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Monday January 27 2014
Lazio give Roma a Reja hope

Roma and Lazio did their best to keep the title debate open in Italy at the weekend. Giancarlo Rinaldi assesses the importance of their Week 21 performances.

All roads led to Rome in the Italian title fight at the weekend or, at least, to the capital's two clubs. Lazio did their bitter rivals Roma a much-grudged favour by holding Juventus to a draw on Saturday night. The Giallorossi then fulfilled their end of the bargain by emerging victorious at Verona's Stadio Bentegodi - one of the toughest grounds to take anything from this season.

This being Italy, of course, none of it could happen without a dash of controversy.

The game at the Stadio Olimpico demonstrated that the best way to make a real contest of the Scudetto fight might be to make Juve play the rest of the season with 10 men. Having lost Gigi Buffon and seen Antonio Candreva convert the resultant penalty, it actually made a match of it. La Vecchia Signora really had to dig deep into her handbag of resilience to salvage a point. It took a Fernando Llorente header of sublime accuracy to level the match before the woodwork and Marco Storari’s reflexes denied Edy Reja’s side a winner. It stopped the Bianconeri’s winning run at 12 games, but Antonio Conte was understandably bullish about their performance afterwards.

“In adversity you saw what great men are in this side,” he said. “We showed why we are top of the table. We never gave up and kept trying to win despite being a man down against an on-form Lazio side. But the penalty and red card is too harsh a rule - it should be changed.”

The bad news, for Conte aficionados, is that he also confirmed he will do no more pre-match Press conferences this season as he feels his words have been misrepresented in the past. He may have a point, of course, but ultimately it is his own supporters who pay the price of missing out on his pearls of wisdom. Others, perhaps, may welcome a 50 per cent reduction in his pronouncements.

After that game, it was over to Roma, who managed to slice Juve's lead to six points with a 3-1 win over Verona with goals from Adem Ljajic, Gervinho and Francesco Totti - although Emil Hallfredsson briefly levelled for the home side. The Giallorosso skipper, who hauled his weary old bones off the substitutes’ bench, saw it as a signal that his team is up for the fight.

“We've shown we are a match for Juve,” said Totti. “After they put a foot wrong, we proved we can fight on level terms with the champions of Italy for the Scudetto. We have closed the gap on Juve. This week we have seen they are not unbeatable, even though they are very strong.”

Less impressed was Napoli netminder Pepe Reina who apparently took to Twitter to criticise the soft penalty which put the Giallorossi’s victory beyond doubt. It might have been a generous decision but he would probably do better to worry about his own team’s downturn in form. A 1-1 draw with Chievo Verona on Saturday evening confirmed a drop-off in the quality of the Partenopei’s play and a difficulty in breaking down more lowly opposition.

They got a break, however, in events at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on Sunday night. A contentious penalty for Genoa, converted by Viola old boy Alberto Gilardino, opened the scoring in a crazy 3-3 draw which will have frustrated Alberto Aquilani. He scored his first Serie A hat-trick - and had another chalked off for a debatable offside - and it still was not enough to get Fiorentina the win they craved to move closer to third spot. The game also saw ex-Manchester United man Anderson make his debut for the Tuscan outfit. He slotted in well enough to suggest he might rediscover some sort of form in Florence - and, in the process, silence those who claim the move is more about pizza than putting his career back on track.

It looked like Milan might succumb to their familiar failings in Sardinia but late goals from Mario Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini gave the Clarence Seedorf era more substance. A dreadful attempted clearance by Marco Amelia had helped Marco Sau give Cagliari the lead. The new Rossoneri boss recognised the psychological importance of getting another three points on the board. Suddenly, they are just five behind city rivals Inter who could do no better than a goalless draw with Catania.

Walter Mazzarri looked more than a little flustered after that display, coming at the end of a week which brought humiliation on the transfer market with the Mirko Vucinic-Fredy Guarin swap fiasco. He highlighted the tense atmosphere at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza as a contributory factor in the share of the spoils with the Sicilians. One section of the Nerazzurri support displayed a banner advising Erick Thohir never to do any deals with Milan or Juventus and also to get rid of the old backroom staff and bring in his own trusted men. Most of us, however, would have reservations about whether running your club at the whim of your most vociferous fans is a winning formula for the future.

Inter’s problems - without a win since the Milan derby last year - have allowed Parma and Torino to put them under severe pressure for the Europa League spot that fifth place offers. An Amauri goal got a win at the weekend for Roberto Donadoni’s men against an ever-more-struggling Udinese side. In Turin, Alessio Cerci converted a penalty he won to see the Granata past a battling Atalanta.

