's face and receiving a second yellow card. Tellingly, the reckless Abate was just about to be substituted which brought back memories of Rino Gattuso seeing red last year moments before his number was about to come up.
Ibra’s martial arts skills came in handy when he attempted to tear a lump out of Materazzi (shades of Zinedine Zidane, but with the boot rather than the head) and as the Inter man was stretchered out of the stadium you just knew the after-dinner drinks were off.
Also off the menu was any further meaningful football as a fully satisfied 10-man Milan closed up shop for the evening while the Inter players wandered around the edge of the opposition area waiting for the referee to call time on their depressing evening.
So having gorged on a marathon two-day pig-out of Serie A’s finest offerings the conclusion is that no one course was the meal of champions although Inter’s days at the top table looks finally over.
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