In Italy they don’t laugh up their sleeves. The equivalent idiom sees them chuckling sotto i baffi – beneath their whiskers. There must have been a few vindicated Coaches chortling under their metaphorical moustaches at the weekend.
First in line to smile, of course, was Juve boss Antonio Conte. Back on the bench after his ban as part of match-betting investigations, he got back to his ever-so-familiar winning ways on a trip to Palermo. And he was just as hard to please as we remembered him.
“We need to score goals,” he lamented after a single Stephan Lichtsteiner strike decided the game. “We got through on the goalkeeper plenty of times, but if we had ended up drawing this match I’d have kept us two days in the dressing room. Losing points today would have been criminal.”
He also mused upon how four months away from competitive matches had affected him. Nobody was surprised to hear his fighting talk as he promised his ban had only made him stronger. You got the feeling he might still be simmering with rage about the couple of games which were lost in his absence.
There was also probably as close to a grin as you are ever likely to get from Zdenek Zeman after his Roma side won Saturday night’s shoot-out in the Stadio Olimpico. The Giallorossi went toe-to-toe with Fiorentina in a game which produced a goalscoring chance with almost every attack. Holders of Gianni Brera’s belief that the perfect game would finish 0-0 must have been pulling their hair out.
There was little doubt, however, that the home side deserved its win and is starting to play more in the manner their tactician wants. At the heart of it all have been the precise promptings and scoring skills of an outstanding Francesco Totti. The player many thought the new Coach might have rejected has become a cornerstone.
It was a setback for Vincenzo Montella’s boys in purple as Roma joined them – and Lazio for the time being – on 29 points. In the end, the absences of key players like Stevan Jovetic and David Pizarro seemed to make a difference. They kept true to their attacking principles but with a little less quality than in previous matches.
One Tuscan who was smiling at the weekend, however, was Max Allegri. What was supposed to be the worst Milan in living memory has suddenly found the secret of winning games. Qualified for the later stages of the Champions League, the Rossoneri have clambered up the table to a much more respectable seventh place.
Their victims on Sunday were a Torino side with, as one commentator picturesquely described it, a defence softer than melted chocolate. Once again the Milanese giants had to slip behind before they came to life and ultimately devoured their opponents with ease. Not even a season-ending injury for Nigel De Jong was enough to deprive them of the sweet taste of success.
Perhaps the regular visits of Silvio Berlusconi are having an effect after all. Who knows what magic words he is using to inspire a team which was bound to take time to find an identity after losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva? Insert your favourite joke about the promise of a bunga-bunga party here.
There was also pleasure on the other side of the city after Sunday’s night game went the way of Inter against Napoli. Andrea Stramaccioni could permit himself a wry smile as his team moved into second place without needing the much-discussed Wesley Sneijder. An early strike from Fredy Guarin – entirely unmarked on a clever set-piece – set up the game perfectly for his side.
“We are not the anti-Juve, we’re not the anti-anyone,” quipped the Nerazzurri’s boss after the 2-1 victory. “The last time you called us that, we fell to pieces! Joking apart, we are pleased to be in second place – it has been a very positive season up to this point.”
His opposite number, Walter Mazzarri, did his best to put a brave face on the defeat. He was right to say that his team created plenty of chances and was much less clinical in front of goal than Inter. But, in the end, even an inspired Lorenzo Insigne was not enough to grab at least a point out of the trip to the San Siro.
Catania, Atalanta and Chievo also enjoyed important boosts up the table, but the big match nearer the foot of Serie A was at the Stadio Adriatico with Cristiano Bergodi’s Pescara getting a vital victory over an in-the-doldrums Genoa. The result put Gigi Del Neri’s short reign in charge of the Rossoblu under serious threat. He is one of the few managers in Italy’s top Division who actually does possess a moustache – but, unfortunately for him, he’s unlikely to be doing much laughing beneath it at the moment.