Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It is no wonder Juventus crave Edinson Cavani more than any other player on the planet – and that includes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Serie A league leaders were expected to start 2013 as they had ended 2012, with a continuation of their relentless charge towards another scudetto.
Instead, they came unstuck at home to a Sampdoria side who had played almost an hour of the game with ten men after Gaetano Berardi was sent-off on 32 minutes. At that stage, Antonio Conte’s side were already a goal up and seemingly cruising to a routine three points.
However, they were stung by two second-half goals from former Barcelona youth striker Mauro Icardi, in what was only the second defeat the reigning champions have suffered at their Juventus Stadium.
By the end of what had been a very sluggish performance in every department, Conte had run through every permutation in attack, but all to no avail.
Things would no doubt have been rather different had El Matador been the one attempting to cut through the visitors’ defence instead of Alessandro Matri, who spent much of the game charging into defenders like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Conte was left to lament the fact a team that had broken records with their league form last year were not quite as invincible as had been made out.
Looking further ahead to a decisive two months, Champions League opponents Celtic will have noted that Juve are susceptible to the quick counter-attack, as Samp demonstrated with their two goals.
Matri, Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco all failed to hit the target from open play – although the latter did manage to convert from the penalty spot. Fabio Quagliarella, meanwhile, proved he is a provider of chances rather a taker of them - unless they happen to be the spectacular variety.
How Cavani would thrive off the interplay of Quagliarella, Vucinic and even the at times wasteful Giovinco is anyone’s guess, but on Sunday evening the Napoli frontman demonstrated why some consider him the most deadly out-and-out striker in Europe.
A stunning hat-trick from the Uruguayan sent AS Roma reeling back to the Capital on the end of a 4-1 defeat, and fired the Partenopei into third place and back within striking distance of Juventus in the process.
Each of the three goals came in a different manner – the first after just four minutes was a stabbed finish on the end of a neat through-ball from Goran Pandev; the second was a mishit effort from close range two minutes after the break, and the third a downward header at the near post following a corner.
He could have had a fourth and perhaps even a fifth late on, but was adjudged offside as he slammed home the ball, with Giallorossi goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechia managing to divert the ball off the long-haired terror’s foot as he raced through into the penalty area shortly after.
At the final whistle, the referee did not even bother to collect the ball; he knew to whom it belonged.
The hat-trick took Cavani’s goal-tally to eight goals in 11 meetings with the Romans and he now is a goal away from a century in Serie A. He had been no slouch last year, netting 43 goals - 27 of which came in the league - and already he has reached 16 in this domestic campaign. Juve’s frontline have 19 combined.
It is intriguing to ponder how he would match up to Messi, Ronaldo and Radamel Falcao had a move to La Liga ever materialized, and Cavani’s most-recent goalscoring feat will once again reverberate around Europe.
Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis has claimed to have already rejected a €55 million offer from Manchester City.
That amount will no doubt increase in the summer, because for now Cavani has unfinished business in Naples. He has set his sights on emulating Diego Maradona, who remains the only Napoli player to finish the season as the league’s leading goalscorer. Then, of course, there is the small matter of the two Serie A title wins Maradona inspired in 1987 and 1990, when the Argentine was at the peak of his powers.
Cavani is only 25 and the way he is performing now suggests a Capocannoniere crown and a league title are well within his reach: Juventus will have taken note.
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