When Muhammad Ali was at the peak of his powers he used a rhyming couplet or two to predict the timing of his opponent’s demise. The implication was that he was so much the master of his own fate that he could clinch victory in a round of his choosing. Sometimes it even seemed like he was toying with his rivals in order to make his forecast come true.
It feels like Juventus might be starting to have a similar grip on the Scudetto to the one he used to enjoy on the world heavyweight crown. Antonio Conte probably never studied The Greatest but, if he did, he could have been tempted to make a poetic statement with similar swagger on Saturday. “You may well all mock my hair – but we’ll win with weeks to spare,” he might have pronounced.
The Bianconeri dispatched bitter rivals Fiorentina with the minimum of fuss at the weekend to kick off a week of key fixtures for them in Serie A and Europe. The Viola had given the Turin giants a tough test when they visited Florence earlier in this campaign. But this time La Vecchia Signora did serve up the Inferno she had promised in a match preview video which got up the noses of her Tuscan visitors.
Perhaps that controversial use of the words of the Supreme Poet, Dante Alighieri, was still ringing in the ears of supporter-goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano at the final whistle as he got caught up in one of the weekend’s less savoury incidents. He threw Andrea Pirlo’s shirt to the ground from the shoulder of teammate Borja Valero before going to hail the Florentine support. He later had to clarify that it was no disrespect to the Juve midfielder, but rather a gesture intended to avoid any irritation to the Viola fans by seeing one of their own players draped in black-and-white.
But if Viviano’s actions were ill-advised, those of Delio Rossi were downright inflammatory. He was caught on camera apparently firing an obscene gesture in the direction of Roma’s Nicolas Burdisso while his Samp side recorded a resounding victory. For a man best remembered in recent times for punching one of his own players, it risked tarnishing the ex-Lazio Coach’s reputation even further.
That game came with a splash more intrigue after Pablo Osvaldo decided to take a penalty for the Giallorossi which might well have directed the match in their favour. Instead, it was saved and sparked further talk of a club in significant disarray. “Everyone will have it in for me now,” said the player concerned. “But that will only make me stronger and try to give even more for the team.” Meanwhile, new Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli was incredibly honest about the affair. “Why did Osvaldo take the penalty? I honestly don’t know,” he admitted. “Francesco Totti’s been our penalty taker for 20 years, I don’t know why he took it, maybe they agreed it between themselves.”
There was another unfortunate act in Sardinia after Mario Balotelli converted a penalty for Milan to salvage a scarcely merited draw with Cagliari in that will-they-play-here, won’t-they-play-here venue of the Is Arenas. He stuck a finger to his lips to silence the home support in a clear act of antagonism. Serie A in general, and the Rossoneri in particular, are lucky to have him back but we could all live without some of the more childish behaviour.
In more strictly sporting terms, it was the week of the drawn game with no fewer than six fixtures finishing with the sides all square. Napoli needed a Hugo Campagnaro karate kick to snatch a point from Lazio and keep Juve’s lead at the top down to five points on a weekend when Walter Mazzarri’s men had harboured secret hopes of drawing level in first place. It does not look like that will be happening anytime soon.
Parma and Genoa dished up the kind of lunchtime scoreless draw which will have had people falling asleep face down in their spaghetti while Atalanta and Catania also appeared to have sign some kind of non-aggression pact in their 0-0 fixture. Bologna and Palermo will have been relieved, for their part, to come from behind to salvage a point against Siena and Pescara respectively in two key relegation tussles.
That string of shared points made Inter’s Sunday night win over Chievo all the more important as it allowed the Nerazzurri to make a significant move towards the third Champions League place. The game got off to the perfect start with Antonio Cassano opening the scoring in the first couple of minutes – with a little help from goalkeeper Christian Puggioni. It saw the visitors leave the kind of gaps at the back which players like Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio love to exploit.
The outbreak of draws also made Udinese’s narrow home win over Torino look all the more precious. It put the boys from the Friuli on the edge of Europe once again with their form having taken a significant upward turn in recent times. History suggests that a place in the Europa League – or maybe more – might not be beyond them. But, unlike Muhammad Ali, you would never find Francesco Guidolin making any such kind of bold prediction.