Straight from the dark heart of Italy
There once was a team called Inter – they were quite good, in fact, they used to dominate Italian football for about five years or so and even won the Champions League so they must have been pretty hot.
So, where did they disappear to? Apparently, they were in Rome on Friday, well it said Inter in all the newspapers and the television listings had them down to play Lazio in the Olympic stadium at 8.45pm local time – it was all there in black and white or pink and black depending which paper you read.
Anyone attending the match or subscribing to pay-per-view to watch the game from the comfort of their living room should be demanding their money back or least an explanation of why one of the teams failed to turn up.
Of course, Lazio fans were dancing into the wee hours of the damp night or grabbing another beer from the fridge to toast revenge for last season when it was their side who rolled over for the same opposition just to scupper any lingering chance of AS Roma winning the league.
Strangely, this time the Curva Nord were urging the Biancocelesti forward, rather than threatening their own players with physical harm, and enjoying every moment of the visitor’s humiliation.
In fact, the home team would have been even more morally corrupt this time around had they allowed the defending champions to leave the capital with anything other than their tails between the legs, and the evening was brought to the perfect close with the third goal from man-of-the-match Hernanes.
The match was brought forward so to help Inter better prepare for the FIFA World Club Cup, but before that do-or-die moment for Rafa Benitez there is still a vital Champions League tie at Werder Bremen to play.
If Inter return from Abu Dhabi empty-handed then Massimo Moratti will step up his bid to prise Pep Guardiola away from Barcelona, and in the meantime install either Walter Zenga or Diego Simoene as caretaker. There has been plenty of rye amusement that either of these two club greats could change things around sufficiently to make the idea of managing Inter even the slightest bit tempting for Guardiola to leave Spain for the pain in Milan.
Attempting to make up at least ten points on Milan in the New Year will stretch Inter’s resources to the limit, but for now it is the city cousins and Lazio looking forward to the winter break in rude health.
Here’s a little teaser to mull over – would Lazio be top of the table if they had Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading their attack instead of Sergio Floccari or Tommaso Rocchi?
There is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that a simple ‘yes’ would not be that wide of the mark.
Robinho has been pitching in with an ever-improving goal-tally, but with Pato forever injured it has been a rare sighting of another player finding the net apart from the big Swede.
It did occur in the demolition of Brescia on Saturday evening, but as was the case against Bari and Sampdoria, it was Zlat who set up the finish – on this occasion for Kevin Prince Boateng.
Of course, Ibra also left his mark on Brescia inside the half-hour mark with a finish that nearly ripped the net out.
Lazio have been relying more on their midfielders and defenders to ensure they find the back of the net – they have contributed eight goals so far this season (four from Hernanes) compared to four by their Milan equivalents.
Overall, there is little to choose between the two side’s current starting XIs: Mauro Zarate is a similar type of player to Robinho in that they are both supreme dribblers, and in midfield Hernanes, Christian Brocchi, Christian Ledesma and Stefano Mauro are a match for Andrea Pirlo, Rino Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini.
There is little difference between the two sets of full-backs and in the goalkeeping positions although you would have to say Milan win hands down in the centre of defence when comparing the classy Alessandro Nesta and Thaigo Silva to the more workmanlike Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias.
However, it is in attack where the real difference is telling – Ibra eight goals to go with all those assists, Floccari five goals which is not a bad return for an adequate frontman, but to win the title a team needs a world-class striker – Samuel Eto’o, David Trezeguet, Andriy Shevchenko, Gabriel Batistuta and of course Ibrahimovic stand testimony to that fact.
Talking of world-class strikers Adriano once promised to fall into such exulted company rather than the lunch-buffet which now seems to be the case.
There was some surprise to say the least when Claudio Ranieri decided to start the overweight Brazilian at Chievo, but the happy-go-lucky Roma coach probably thought that, seeing as the Bentegodi pitch resembled a beach after being churned up by some burly rugby-playing sorts a couple of weeks previously, the conditions were ideal for the striker to leave his mark.
Well, he certainly played like a beach-bum, although the heavy going at least meant that the Emperor did not look out of place labouring around in the sand pit.
The pitch at Verona has always been something of a barren patch and until yesterday evening Catania’s Massimino stadium had also been a bit of wasteland for visiting teams. The Sicilians had not lost at home for nearly a year but Juventus ended that proud record with a 3-1 victory.
Fabio Quagliarella scored twice but should really have had a hat-trick when the referee and his assistant failed to spot that a thunderous shot from the striker had crossed the well after coming down off the underside of the bar.
In the end, it made little difference as Juve consolidated third place and with Napoli and Palermo meeting this evening, the top of the table is beginning to take shape even if one familiar name is missing.
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