There was a time when you could have guaranteed that Italy’s key games would produce drama and controversy, but probably not a lot of goals. Trepidation, tactics and tension often meant that the chances to find the net were few and far between. But that rule was rewritten over a weekend where five fundamental fixtures produced a phenomenal 27 goals.
Juve showed on Saturday night that a midweek trouncing of Nordsjaelland had not got rid of the bitter taste of Derby d’Italia defeat and took out the remainder of their bad mood on Pescara. The last time the two sides met at the Stadio Adriatico in Serie A nearly 20 years ago it ended in a 5-1 home victory but this time the Bianconeri went one better for ample revenge. Fabio Quagliarella capped a hat-trick with a wonderful overhead kick that was the kind of spectacular strike he has made his trademark over the years.
The writing was on the wall early for Giovanni Stroppa and company against a side which must have had Antonio Conte grinning in his TV commentary booth viewing post. Leaving Andrea Pirlo and Sebastian Giovinco free to weave their magic was a recipe for a disaster which duly arrived. In the end, it was a blessing for the home team that they only lost half a dozen goals.
That game served as a one-sided appetiser for Sunday afternoon’s Rome derby in a soggy Stadio Olimpico. Both teams desperately needed a win to give greater sense to their season. It would be the Giallorossi who would fizzle out like a Zdenek Zeman cigarette tossed carelessly into a puddle.
Roma are fast becoming a betting man’s favourite team. You can be sure Erik Lamela will score – he has done it six League games in a row. You can be almost certain both teams will find the net – the only time it hasn’t happened was against Atalanta and in the Cagliari match awarded 3-0 by the authorities. And, unfortunately for them, they are also getting expert at throwing away a lead.
All three happened in a derby which had more sub-plots than the most intricate Scandinavian thriller. There was Antonio Candreva – once maligned by his own fans for his supposed Roma sympathies – belting home the goal which got Lazio back into the match. Then Daniele De Rossi, clearly not fancying a midweek call-up from Cesare Prandelli, got himself sent off to become a victim of the Azzurri’s ethical code. Finally, there was a dose of redemption for Stefano Mauri, grabbing a vital goal after being arrested and then freed as part of the Calcioscommesse match-rigging investigation earlier this year.
Vlad Petkovic, who donned a baseball cap in the Roman downpour, also saw his team adapt best to the testing conditions. “This was a tough game but we had a good feeling about it,” he said. “I had to keep the players calm before the match as losing 4-0 to Catania and playing the derby were motivation enough. Even when we went 1-0 down the boys did well to keep cool and wait their moment.”
His opposite number played the same cards he has been showing all season. The trouble is, it is starting to feel more and more like he might be bluffing. “We played for as long as there was a pitch you could play football on, but with so much water the team stopped,” said Zeman. “We can’t play a long ball game like our opponents. But our championship is not over, you said that about Inter after two games and now they are right up there. We have lost games through stupid mistakes or bad luck, I am waiting for luck to turn our way.”
Max Allegri is another man waiting for a change of fortunes but it did not happen against four-wins-in-a-row Fiorentina. Alberto Aquilani opened the scoring for the Viola in their 3-1 victory and, in the process, surely won the award for the most outrageously respectful non-celebration of a goal in history. A season on loan at the San Siro – where he featured in little more than half their games – was enough to see him put a lid on his delight. At this rate, even being a non-playing substitute at a club will soon be enough to stop a player showing his joy when he finds the net.
There was no such restraint from Borja Valero and Mounir El Hamdaoui over their first Serie A goals which helped down the Rossoneri. In the process, they forced the Viola into the open as a genuine contender for a top three finish along with Napoli and Lazio. The jeers of the home side’s support underlined what they think of this Milan team at the moment.
Vincenzo Montella said afterwards he admired the maturity shown by a side almost completely overhauled in the summer. “Maybe we are less spectacular than we were at the start of the season but we are a lot more clinical,” he commented. The drab days under Sinisa Mihajlovic seem a distant memory.
Milan’s gloom shows no sign of lifting, however. An Alexandre Pato penalty sent flying into his own supporters was a symbol of their situation. Their quality and confidence is falling faster than Felix Baumgartner tumbling to earth.
Showing the importance of keeping your stars were Napoli, as two of their three tenors of recent years – Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik – helped them turn around a tricky tie away to Genoa. That the heir to Ezequiel Lavezzi’s third slot in that trio, Lorenzo Insigne, also pinched a goal should be lost on nobody. It provoked the first tongue-out goal celebration seen since Alex Del Piero caught the plane to Sydney.
Finishing the goal-crazy weekend were Inter. They went to Bergamo needing a win to keep up the pressure on Juve and came away empty handed. There were recriminations over a penalty which ultimately sealed a 3-2 triumph for the home side, but the makeshift Milanese did not perform as they had when they downed the Bianconeri. But in this season where defences seem to be in disarray, they should get more than enough chances to make up for it.