Straight from the dark heart of Italy
After a week's media blackout from a club convinced there is a plot to stop them returning to the summit of the Italian game, Juventus locked away their conspiracy theories to turn in a dominant performance at Fiorentina.
The 5-0 trouncing of the feeble Viola, who played 70 minutes with 10 men after Alessio Cerci booted Paolo De Ceglie off the ball, was the Bianconeri’s highest score of the season and came after four consecutive draws had handed the advantage to AC Milan at the top of the table.
RESULTS Sat 17 Mar Parma 0-2 Milan; Fiorentina 0-5 Juventus Sun 18 Mar Cagliari 3-0 Cesena; Internazionale 0-0 Atalanta; Bologna 2-2 Chievo; Catania 1-0 Lazio; Siena 0-2 Novara; Lecce 1-1 Palermo; Udinese 2-2 Napoli Mon 19 Mar Roma v Genoa (ko 1945)
The feeling is that even if Antonio Conte’s men let their football doing the talking, the title is still Milan’s to lose – and the way the champions are going about picking off opponents, that four-point lead might as well be 10.
However, it was pleasing to see the Bianconeri enjoying themselves and especially the goal celebrations between Artur Vidal and Leonardo Bonucci who re-enacted their supposed punch-up at a nightclub following last week’s draw at Genoa.
Conte watches his men get physical
Having scored just three goals in the last four games, they managed five from just seven shots on target. Such clinical finishing was built around the mercurial talents of Mirko Vucinic, who opened the scoring with a stunning strike from the edge of the area.
Since his €15 million summer move from AS Roma, Vucinic has struggled to justify his price tag – but the Montenegrin finally broke loose of the malaise that has been hanging over his game, displaying the masterclass of movement, passing and general forward play that his coach had been demanding.
Setting up Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo – the latter dedicating the win to Fabrice Muamba – Vucinic was reminiscent of the reason why Milan take to the pitch in such confident manner: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Like the Swede, Vucinic can be unstoppable when he decides to turn it on and he's just as adroit at taking up positions from which he can play his midfielders into goal-scoring positions, as demonstrated at the Artemio Franchi.
Only fifth goal-scorer Simone Padoin wasn't a recipient of a pinpoint delivery – and probably only because Vucinic had left to a standing ovation, his work well and truly done.
Conte knew his side needed to make a major statement on the pitch after Milan had strolled to a routine 2-0 win at Parma, although there were the now-typical complaints that a Rossoneri goal shouldn't have stood after Urby Emanuelson raced through from the halfway line and almost right through Ibra, who was trotting back from an offside position although adjudged not to be interfering with play.
Silvio Berlusconi was in the stands for his first away match in 18 years, but whether the returning president will be present at the Juventus Stadium on Tuesday evening is another matter.
The Italian Cup semi-final return leg has been given even more significance, coming at such a crucial stage of the season with relations between the clubs at an all-time low.
In order to progress, Milan must become the first team to defeat Juventus this season – and by two goals, considering the Old Lady's 2-1 win at the San Siro last month – which would make the encounter more than a sideshow to the title race.
However, it could end up being the highlight of the campaign for Juve if they can keep their 100% record intact.
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