Straight from the dark heart of Italy
There is never a dull moment in Italian football, and after just three rounds of the season, Serie A is turning into one of the most unpredictable for years.
Early pacesetters Juventus and Napoli both came up short in midweek, with the Old Lady getting into a frustrating 90 minutes of futile body-bumping with Bologna to drop two points at home. A Juve fan took advantage of the stands being so close to the pitch by attempting to grab Bologna’s Marco Di Vaio by the hair – fortunately for the visiting striker, he is shaven up top.
Napoli lost to Chievo at their bogey ground, the Benegodi Stadium in Verona. The disappointing result was thanks in part to coach Walter Mazzarri’s desire to show off just how big his squad is this year, making seven changes to the starting line-up that had defeated AC Milan at the weekend.
Champions Milan, for their part, were held at home by Udinese. Their worrying injury problems deepened, too, when Alexandre Pato limped off 20 minutes into the game with another muscular problem – his eighth in two years – although he looked happy enough in the VIP area at half-time. He should be fit enough to jump on a flight to Brazil, anyway, for a bit of R&R with Barbara Berlusconi during his month-long recovery period.
AS Roma are still without a win, and where there had been applause after the home defeat to Cagliari there were only whistles inside the Olympic Stadium at the end of a deflating 1-1 draw with Siena on Thursday evening.
Luis Enrique has set out a game plan more complex than the Matrix, which left the home players a lot more confused than the opposition, whose counter-attacking will be the blueprint to frustrate Roma’s tippy-tappy approach. The only way Enrique’s side are ever going to score, it seems, is by walking the ball into the back of the net.
Patience may be wearing thin in the stands but the club’s American owners will not be rushed into changing the man on the bench – which, predictably enough, was what Massimo Moratti did on Tuesday night after Inter’s humiliating defeat at newly-promoted Novara. Indeed, the sacking of Gian Piero Gasperini was the only development which was widely expected in an otherwise irregular week.
Gasperini may as well have headed back towards former club Genoa rather than stopping off at Novara’s Silvio Piola Stadium, such was his influence over team affairs, but at least now Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso have a new vice-coach: Claudio Ranieri.
Yes, the man to rescue lost causes is back on a two-year deal that few expect the approachable Roman to see through – not if Moratti can finally persuade Fabio Capello to take one more tilt at club glory next summer.
In the meantime, Ranieri will be expected to do what he does best and bring some stability to the team, and maybe even get them close to a honour, but in the end if his past record is anything to go by – no cigar.
It won’t be so much tinkering but rather tailoring the team to their strengths, which will mean kicking the three-man defence into touch. No doubt there were whoops of delight during the first session when that news was delivered.
There might even be a smile on Wesley Sneijder’s face: the Dutch midfielder has still been the team’s best player despite being forced to play closer to his own area than the opposition goal, but you can bet that he will no longer have that thousand-yard stare, or have to run that far, from now on.
Ranieri took his first session on Thursday afternoon, and only has today to listen to what Zanetti and Cambiasso want to do before the team faces Bologna on Saturday. In all seriousness, though, he will have to get his dressing room strategy as spot on as his on-field tactics.
He got on the wrong side of Alessandro Del Piero at Juventus, which cost him his job despite a third-place finish on the club’s return to the top flight after Calciopoli and the same position going into the final three games the following year.
Demoting Francesco Totti to the bench on a few occasions led to a toxic atmosphere within the Roma squad, where there could only be one winner. Now, at the ripe old age of 59, Ranieri is back on the bus attempting to turn a club on the road to nowhere at least back onto the right track.
1) Pride comes before a fall for promoted clubs Last weekend all three Premier League newbies won their
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