A few weeks ago we were calling them Ammazza-campionato – the Championship Killers – such was the ruthless manner in which Juventus were dispatching their rivals. But that was before the trigger jammed against a seemingly stricken Sampdoria and a relatively routine hit at Parma went awry. Could the cold-hearted executioners of Serie A have suddenly gone soft?
Of course, a mission to the Ennio Tardini is no easy one to put away these days. But, nonetheless, this Juve side has made a hallmark of smothering the life out of Italian football’s lesser lights with terrifying efficiency. Two successive failures to win after taking the lead are about as rare as Antonio Conte finishing a match with his voice intact.
Last week it was baby-faced Mauro Icardi who turned the tables on the Bianconeri, this week it was 21-year-old Nicola Sansone who did the damage. All the goals have served to emphasise a Giorgio Chiellini-shaped hole in the Juventus defence. Gary Hooper and company at Celtic would do well to take note in the build up to their Champions League clash.
There was also criticism for Mirko Vucinic after an ill-advised dummy played a part in setting up the goal which cancelled out a lead gained via a deflected Andrea Pirlo free-kick. However, his Coach stepped in to save his Montenegrin bacon by saying he had called on his player to leave the ball. It was either remarkable honesty on Conte’s part or a marvellous exercise in shielding a player from a bashing by fans and Press alike.
A disappointing side-order to the game was trouble outside the ground when a group of Juve fans reportedly attacked a bar known as a meeting point for Parma supporters. A couple of people suffered minor injuries and there was widespread damage. Not a major incident, perhaps, but about as welcome as Luciano Moggi’s recent decision to enter the world of politics.
That shouldn’t take the shine off the efforts of Roberto Donadoni’s men, the only side undefeated at home in Serie A. “Juve have been setting the standards for 18 months in Italy, so that speaks volumes about our performance,” glowed their boss. “Sansone is a boy who is growing, who is hungry to show what he is worth – that is why he works so hard. But that’s the spirit throughout the team.”
“We were in control and I’m sorry to leave two points here,” lamented Conte. “I was disappointed with our display against Sampdoria, but not in this one.”
The result allowed Lazio to narrow the gap to just three points at the table top, but only after Sergio Floccari did his best impression of Luis Suarez to break the deadlock with Atalanta. He clearly controlled the ball with his hand before thumping home the opener in a 2-0 triumph. The debate about whether it was deliberate proved – like a chewy chunk of Torrone – something for everyone to get their teeth stuck into.
Lazio President Claudio Lotito, poured on the persecution complex. “Every time we win they say we were done a favour, nobody mentions our ability,” he said. “But whoever saw this game knows Lazio deserved to win.”
“The handball changed the game because after that we lost our cool and started to pick up yellow cards and a red,” responded Atalanta boss Stefano Colantuono. “We were unlucky last year with the same referee in Florence when they got a goal thanks to a handball by Lorenzo De Silvestri. We also need to look at the touchline officials who are supposed to be there to help the referees.”
A lot less contentious was Napoli’s win over struggling Palermo which moved them closer too. Their appeal against a two-point deduction and the loss of two players – Paolo Cannavaro and Gianluca Grava – to a match-betting sentence will be held later this week. If successful, they would join Lazio just three points adrift of Juve – a more welcome situation than a house-visit by San Gennaro.
“We started off badly and I was getting angry, they could have scored,” admitted boss Walter Mazzarri. “But we sorted things out at the back. On our first or second attack we got a goal and that smoothed things out for us.”
Also moving on up were Inter thanks to a Saturday night success against Pescara. “The team is starting to rediscover its character and its balance,” beamed Andrea Stramaccioni. “We’ve made a clear and big step forward in terms of our play, which had been a problem against sides which covered up well.” And he also played down Antonio Cassano’s apparent huff at being substituted as just part of how determined his player is to perform well for the club.
It was Fiorentina and Roma who slipped up in the chasing pack, both sides regretting missed chances. The Viola had the lead in Udine before a contentious penalty, a touch-and-go offside goal and a dreadful goalkeeping slip-up turned the game. Roma, meanwhile, were undone by the magic of Papu Gomez in Catania after having their opportunities in the first half.
That left a door open for Milan to make significant progress up the table at Sampdoria, but they slammed it in their own faces with a drab 0-0 draw. It was supposed to showcase the sparkling youth of the Rossoneri’s attack with Stephan El Shaarawy, Bojan Krkic and M’Baye Niang all starting. Instead, the game had all the vim and vigour of a pensioners’ party. “That was one ugly Milan,” grumbled Zvonimir Boban in the Sky Italia studio.
The big moves at the bottom end of the table came from Bologna, Cagliari and Torino. The Rossoblu had a pretty straightforward stroll against Chievo, but the Sardinians had to come from behind at home to Genoa to get their victory. As for the Granata, they had old-boy Alessandro Rosina to thank for a missed penalty for Siena which ensured they won a gripping 3-2 clash. It left the Tuscans looking certainties for Serie B but, like Juve’s title hopes, maybe we shouldn’t be taking them for granted.