There are some questions we will probably never know the answer to. What is the meaning of life? How many Coaches will Maurizio Zamparini sack in his lifetime? Why did Juventus sign Nicolas Anelka? These are the kind of queries which it is hard to furnish with a satisfactory response. And, after Sunday’s Serie A clashes, we could probably add another poser to the list. What might Milan have achieved if they had signed Mario Balotelli in the summer?
It is the kind of puzzle which must have followers of the Rossoneri waking up during the night in glorious torment. How might their clash with Barcelona have panned out if their chance to tie the second leg could have fallen to Super Mario rather than young M’Baye Niang? And how many more points would they have gathered at the start of the season if they had been able to call on the former Manchester City man’s services? It is an itch which, one imagines, Adriano Galliani must feel the need to scratch on a pretty regular basis.
Of course, like trying to form an Italian government, it is a conundrum which cannot be easily solved. Would the early presence of the Azzurri striker have stunted the remarkable growth of Stephan El Shaarawy at the outset of this campaign? Could Balotelli’s feisty character actually have made those troubled opening weeks even more torturous? An answer to those questions is more elusive than Silvio Berlusconi after being issued with a sentence from the judiciary.
What we can say with certainty is that since he landed in January, the former Inter hitman has made as big an impact on Serie A as Beppe Grillo has on Italian politics. A double on Sunday was more than enough to sink poor, sickly Palermo. It was yet another five-star display.
It ensured that Max Allegri’s men stayed in the hunt for a most improbable second-place finish. They may have ultimately been humbled by Lionel Messi in Europe, but the Rossoneri look almost irresistible on the home front these days. It is a transformation which has been more surprising than Udinese deciding to keep hold of all their players in the summer transfer market.
With Juventus keeping up a breakneck pace at the top of the table, the battle behind them has become the main attraction of the rest of the season. The Bianconeri’s win over Bologna on Saturday took its time in coming and was spiced up by a minor spat over Antonio Conte’s celebrations with his own support. Regardless of whether you feel they were a bit over the top, there is little doubt he was right to believe his team had made another giant step towards the Scudetto.
That leaves a couple of Champions League spots sitting vacant behind them but, while Milan made their case for one of them with relative comfort, the same could not be said for Napoli and Fiorentina. Both sides made wonderfully heavy weather of seeing off Atalanta and Genoa respectively. Their 3-2 wins were entertaining for the neutral, but torture for their own support.
The good news for the Partenopei was that their Matador got his mojo back. With Edinson Cavani striking twice in a ding-dong battle with the Bergamaschi, there were reasons for optimism for the remainder of this campaign. Anything is possible when their high-class hitman is in the groove.
As for the Viola, they confirmed both their brilliance and their bungling. A single Alberto Aquilani goal seemed like scant reward for an impeccable first half of perfect pass-and-move football. But defensive sloppiness almost cost them dear until old boy Mattia Cassani chipped in an own-goal to allow Andrea Della Valle to indulge in a little more embarrassing-dad dancing in the stands.
Of the other European contenders, Inter got what was probably a welcome rest after their near-heroics against Tottenham when their clash with Sampdoria was postponed due to the threat of snow. There was no such respite for Lazio, however, as their trip to Torino defied the weather. Given that it ended in defeat, they might well have wished it could have been called off as well.
Their city rivals enjoyed another edition of the Francesco Totti show in Rome which allowed the Giallorossi to keep alive their hopes of finishing in at least a Europa League slot with a win over Parma. He thumped home a free-kick to take himself to second place outright in the all-time Serie A goalscoring chart. It sent the stadium announcer into ecstasy.
There was similar delirium in Sicily on Saturday evening as Catania showed they had more than enough to see off Udinese. In the process, they remained firmly in contention for an historic shot at continental football. It might be an outside chance, but they have shown themselves pretty determined to have no regrets when this season comes to an end.
In the relegation zone, Pescara’s fate was sealed a little further with home defeat to Chievo. But with Siena getting a precious point from a somewhat sleepy Sunday lunchtime clash with Cagliari, it has set up a vital encounter after the international break. Genoa take on the Tuscans in a match which is likely to go a long way to deciding who ends up in Serie B along with Palermo and Pescara in the summer.