If anyone wanted proof that Napoli have matured into genuine Scudetto contenders, then they got their response on Sunday night. Atalanta were the only side to do the Serie A double over them last season and history seemed to be repeating itself when Bryan Cristante nodded in a corner – when will Maurizio Sarri sort out their defending from set plays?! – to stun the Stadio San Paolo. A few months ago, there is no way Napoli would’ve come back from that, but this is not the same team. It took a Piotr Zielinski stunner on the half-volley that nearly broke the net to get them on level terms, but the belief is what made the difference.
It seemed like madness to see Pepe Reina holding back tears as he waved to the fans, perhaps for the final time. Just as Napoli have finally found the path to greatness, he’s ready to abandon it for a spot on the Paris Saint-Germain bench? Everyone knows a trophy win in Naples is worth five elsewhere, because the party would be going on for a decade. If they did it playing this kind of scintillating football, even more so. Unfortunately there are some things about the Azzurri that don’t change – the tendency to create their own problems with unnecessary drama. Aurelio De Laurentiis, just give the man a new contract.
Juventus also showed how much they’ve changed, as going 2-0 down at Marassi brought back memories of last season’s crushing defeat. Granted, it is not the same Genoa either and they were dealing with an injury crisis too, but Paulo Dybala consolidated his status as a leader, even at his tender age. The Number 10 jersey is in good hands.
His Argentina international teammate Mauro Icardi might’ve seemed an odd choice for the captain’s armband at Inter, but he too is turning into a general leading his troops to their first Olimpico triumph since 2008. Roma evidently used up their reserves of good fortune in last week’s victory over Atalanta, because it’s no mean feat to rattle the woodwork three times in one game. Icardi proved when you are that good a hitman, only half a chance is enough to do damage. One can only imagine the goals he’s going to score when Luciano Spalletti’s side start providing more decent service with proper full-backs.
The old Milan would’ve crumbled against an aggressive Cagliari, but Suso stepped up with an assist and free kick to ensure they overcame their first genuine test of the season. If the Rossoneri thought they’d steamroller all before them on star power alone, this hopefully provided a wake-up call. You need the determination and resilience shown by Spal and Lazio to keep believing until the final whistle.
Fiorentina are going to need Big Ben ringing non-stop to wake them up after another defeat. Nenad Tomovic had a nightmare – again – and once more their decent second half performance was not enough to make up for a disastrous first period. The Viola started late on the transfer market and are carrying that through to their games as well.
I wrote before the season began that VAR would create more controversy and conspiracy theories in Serie A, so it was no surprise to see that coming to pass this weekend. It took far too long – a good four minutes for Manuel Lazzari to be awarded the Spal goal after it was initially disallowed – and was not used consistently. It’s inexplicable how the challenge on Diego Perotti, when Roma were still 1-0 up, was not even examined. This is precisely the kind of situation video assistant referees were introduced for.
At Marassi we had the nadir of two penalties awarded using VAR, neither of which should’ve been given. They were so busy looking at the foul on Andrej Galabinov that they forgot to check if he was offside first. Mario Mandzukic kicked the ball on to a Genoa defender’s arm from point-blank range, so I fail to see how that could be considered a voluntary handling offence. It was amusing to register the reactions from the usual moaners on social media during that game. Juventus have a second consecutive penalty awarded against them using VAR: ‘At last, they won’t be able to get away with anything anymore!’ The Bianconeri receive a spot-kick: ‘Ah, the usual cheats, they always get away with it.’ Have some consistency, please.
Torino were robbed of a win last week due to misuse of VAR, but there was no denying the glory of Andrea Belotti’s scissor-kick volley. In one deft movement, he scrapped a run of editorials asking if the €100m price-tag was excessive. In today’s market, it’s more than reasonable. I hope Il Gallo stays at Toro, at least for this World Cup year, because we’ve seen what happened to Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci when leaving too soon for pastures unknown.