Good things do happen in Serie A. In the midst of all the skulduggery, mud-slinging and matches awarded without a ball being kicked it can be easy to lose sight of them. A midweek round of matches turned out to be like watching a video of your daughter’s first school show – it put a smile back on the face.
The first uplifting experience was the often festering fixture between Fiorentina and Juventus. In years gone by the match has regularly been a more terrifying experience than being trapped in a lift with Facundo Roncaglia. This time around it proved as refreshing as an ice-cold spritzer on a searing hot summer’s day.
Before the Juventini out there start sharpening their keyboards, it wasn’t just about the result. Being held to a draw – and occasionally outplayed – did throw open the championship once again which will have been welcomed by every neutral and, of course, the Bianconeri’s main rivals. But much more pleasing were some of the side-orders served up with the match.
A packed Stadio Artemio Franchi provided the kind of backdrop to an Italian League match which has become rarer than a week without injury for Alexandre Pato. The choreography before kick-off was spectacular and the atmosphere throughout the clash intense but never nasty. Even after such a test of their resolve, it seemed the Juve players had relished the battle.
“The Florentine public backed their team with their usual passion and our fans turned out too, as they always do,” said Gianluigi Buffon. “There was no trouble. These rivalries have been around for years, but they give extra spice to these matches as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.”
The beneficiaries of Juve’s brief comfort break on a journey they still hope will take them to the Scudetto were Napoli. Yet their resounding triumph at a mercifully sand-free San Paolo might not have happened but for another pleasing moment. The honesty of Miroslav Klose paved the way for their triumph.
In truth, the German striker seemed to take a leaf out of the Buffon guidebook to dealing with such incidents. He looked happy enough to celebrate his handball goal which appeared to have given Lazio the lead early in the match. However, when questioned by the referee he did the decent thing and admitted the strike should not stand. After that the Roman side switched off and Edinson Cavani took centre stage. He grabbed a hat-trick, although the penalty he missed to make it four may well still be spotted in orbit over the Gulf of Naples.
And in Rome, too, there were beaming smiles for the 36 today Francesco Totti. His strike against Sampdoria took him to 216 goals in Serie A alongside a legend like Jose Altafini on the all time list. His only regret will have been that, for a Giallorosso side which still seems to like to self-harm, it was not enough to win the match. The more malign might say Roma’s best result so far has been the one where they never set foot on the pitch.
There was even reason to be happy on the two slow-starting sides of Milan with victories for both the Rossoneri and Nerazzurri. The boys in red and black may no longer have Zlatan Ibrahimovic to resolve matches, but they now have Stephen El Shaarawy. That might not please all their supporters, but his neat double to down Cagliari was good news for Max Allegri and, undoubtedly, Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli.
“It was difficult for us to play well with such a lot of tension,” admitted Milan assistant Coach Mauro Tassotti. “Stephan is getting more confident and he is playing well. He does a good job for us and works hard. He is helping us out a lot, even though he is very young.”
Inter enjoyed the same scoreline in Verona in another match where the result was more important than the performance. Alvaro Pereira looked marginally offside when he put the visitors in front at the Bentegodi, but it certainly eased the nerves of a side still struggling to find its identity. It also convinced Andrea Stramaccioni that his new 3-5-1-1 formation is the way ahead.
“It was important for us to get back to winning after the dramatic defeat at the weekend,” he said. “This is the best way to use the players I have got just now. It allows us to cover the pitch and gets the best out of my team.”
Some things, of course, will never change. In Genoa, Marco Borriello won and converted the softest of penalties to deny Parma all the points. Maybe one day Serie A won’t see referees point to the spot for the most minimal of contact – we can but dream. However, overall we should enjoy all the bright spots the latest matches provided. After all, Zeman’s Roma face Juventus this weekend – so we know all the good feelings will never last.