The roar of the San Siro was unmistakable. At a moment when nothing much was happening on the pitch, it could only mean that Inter’s city rivals Milan had slipped behind. By full time, however, followers of the Nerazzurri had little cause for celebration themselves.
Se Atene piange, Sparta non ride – If Athens is weeping, Sparta is not laughing – is an old Italian proverb and rarely was it more appropriate. These two historic opponents might take great pleasure in each other’s misfortune but, for the time being, neither of them has much to smile about. It has been a while since the pair started out a season so poorly.
It would be hard to say who suffered a more miserable weekend. Inter contrived to lose at home to rock-bottom Siena who still sit on minus points having yet to wipe out their pre-season penalty. At the same time, Milan were down to nine men as they slumped to defeat against an Udinese side which was without a League win all season.
Results contrived to leave the Nerazzurri in a comparatively healthy League position, but the Rossoneri hover precariously above the relegation zone. It is Max Allegri who is feeling the most heat – especially after the words every Coach hates to hear. The vote of confidence.
“I have faith in Allegri and so does President Silvio Berlusconi,” insisted Adriano Galliani, probably while consulting his contacts list for potential replacements. And his follow up words had a more ominous ring. “I expect our first home win on Wednesday, even if San Siro seems cursed for ourselves and Inter this year,” he added.
In the blue and black half of the city, it was up to Andrea Stramaccioni to back himself. “It was a bad defeat and it hurt,” he admitted. “But I’m the captain of this ship and we can’t lose faith. We can’t give up an inch, we have got to work together to turn this slip-up into something positive.”
Amused bystanders to all the depression and disaster for the Milanese giants have been Juventus. They continued their serene progress towards Scudetto number 29 – 31 if you are Bianconero, 23 if you are Zdenek Zeman – with a comfortable win over Chievo. It was a game which confirmed their happy knack of riding the hot-streak of an in-form forward.
Fabio Quagliarella is the man of the moment right now. He grabbed a vital equaliser at Stamford Bridge midweek and followed it up with a couple of strikes at the weekend. Suddenly, from almost indifferent silence, the Juve faithful have been singing about how their hearts beat faster every time they see him.
He is just the latest in a long line of match-winners who have flitted in and out of the forward line under Antonio Conte and alter ego Massimo Carrera. Like an expert lock-picker, they always seem to know the right man to break down any particular defence. It has meant, at least so far, that joining Fiorentina on the long list of clubs to be snubbed by Dimitar Berbatov has not mattered a jot.
Last season it was Alex Del Piero who languished on the sidelines before bursting into life to play a vital part in the key, closing Scudetto clashes. Alessandro Matri, too, was the kingpin on countless occasions in the title run but has become a bit part player. And now Quagliarella is enjoying his moment in the sun.
None of Juve’s forward players this year look like the kind of men you could count on for 20 goals a season but maybe it doesn’t matter. Mirko Vucinic is probably the most complete player, but he must have Conte pulling his recently replenished hair out at times. Sebastian Giovinco has looked unplayable on occasions in Serie A but was smothered in a giant blue blanket against Chelsea in the Champions League. Nicklas Bendtner has, so far, been little more than an interested spectator – at least until he gets into the kind of shape the club is happy with.
And Juve’s power to put a jinx on their rivals has not stopped at their historic Milanese adversaries. Napoli were unable to find a way past 10 man Catania to forfeit their 100 per cent League record. Then, in the evening, their old striker Marco Borriello gunned down Lazio just as the exiled Amauri helped to kill off Milan’s title hopes last year.
Those were the footballing headlines from a round of matches in which much of the media attention was sadly dominated by the farcical goings-on in Sardinia. Having urged his fans to turn out to a game which was supposed to go on behind closed doors, Cagliari chief Massimo Cellino brought an embarrassing situation for Italian football to a head. As a result, their match was called off by the authorities and Roma were quick to claim a 3-0 win should be awarded with three points coming their way.
The position of the island outfit has been a painful one for too long. With their own Sant’Elia Stadium unfit for purpose, they registered the Stadio Nereo Rocco, hundreds of miles away in Trieste, as their home ground. The trouble was, it produced the kind of atmosphere that might have only had Zen Buddhists happy – the sound of one fan clapping.
They thought they had come up with a solution closer to home, playing at the Is Arenas, but could not get the necessary safety approval to allow supporters into the matches. That prompted Cellino to take his provocative stance and cause yet more red faces about the state of Serie A. In the eyes of the football world, the Italian game looks more ridiculous than one of Borriello’s haircuts.
It could be a while before the situation is sorted and the longer it drags on, the less favours it does the world of calcio. A League that has started to feel like a European backwater, risks becoming a laughing stock. The only sides who might be happy about the situation in their current form are Milan and Inter. If Cagliari continue in their current stance, Sardinia might deliver them both a very welcome three points without even having to play a match.