Straight from the dark heart of Italy
The last round of midweek games of this season was all about bruised egos and bloodied noses.
AC Milan were the first team to run into a brick wall on Tuesday - or more precisely a very robust Lazio side whose beanpole striker Libor Kozàk dispatched Daniele Bonera and Nicola Legrottaglie to hospital, having rearranged both central defenders’ facial features (see the below video for his crack at Legrottaglie).
Lazio coach Edy Reja had obviously watched a re-run of AS Roma’s win at the San Siro against the leaders at the end of the year, and it was another Roman rearguard action without the subtleties going forward demonstrated by the Giallorossi.
The goalless scoreline and the carnage inflicted by Kozàk’s flailing limbs had the chasing pack smelling blood when all but one of the remaining fixtures took place 24 hours later.
Of course, when chucked this bone, Napoli and AS Roma sniffed at it, turned tails and scarpered off in the opposite direction. Were they not hungry enough for the big prize against, in all honesty, less intimidating opponents than Lazio’s heavies?
Napoli could have closed the gap at the top to just two points with a win at Chievo, but found themselves two-nil down ten minutes into the second half and staring despondently into the misty northern Italian night.
Once again the Neapolitans suffered a nose bleed north of Tuscany and while the Flying Donkeys have become something of a bête noir, having won at the San Paolo as well this season, AS Roma must be equally sick of the sight of Brescia.
Having lost at the Rigamonti where the Romans cited - surprise, surprise - refereeing bias, one would have thought the sweet scent of revenge would be in the air in the Capital, but instead it seemed Claudio Ranieri had been dishing out calamine tea instead of raw meat during his pre-match pep-talk.
No matter who the opposition – in this case the second-bottom side in the league who had lost nine of their last 12 games, just sacked coach Mario Beretta and brought back Giuseppe Iachini who had been shown the door in December – if you don’t actually create any decent openings going forward, you can’t expect to have much joy.
Brescia’s tactic was simple enough – pack the midfield and play one-man upfront. Roma responded by bulldozing down the congested centre of the pitch or disappearing into cul-de-sacs along the touchline.
Only the introduction of Jeremy Menez and Mirko Vucinic - the latter finally awakening from his evening nap - produced anything approaching the flair and verve we have come to expect at the Olympic stadium.
In the end it was all too sloppy and, having equalised, the visitors could have grabbed a winner in added-time when Davide Lanzafame hit the bar.
Juventus must feel like hitting themselves over the head just to make sure they are not living a never-ending nightmare - one in which they are falling off a cliff only to wake up in a cold sweat having plummeted to the bedroom floor.
The Vecchia Signora are thus in freefall: two-down in twenty minutes at Palermo and only the denial of a stonewall penalty when Cesare Bovo handled could jolt Juve out of their slumber, with Claudio Marchisio scoring soon afterwards to raise some hope of a comeback.
Unfortunately, Alessandro Matri fluffed his lines not once, but twice as the new signing caught Amauritus - missing exactly the kind of chances you pay good money for your principle striker to tuck away.
Now out of the running for a European place completely and with little to clutch on to, the club have resorted to a familiar defence – ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.’
Juve still believe they are paying for the shady deeds of the recent past, and referees - they seem to be claiming - are at the head of a much-wider witch-hunt. They have therefore demanded the suspension of Wednesday’s official Emidio Morganti, who Gigi Del Neri claimed was ‘in no fit state to referee.’
One solitary victory in the last seven league games suggests perhaps someone isn’t fit to coach.
Overall, it was one step forward, two steps back in the title chase and we all know whose corner we would like to be in at the moment – Inter can go joint third with a win at bottom side Bari this evening.
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