In the lower reaches, Sampdoria and Bologna shared the points in a draw which did neither side any great favours. The only significant winners in the relegation zone were Livorno who got off to a lightning start to secure their 3-1 victory over Sassuolo. Still, eight teams remain within as many points at the bottom of the table so there is likely to be at least one six-point clash every week between now and the end of the season.

Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.

Have your say...
@Italian in Canada.

I couldn´t agree more with Romanista. Stop being such a cry baby and fool yourself. Even when u had Tevez and Llorente for the last 15 minutes or so, u still didn´t have nothing.
on the 28th January, 2014 at 2:28pm
@Italian in Canada

''so that was Roma full strength against''
Roma full strength? Balzarett and Pjanic didn't start.

''Juve 50% strength. Juve's bench team''
Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini are benchplayers?
on the 28th January, 2014 at 12:52pm
Also can I add, Totti we are on par with Juve...you keep kidding yourself Mr Totti they will beat you in the league in Rome when they play all the players that were rested in the coppa.
on the 28th January, 2014 at 11:00am
Is funny when you read comments of the fans from the provincial teams in italy.
Is also funny when you read comments like ''lazio were dominating Juventus even before buffon was sent off''. :)
All these fans of roma,napoli,fiorentina,inter,milan.
You will always be the lesser teams when comparing to Juventus, whether you like it or not.
Juventus is by far the best team is italy. Has been, by far, the best team since calcio was regulated as a game in italy. Stop hate and simply admire this.
on the 28th January, 2014 at 10:51am
@ Victor I think every time a manager settles on a formation at Milan Galliani torpedoes it with random signings.So Allegri decided to play 4-3-3. Galliani then signs 3 trequartistas in a year. Seedorf wants to play 4-2-3-1. Looks like we need another midfielder. I like Seedorf's 4-2-3-1 set up but at this stage the 2 can be any of Monty-De Jong-Muntari-Poli-Cristante-Essien. We probably need to sell at least one. I wouldn't devastated if De Jong or Muntari were sold but Essien mightn't stay fit
on the 28th January, 2014 at 10:51am
@Marco Rocco

If roma played better football then why juve trashed roma 3-0 in Turin? Why you were leading 5 points and now juve leading 6 points? WEAK!

How about controversial penalty against verona?

LOL

@Greaseman

Such dominating Lazio couldn't even win against 10 men juve hahahaha WEAK!

conclusion both sister club are WEAK!
on the 28th January, 2014 at 10:10am
Oh please, quit this pro-Juventus BS. Lazio should've comfortably won this if it wasn't for their inability to score. They it the woodwork twice and no other shot they had really threatened Storari, they were either straight at him or wide. They were dominating the game even before Buffon got sent off.
on the 27th January, 2014 at 10:16pm
LOL I Love "Italian In Canada" soccer math. 50% blah blah blah. Fact is Roma is gaining on Juve. Juve should have lost more game sthis season if not for controlversial penalties as always. We're (Roma) playing way better football than Juve.
on the 27th January, 2014 at 8:36pm
@maldinis heir

What do you think of this set up? De scigilio(urby), rami, zapata, abate then Essie's, de jong(poli)montilivo. Kaka, Honda(ses), balo(pazzini)
on the 27th January, 2014 at 8:23pm
"Weary old bones" are you kidding me? Totti has been in great form this season with nothing to indicate his age or that he is "weary". Get a clue Rinaldi and don't rely on presuppositions to inflate your editorial.
on the 27th January, 2014 at 5:35pm
Roma are not a match for Juve. Roma lost 3-0 playing Juve's first team, and only won the Coppa game with a single goal playing Juve's bench team -- so that was Roma full strength against Juve 50% strength. Perspective. Serie A is a weak league, and getting weaker by the season.
on the 27th January, 2014 at 2:41pm
We've just signed Essien.So we now have 7 midfielders for 2 positions.I've no idea what Seedorf plans on doing with all of these midfielders.Presumably we now need to sell one of Muntari, Monty, Poli, Cristante or De Jong.This is what happens when you sign players randomly.Other players need to move on and so musical chairs continues.How about we get rid of Muntari and De Jong?It seems as good a move as any. We could also loan out Cristante until he's 30. Maybe he could replace Pirlo at Juve....
on the 27th January, 2014 at 1:34pm
I think Sunday's game was mostly positive. Bonera was so awful that there's no way Seedorf could pick him again. Rami didn't seem to do much wrong and could not help another shocking error from the Milan defence this time Amelia gifting a goal. Balo had a reasonable game and scored another crucial goal. Pazzo's back. He has to be one of the best finishers. I liked the look of De Sciglio and Honda linking up and the latter could've had a hat trick.
on the 27th January, 2014 at 1:27pm
Perhaps we can also do Juve a favour and beat Roma soon, that will be tough tho as Roma are on good form and are I hate to say a good side
on the 27th January, 2014 at 1:00pm

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