Somebody must have spiked the Panettone over the festive season. What looked like a pretty humdrum return to action for Serie A produced more surprises than Santa Claus. And, just like that jumper you got when you were expecting a new bicycle, not all of them were welcome.
Taking the title for most stunning scoreline in the final round of matches of the first half of the season was undoubtedly Sampdoria’s win at the Juventus Stadium. A Sebastian Giovinco penalty and a red card for the visitors had set the Blucerchiati a task more tricky than a blindfold Sudoku. But, between the marvellous Mauro Icardi and some slippery substance apparently applied to Gigi Buffon’s gloves, they found a solution.
The goalkeeper, as is his style, was the first to hold his hand up and take the blame. “I am disappointed because my mistake affected the result,” he admitted. “When I made my error, I thought we had time to sort things out, but it didn’t work out that way. I’m annoyed that every time I slip up we can’t get the win.”
As for the Doriani, they were grateful that their decision not to allow Icardi to play for Argentina’s Under-20 side in their World Cup qualifiers paid off. “He’s a talented boy, it would have been foolish to send him to play in the South American competition,” said Coach Delio Rossi. And, by the final whistle, the tactician was finally able punch the air – instead of one of his own players.
Second billing on the upset chart would have to go to Pescara. They had floppy-fringed goalkeeper Mattia Perin to thank for their victory over Fiorentina after a string of breath-taking first-half saves. Imagine how he might perform if he didn’t have all that hair in his eyes.
It was a bitter blow to the Viola who had new signing Giuseppe Rossi sitting alongside Andrea Della Valle at the game. They passed up a huge number of chances that must have had the Italo-American striker itching to get back onto the pitch. A fatal one-two from Jonathas and Mervan Celik silenced an expectant Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Less shocking in outcome, but definitely quite stunning in scoreline, was Inter’s disaster in Udine. There are signs that the Friuli boys are performing to pattern and starting to adapt to the loss of some key players in the summer. It is a matter of debate how good it would be for Italian football in general if they do qualify for Europe once again – only to dismantle their side once more.
On the Nerazzurri front, Andrea Stramaccioni was left to mourn the “surprising” refereeing decisions he feels have been affecting his team. He reckoned Udinese should have lost a man and his side deserved a penalty kick. The cumulative effect, whatever your viewpoint on those decisions, was that Inter encouraged everyone chasing them to believe that an overtaking manoeuvre is more than possible.
The main sides who did hit the accelerator were Lazio, Milan and Napoli. Cagliari were full of recrimination – understandably so – after seeing two red cards and a penalty help to wipe out their lead gained through Marco Sau at the Stadio Olimpico. It was also disappointing to note, after Milan’s midweek racism walk-off, that there seemed to be similar treatment reserved for the Sardinian’s Victor Ibarbo. It is an issue which still needs to be addressed, no matter how much Lazio President Claudio Lotito protested innocence.
Milan’s speed-burst was a 2-1 win over Siena achieved without the usual goal from Stephan El Shaarawy. In years gone by, this would have been a routine victory, but in the current campaign it was considered a vital triumph for Max Allegri. “This was a nice win,” he said. “But now we have to put together a string of good results.”
In Sunday’s night game, the expected goal feast materialised at the San Paolo, but it was Roma who were on the receiving end as hat-trick hero Edinson Cavani sent Napoli back up the table. A few question marks were raised about the wisdom of the Giallorossi travelling to America to play a true Mickey Mouse friendly during a winter break at Disney World. They certainly looked a little more Goofy than in recent slick wins over Milan and Fiorentina.
Cavani himself seemed to hint that if Napoli can win their appeal against a two-point deduction, they still believe they can be title contenders. “It is important for us,” he said. “Everybody thought after a couple of bad results we had collapsed. But this was a show of professionalism and proves that we can still fight for something that matters.”
There was one final surprise from the weekend at Parma in a game with Palermo which seemed destined to end in a draw. The Law of the Ex was once more in evidence as never-find-the-net hitman Amauri popped up to grab a late, late winner for the Emiliani against his old team. And, if that can happen, who knows what other shocks might be in store for the rest of the year?