The agony had echoes of a bitter February nearly 15 years ago. When Mario Gomez crumpled to the ground on Sunday it was hard not to cast your mind back to the 1998-99 season when Gabriel Omar Batistuta suffered similar pain against Milan. It was an injury which killed off Florentine dreams of a third Scudetto.
It is way too early, of course, to consider the present-day Viola anything like genuine contenders, but this weekend they had a shot at joining Rafa Benitez’s Napoli at the helm of Serie A. What could have been a celebration at the Stadio Artemio Franchi turned into a nightmare. Anything that could go wrong pretty much did so.
There was an injury to influential winger Juan Cuadrado before the collapse of their German hitman which is likely to rule him out for quite some time. Then, having seized the lead through Borja Valero, they saw Mauricio Pinilla grab a late equaliser to increase their frustration. That emotion went through the roof when shouts for a penalty on Giuseppe Rossi were waved away and David Pizarro was red-carded for his protests. Even the normally unflappable Vincenzo Montella was raging at the final whistle.
There is a bit of a back story to all of this, of course. Last season, Pizarro seemed set to quit Serie A after the events of the final game of the campaign which handed Milan a place in the Champions League at Fiorentina’s expense. His feelings – rightly or wrongly – were that some decisions which go in favour of Italy’s big boys are never given to the League’s lesser lights.
Montella, too, had a point to prove with his post-match comments. He suggested that some players seem to get away with protesting about a referee’s decisions much more forcefully than his Chilean midfielder. It is not too hard to find plenty of examples of match officials turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to such incidents every weekend. Whatever your view, the end result is that Fiorentina have probably lost three key players for varying lengths of time. With a busy run of fixtures on the horizon, they will have their work cut out to cope.
Their opportunity to go joint-top had been set up by a typically tense Derby d’Italia on Saturday which underlined a couple of things we already thought we knew about this season. Firstly, this Inter side are no longer the pushovers they were last year as a Mauro Icardi strike – his fourth in three games against Juve – threatened to give them the win. Secondly, the Bianconeri have lost none of their in-built resilience – which was underlined by an immediate and impressive reply from Arturo Vidal. There were encouraging signs for fans of both sides throughout an intense encounter.
Their share of the spoils allowed Napoli to move top on their own – at least until Roma face Parma on Monday night – with a hard-fought victory over Atalanta. It took them some time to break down the resistance of the Bergamaschi and it needed the introduction of the in-form Marek Hamsik to swing the game. He helped to set up Gonzalo Higuain to break the deadlock before Jose Callejon confirmed his immediate impact on Serie A by clinching the points.
Saturday’s other match was one to give Celtic fans encouragement and nightmares in equal measure ahead of their Champions League clash with Milan. An Alessio Cerci-inspired Torino side looked on the way to beating the Rossoneri when they were two goals clear with just minutes to go. But a comical strike from Sulley Muntari and an injury time penalty from Mario Balotelli – how many times will we say that this season? – salvaged a point. Max Allegri could not bring himself to watch while his striker successfully converted the spot-kick with ice cool nerves. This team is never beaten until the 90th minute and, sometimes, beyond.
There was no need to wait quite so late to celebrate for Genoa in the Derby della Lanterna. Under-pressure boss Fabio Liverani got a tonic which was as emphatic as it was surprising with a 3-0 drubbing of Sampdoria. It was ludicrous that the young manager was reckoned to be facing the sack just a couple of games into the season but such is the madness of Serie A. No wonder he could not resist the temptation to go and celebrate with his own players and fans. It was both perfectly understandable and thoroughly deserved.
Other Sunday success stories came for Livorno, Lazio and Verona which gave their League positions a much more healthy look. While Sassuolo have looked out of their depth so far, the other newly-promoted sides, the Amaranto and Gialloblu, appear to have settled in well. As for the capital club, they had far too much firepower for Chievo and look sure to be in the upper reaches of the table for the rest of the season.
A final share of the points was produced by the two impresarios of Udinese and Bologna. A typically wonderful free-kick from Alessandro Diamanti looked like it might have given the Rossoblu all three points but Toto Di Natale had other ideas and ensured it ended level. It was his first goal of the campaign for the boys from the Friuli – but you can rest assured it will not be his last.