The look in his eyes suggested he was not being entirely truthful. Alessio Cerci insisted he had no special motivation to do well just because he was facing Roma. But, if anyone in the current Torino side was going to end the Giallorossi’s 100 per cent record, it had to be him.
This is a boy who came through the youth ranks with the capital club and made his Serie A debut for them as a teenager under Fabio Capello. Great things were forecast of a player dubbed the Thierry Henry of Valmontone due to his pace and ability to beat an opponent. However, a string of loan spells and a handful of first team appearances meant he quit Rome for good in 2010. You couldn’t blame him for feeling a little bit of pride at being the man to finally clip the wings of the side which could never quite muster sufficient faith in his ability.
“One on one he was always good,” said former teammate from those Roma days, Christian Panucci. “But now he has matured. He has changed his mental approach and that was what he needed.”
It took every trick in his book to grab a point from the League leaders. Rudi Garcia’s side had taken the lead through the increasingly impressive Kevin Strootman, but the Granata showed great spirit to draw level. They then had to hold on for dear life as the Giallorossi threw everything at them to try to retain their perfect record.
“We played the whole game to win,” said Garcia. “After they made it 1-1 we attacked right to the end and I liked that. We can’t win all the time, but a draw away from home is never a negative result.”
He was quite right to point out that fact as Roma’s record remains breathtaking. They also have a good chance to extend their lead over at least one of their main challengers next weekend as Juventus and Napoli go head to head. The Giallorossi face what looks like a more straightforward task against Sassuolo.
The Bianconeri had kept up the pressure at the top on Saturday evening with a hard-earned victory at Parma. It was almost another Fabio Quagliarella wonder-goal which decided the game but when his shot caromed off the crossbar, Paul Pogba was quickest to react to score the match’s only goal. With Real Madrid on the horizon, it was a perfect tonic.
There was a victorious warm-up for the Champions League for Napoli too. Two thunderous strikes from Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik were just enough to see off Catania. The visitors at least showed some sign of life by pulling one goal back, but they remain rooted at the bottom end of the table.
But the third Italian representative in Europe’s elite competition suffered a much more miserable Saturday night. A lacklustre Milan were downed by Fiorentina thanks to goals from Juan Vargas and Borja Valero. It was the third consecutive year the Viola have won this fixture at the San Siro, it also ensured the Rossoneri have endured their worst start to a season since 1981. For those who know their history, that campaign ended with them heading to Serie B.
Adriano Galliani stomped off before the game had ended and the home fans jeered their disapproval of what they had witnessed. Max Allegri said it was the worst spell he had known during his time in charge of the club. There is the feeling that the upcoming games with Barcelona and Chievo might have a big say in whether he gets much more time to turn things around. Those celebrations for snatching third place and a Champions League spot seem no more than a distant memory.
The defeat also prompted a despairing daughter to father phone call, apparently, from Barbara to Silvio Berlusconi. She insisted that did not mean the end of the road for Galliani, just a desire to change direction in the way they run the club. It might not mean spending any more money on players, simply making sure it gets spent more wisely.
The good times seem a long way off in the blue and white half of Rome as well. Vlad Petkovic is another boss under pressure after Genoa came and pinched all three points at the Olimpico. The team play which previously raised their performances above the individual abilities of their squad members seems to have deserted them for now.
There are no such problems for Verona and Inter who thundered into the Europa League spots again. For the Nerazzurri, the poorest Udinese side of recent years were not much of an obstacle and were swept aside easily enough. As for Andrea Mandorlini’s men, they had just too much will to win for visiting Cagliari. Those expecting Hellas to run out of gas will have to wait for at least another week.
The most breathless battle of the week was produced at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris where Sassuolo grabbed a first away win of the season in spectacular style. Domenico Berardi – a player co-owned by Juventus – was the hero with a hat-trick in a 4-3 triumph. It was a particularly tempestuous game for Samp’s Lorenzo De Silvestri who scored a late equaliser before conceding the penalty which decided the match.
Livorno also made important progress up the table by seeing off Atalanta thanks to a Paulinho strike. It was a result which heaps more pressure on Bologna and Chievo who clash on Monday night. Defeat for Stefano Pioli’s men would give the relegation fight a wide-open look, but a loss for the Veronese would make them look Serie B-bound already.