Stop me when you have heard this one before. A hard-fought match between one of Italian football’s giants and one of its lesser lights is decided by a controversial decision by the match officials and – guess what? – it went the way of the bigger side. So far, so very familiar.
This Sunday, just like midweek, it was Juventus who enjoyed the luck of the break. Against Chievo it appeared that only a match official mistaking Alberto Paloschi for Cyril Thereau could explain why the former’s goal was chalked off. This weekend, it took Carlitos Tevez to don a cloak of invisibility to allow the only strike of a pretty tepid Turin derby – from Paul Pogba – to stand. The Argentine was in an offside position during his part in the build-up to the match-winning moment.
That put Antonio Conte back into his “sometimes these decisions go for you, sometimes they go against you” mode. The trouble is, of course, that two such apparent errors in close proximity to one another do tend to stick in the mind. Without them, perhaps, La Vecchia Signora could find herself four points further back in the Scudetto fight.
But there are a few flaws in that logic too. The most notable, of course, is that nobody can know for sure how the outcome of a match might have changed if a goal decision was reversed. It is also clear that we have to analyse every controversial moment – not just those which resulted in a goal – if we are going to go down that route. Indeed, the Juve boss himself chose to do exactly that by suggesting Toro might well have found themselves with 10 men for most of the match had Ciro Immobile seen red for a nasty challenge on Tevez.
That prompted the Granata to hit back with a statement on the club website highlighting, among other things, another tackle by Pogba which might also have deserved a sending off in their view. They also contested Conte’s version of events which had Juve on the attack for most of the match when possession statistics were almost identical. “The truth is that Juventus won the derby 1-0 and that goal was down to a very clear offside,” concluded the statement. “Everything else is just pointless talk.”
Once the hot air has cooled down, however, we come back to the same issue afflicting Italian football week-in, week-out. Everybody has their favourite bogey-man when it comes to which team gets most ‘favours’ from match officials. It is hard, at times, not to go down that cynical route – particularly with the history of such things in Calcio. But, on the other hand, we would do well to remember that Serie A is not the only League where controversial decisions often go the way of the bigger teams. If you want to believe it is all a conspiracy, you are perfectly entitled to do so, of course. But it doesn’t half take away a lot of the fun from watching the weekend’s games if you do.
The ultimate outcome of that typically spiky Derby della Mole, was to leave the Bianconeri right in the Scudetto hunt. Napoli had set the early running with their 2-0 win over Genoa on Saturday thanks to a Goran Pandev double. In the process, they killed off the Serie A coaching career of the likeable but seemingly out-of-his-depth Fabio Liverani. You might well ask yourself what President Enrico Preziosi was doing when he appointed such an inexperienced individual in the first place. Although an even better question would be why, when he did so, did he give him only six games to prove his worth? The man once touted as the Sir Alex Ferguson of the Grifone, Gian Piero Gasperini, takes over the hotseat. Good luck with that one, Gasperson.
Sunday’s night game, however, saw Roma sweep by both Juve and Napoli and back to the top with a perfect six out of six. It was a bit of a breeze against Bologna as the Giallorossi struck three first half goals – their first of the whole season – on their way to a comfortable 5-0 win. Arsenal fans might well be surprised to hear of a Gervinho double in the goal glut amid the thunder storms at the Stadio Olimpico.
Elsewhere, Inter were held up in their meteoric recovery by a stout Cagliari side in a rain-soaked Trieste. Walter Mazzarri reckoned his team played just about as well as in their seven-goal sinking of Sassuolo but ran into a great goalkeeper and were a little more sloppy in their finishing. The miracle he is trying to work with the Nerazzurri, however, was never likely to be constructed overnight.
The weekend’s other games saw Milan lurch to a one-goal win against Sampdoria thanks to a Valter Birsa strike. Atalanta had a German Denis double to thank for a morale-boosting victory over Udinese while Catania enjoyed similar cheer against Chievo. Verona edged the derby of the newly-promoted sides with Livorno thanks to a controversial Jorginho penalty while Sassuolo produced a surprise comeback from two goals down to snatch a draw against Lazio. All that is left is for Monday night to decide is whether Fiorentina get back on the fringes of the title fight or Parma clamber closer to mid-table safety. Whatever the outcome, don’t bet against it happening without something for somebody to grumble about afterwards.