In ice hockey, they understand the importance of the power play. Numerical superiority over your opponents is something to be exploited to your advantage. It is a lesson that is clearly catching on among the big hitters of Italian football.
Nowhere was that story more stark than in the unforgiving surroundings of the Juventus Stadium. For a little more than half an hour Torino held their own in a gripping Derby della Mole until Kamil Glik intervened on Emanuele Giaccherini’s ankle. He did get some of the ball, but seemed to catch much more of his opponent’s leg. The replays made for more painful viewing than a box set of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
From that point on, the Granata ceased to be a factor in the game. Their agony was only prolonged by an Andrea Pirlo penalty which got no closer to the goal than a razor blade does to his chin these days. There were times when you wanted to put your arms round the whole Torino team, as if they were a boxer, to spare them further suffering.
Goals from the boys of the Juve youth set-up, a Claudio Marchisio double and a critic-silencer from Sebastian Giovinco, eventually put their city rivals on the canvas. It was an important tonic for the Bianconeri, who were ruthless in their exploitation of their man advantage. Even if, as I cruelly suggested on Twitter, the introduction of Nicklas Bendtner did its best to even things up.
Stand-in boss Angelo Alessio looked almost relieved at the end of the game that his spell on the Bianconeri front line is almost over. He is not a natural in front of the cameras and gives the impression he will gladly give way to Antonio Conte when he returns after his ban as part of match-betting investigations. If nothing else, it should definitely liven up post-match interviews.
As for Toro, they were left to wonder what might have been. They had more than held their own until Glik saw red. Their fans were defiant at the final whistle and the club defended its Polish international.
“Kamil does those English-style tackles in training, it’s part of his way of playing the game – tough but fair,” insisted teammate Angelo Ogbonna. “He was going for the ball, not his opponent’s legs. When we went a man down after half an hour, a difficult task became impossible.”
There were similar feelings in Sicily where Catania were threatening to upset the Milan revival until Pablo Barrientos received his marching orders. Even then, the Rossoneri needed a helping hand from the match officials for the second week in succession to break their duck. Stephan El Shaarawy looked clearly offside for the goal which levelled the match. And he really needs no such assistance at the moment.
A beauty from Kevin Prince-Boateng, later red-carded himself, and another from Il Faraone completed the comeback after slipping behind to a Nicola Legrottaglie strike. It is starting to look like those who said this squad was nowhere near as bad as its early League position suggested might have been right. Although after the injustice they suffered against Juve earlier in the season it was hard not to feel a little bit sorry for Catania when the final whistle blew.
Even lowly Pescara had their chance to pull off a shock before they, too, went down to 10 men. Napoli looked to be cruising in Sunday’s lunchtime match when Gokhan Inler and Marek Hamsik gave them an early lead. But a goal from Birkir Bjarnason started nerves jangling in the San Paolo as Walter Mazzarri’s men looked to close the gap on Juve at the top.
It took nearly an hour for the red card that put them on easy street. Local boy Antonio Bocchetti did his hometown club a favour by conceding a penalty and taking an early bath which ensured the Partenopei could relax. It finished 5-1 but they could have had just about as many as they wanted after that.
A helping hand was also needed by Inter as Palermo’s Santiago Garcia put into his own net to give them three much-needed points in the San Siro. At least, for a moment, the questions about Wesley Sneijder fell silent for Andrea Stramaccioni. They will no doubt resurface at the next poor result.
The red card came too late to assist Fiorentina in Sunday’s night game. The Viola had a couple of shouts for a penalty in their exciting 2-2 draw with Sampdoria but, with a patched-up squad, they struggled to produce their usual flowing play. It took two goals from defender Stefan Savic – which may surprise Manchester City fans – to match a strike from Nenad Krstitic and a Gonzalo Rodriguez own goal. Credit also to the visitors for doing their homework and stifling the boys from the Artemio Franchi and creating plenty of chances of their own.
A winning weekend for the capital clubs saw both of them improve their League situation significantly. Lazio held off Parma while Roma’s come from behind victory in Siena was as gutsy as it was deserved. There was no sentiment from Mattia Destro as he celebrated his double against his old club in more manners than seemed possible.
Udinese unleashed a surprise thrashing on Cagliari while Bologna got precious points at home to Atalanta. But the biggest pain was surely suffered by Genoa who lost at home to previously hopeless travellers Chievo. The Gigi Del Neri effect has been a truly miserable one for the Grifone as they stack up defeat upon defeat. Indeed, they were the only team of the weekend for whom playing against 10 men proved no advantage at all.