Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It has been many a fine year since a meeting between Juventus and Lazio meant anything as far as the title race was concerned.
Last season’s encounter was played out in the shadow of Ciro Ferrara’s sacking and ended in a 1-1 draw in Alberto Zaccheroni’s first game in what would prove to be a fruitless period in charge of Juventus. The Rome side were not in much better shape and finished the campaign with no indication that they would be in the top-four come the end of 2010.
Old friends Luigi Del Neri and Edy Reja have rejuvenated their respective clubs to such an extent that they are completely unrecognisable – and it has been the arrival of Milos Krasic that has helped galvanise the Old Lady of Turin.
The Serbian has made quite some impact since his summer arrival from CSKA Moscow and has become a more than worthy successor to Pavel Nedved - right down to the shaggy, blond hair and hunched running style. But what he really shares with the Czech legend is the ability to burn up full-backs and maintain perpetual motion until the final whistle.
And just like Nedved, he has learnt that falling over just for the sake of it will get you nowhere and instead staying on your feet especially inside the area brings results like this:
That last-gasp winner has put Juve firmly into a title chase that has all the makings of being one that will go right down to the wire.
It is not so much a change in personnel but rather a change in approach that has turned Lazio’s fortunes around, with Reja cutting his cloth accordingly by forming a razor-sharp counter-attacking style that has been the making of the Romans. However, as with Juve, there are still question marks over the full-back positions.
Napoli have an altogether different gripe, and that is that they cannot intice players from northern Europe to the club due to the bad press the city receives – with talk of crime and grime supposedly dissuading potential signings.
Marek Hamsik is from Slovakia and after leaving Brescia three years ago has settled into life amongst the Partenopei as effortlessly as a local, right down to apparently dogging traffic tickets with a shrug of the shoulders and a winning smile.
The man with the mohawk scored the only goal of the game at Genoa to send the Azzurri into dreamland – although sadly dreamland is probably the only place the league title will be making its way south for the first time since the Diego Maradona era.
A few hundred not-so-early birds turned up to welcome the team home on Saturday night and the Marassi stadium had a healthy travelling contingent supplemented by numerous “exiles” to ensure the occasion had a Cup feel about it although both sets of fans are longstanding Gemelli (twins) to always make it a festive affair, in the stands at least.
The stirring success on the pitch was achieved without the injured Ezequiel Lavezzi, leaving Edinson Cavani to lead the line, but Walter Mazzarri made sure that the striker was not left isolated and lacking support: Juan Zuniga was employed as the muscle ahead of the midfield platform which enabled Hamsik to torment the home defence at will.
The 23-year-old is extraordinarily gifted in every facet of his game and no doubt Maradona would have welcomed him with open arms into his scudetto team of a few decades ago.
A fifth away win of the campaign ensured the pressure was on Juventus and Lazio ahead of their Sunday evening meeting, but as for AC Milan they could put their feet up and enjoy the evening knowing that they would still be top of the heap going to into the final round of the year.
The lunchtime date at Bologna had called for diligent planning on the part of Massimiliano Allegri’s men, who had been tucking into a bowl of pasta at 9.30 and then tailoring their training around the 12.30 kick-off.
Armies cannot march on empty stomachs, as they say, and even before they had fully digested their Penne, the Rossoneri were out of sight at the Dall’Ara through Kevin-Prince Boateng and Robinho, with who else but Zlatan Ibrahimovic adding a third after the break.
Again the secret to the new recipe was using tried and trusted ingredients in a new way – and in this case it was employing Andrea Pirlo in a wide midfield role known as a mezz’ala from where he had more space to splay the ball around and where his deficiencies in the physical match-ups are at least masked.
It proved to be a tasty dish and the party were back on the high-speed train to Milan for an afternoon’s repose before enjoying their just desserts in the evening.
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