Fatal Verona. The phrase was coined when Milan left a Scudetto aspiration or two at the Stadio Bentegodi. Those were against the Hellas side of the city, but Chievo showed they have a little bit of title-killer instinct in them too on Sunday – this time at Napoli’s expense.
It felt almost like an act of mercy, because Walter Mazzarri’s men have looked in trouble for a few weeks now. With Edinson Cavani in a chronic goal drought by his own awesome standards – and even passing up a penalty – they have been a shadow of themselves. Eugenio Corini’s side delivered what felt like a coup de grace.
Napoli appeared as if the pressure of being considered the only credible anti-Juve of the season had taken its toll. Their play lacked the style and flow which have been its hallmarks. They were superbly smothered by their survival-seeking opponents.
“It is the way things are going just now, we are creating a lot but not taking our chances,” insisted Neapolitan stalwart Christian Maggio. “We will study the situation during the week and try to sort it out. Our opponents won’t make it easy so we need to get competitive again.”
It might not have been so bad if news had not come through of a late winner for the Bianconeri. When others struggle, Antonio Conte’s men always seem to come up with the three points. Their nine-point advantage is not unassailable, but it looks like a pretty tough mountain for anyone to scale.
“Our goal today was to win so that we would have no regrets,” said Juve’s Gigi Buffon. “Seeing how things went in Verona it was an important Sunday and the three points against Catania are worth even more. But we need to keep our foot on the accelerator.”
Perhaps the only team on a form run which might have troubled the reigning champions, are Milan. The Rossoneri must be wondering how their season might have panned out if they had avoided such a disastrous start. Like a number of their opponents in recent weeks, Genoa could feel aggrieved about a few refereeing decisions at the weekend, but Max Allegri’s outfit now have a firm grip on third place – and maybe even an incredible runners-up spot in due course.
Indeed, Napoli’s slump has opened the door to more sides to harbour Champions League dreams. The latest team to take a leap forward were Fiorentina with a convincing win under the heavy rains of the Stadio Olimpico against Lazio. For once the Viola were both attractive and clinical. Goals from Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic sent them flying up the table.
A Florentine old boy, Alberto Gilardino, helped their forward progress as his strike for Bologna downed Inter at the San Siro. It completed a miserable week for the Nerazzurri after their humbling at White Hart Lane in the Europa League. It won’t be easy to turn things around.
“There are 10 games to go but things are not coming off for us just now,” said Andrea Stramaccioni. “It is a bad spell for us but there are other teams having a hard time too. But we need to break this trend quickly.”
While it is easy to focus on the harm done to the big teams by their defeats, it is important not to lose sight of the important progress made by their conquerors. Both Bologna and Chievo made key moves towards Serie A salvation with the scalps of Inter and Napoli. The job is not quite done - but they are almost home and dry.
There were nice little triple goal treats for Cagliari and Parma too. Victor Ibarbo was the hat-trick hero for the Rossoblu in a behind-closed-doors clash with Sampdoria as the long-running Is Arenas saga in Sardinia drags on. More surprising, to most, was an Amauri tripletta for the boys from the Tardini as they came from behind to steamroller Torino.
Genoa look like the last side who might get dragged into the relegation battle as in the lower reaches it was Siena who made the most significant move. Their head-to-head victory over Palermo gave them a sniff of safety while making the Sicilians’ fate seem all the more miserable. The Tuscan minnows are performing, in their own way, like the more famous side in black and white currently heading towards another title.