It could have been the perfect week for Silvio Berlusconi. Defeat Barcelona, win the derby and emerge victorious in the Italian elections. He may yet get two out of three – but a tenacious Inter denied him a triumph in the Madonnina.
Nothing could have looked less likely in the first half in the San Siro as his Milan team bossed a pulsating clash. A sweet, outside-of-the-foot finish from Stephan El Shaarawy was scant reward for their superiority. The Nerazzurri had Samir Handanovic to thank for the fact that they still had a foothold it the game at half-time.
But something changed in the second period as the Rossoneri faded and Andrea Stramaccioni’s side started to up their tempo. Eventually, surprising hero Ezequiel Schelotto rose unmarked in the penalty box to head home an equaliser. He celebrated and then wept at the scale of his achievement – probably the most significant goal of his career so far.
Those were the decisive moments of a clash which was as spicy and intense as a spaghetti arrabbiata. It proved that Serie A still has a bit to offer TV viewers around the world. There was, sadly, some jeering and a bit of laser pen stupidity in the direction of Mario Balotelli but it was, at least, not as bad as many had feared.
“I think, overall, a draw was about right,” said Stramaccioni. “They had a great first half and they put us under pressure. But we came out to get back into the game and I think we finished stronger.”
“I’m pleased with what the team did,” responded Massimiliano Allegri. “We had a great first half and created a lot of chances. But when your opponent is about to die - you have to kill him off.”
The result left a door open for Lazio and Fiorentina who play on Monday and Tuesday respectively. They can increase the pressure on the Milanese sides in the battle for the third and final Champions League place. However, both Inter and Milan showed on Sunday evening that they will throw everything they have into the effort to ensure they snatch that podium spot.
It was not only, of course, the weekend of the Milan derby and the fixture list offered the opportunity to Juventus to stretch clear at the top of the table. With Napoli not making their away trip to Udine until Monday night, the Bianconeri stole a march on them by downing an in-form Siena side. But it was not a game without controversy.
They are a hard bunch to please at the Juventus Stadium, and their attitude towards their players was in the spotlight after the match. The jeering of Sebastian Giovinco, prompted him to celebrate his goal in a 3-0 victory by putting a finger to his lips to silence his own support. Coach Antonio Conte had clearly had enough.
“I think it is out of place,” he said. “It is not just him, sometimes a player who messes up a lay-off gets whistled. I don’t like it. This team is doing great things and I don’t think the whistles are justified.”
Among the weekend’s other big winners were Catania, who saw off Parma to keep their European dreams alive. With Fiorentina’s match at Bologna frozen out by snow it put the Sicilians level with the Tuscan side. It prompted a gastronomic comment from Coach Rolando Maran. “I am glad that those who thought our bellies might be full have been proved wrong,” he said. “It’s true we might have relaxed after ensuring our survival but instead the boys are keeping on fighting.”
There were goals galore in the empty Is Arenas in Sardinia as Cagliari edged out Torino 4-3. Ivo Pulga dedicated the win to President Massimo Cellino, who is still in prison on charges of fraud linked to the construction of the stadium. “We know it was important to him for us to beat Torino and we hope to have him back with us soon,” he commented.
It was also a feast of football under the snows of Bergamo in a game which was often touch-and-go to be completed between Atalanta and Roma. Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side edged it by the odd goal in five. “We need to prove to ourselves how good we can be,” he said. “We are trying to get a bit of the enthusiasm back which we had lost of late.”
Earlier in the day, Sampdoria had made another big step towards salvation under Delio Rossi with a win over Chievo. But there had been no such triumph for Palermo on Saturday night, prompting that well-used Maurizio Zamparini axe to fall for the third time this season. Alberto Malesani was shown the door and Gian Piero Gasperini asked to return just weeks after being given the chop himself. At this rate, even Giuseppe Sannino – booted out after three games at the start of the campaign – might yet be back at the Rosanero this season. It is doubtful, however, that anyone is going to save them now.