It was once a jewel in the crown of Italian football. Clashes between Juventus and Inter have often been the stage upon which many a Scudetto drama was acted out. On the weekend’s evidence, however, the Derby d’Italia may soon be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act.
The Serie A points totals now suggest that Antonio Conte’s side are nearly twice the team of Walter Mazzarri’s outfit and the only argument may be if that is an underestimate of the gap between them. It took the Nerazzurri 40 minutes to muster a half-decent shot in the general direction of goal at the Juventus Stadium. They are a team which, at the moment, is about as ineffectual as a cheap umbrella in a tropical typhoon.
And, for much of the match, the Bianconeri were just such a force of nature. They grabbed hold of the game like a nightclub bouncer wrestling an unwelcome customer from the premises. All that was missing was a farewell kick in the posterior which might have been delivered by a goal from fall-through Inter transfer target Mirko Vucinic.
It was Stephan Lichtsteiner - so often the delight and despair of his manager - who opened the scoring by nodding home a typically pinpoint Andrea Pirlo cross. Then, in the second half, the drive and determination of Giorgio Chiellini and Arturo Vidal was in stark contrast to the distracted defending of the Nerazzurri as they put Juve three clear. The goleada - a goal glut - was definitely on the cards.
A Rolando strike following a penalty box scramble helped Mazzarri’s men avoid that fate. Indeed, with the game already looking long gone, they showed some faint signs of life. The personality displayed by substitute Ruben Botta and the arrival of Hernanes from Lazio might yet be enough to help this patient off the critical list.
The Derby d’Italia only gained extra significance after Roma’s chance to narrow the gap on Juventus had been denied by Mother Nature. The game in the Olimpico lasted just eight minutes before the Giallorossi and Parma were sent to their dry dressing rooms to escape the downpour. With the pitch more soggy than a coffee-soaked sponge finger in a tiramisu, there was little doubt it was the right decision.
Napoli could not take their chance to raise the pressure of on Rudi Garcia’s side. It was a comedy of errors as a blunder from Pepe Reina allowed German Denis to open the scoring for Atalanta and another clanger from Gokhan Inler let him double the lead of the boys from Bergamo. Maxi Moralez completed a rout which had the Neapolitan boss pleading for patience. “The time for judging is at the end of the season,” insisted Rafa Benitez. Some, however, might be starting to draw a few conclusions about his side now - especially if he insists on starting with Gonzalo Higuain on the bench.
The pressure should have been off his team a little after Fiorentina had also fluffed their lines on Saturday evening. One of the worst Viola performances of the season allowed a Mauricio Pinilla penalty to decide the game. Vincenzo Montella complained about the referee’s failure to address Cagliari’s ‘obstructive’ play but all it earned him, or so he claimed, was to be called a ‘little moaner’ by the match official.
Those false steps allowed Verona to move back closer to the top teams as they administered a 2-1 defeat to poor old Sassuolo. “We will fight until the end,” promised the man who has replaced Eusebio Di Francesco at the helm, Alberto Malesani. His opposite number, Andrea Mandorlini, won the understatement of the year award when he commented: “We are having a great season”.
Another side having a fine campaign, Torino, held Milan to a draw on Saturday night in San Siro. Ciro Immobile highlighted the old failings of the Rossoneri defence as he swept past lead-footed Daniele Bonera to open the scoring. New boy Adil Rami levelled the game with a thunderous strike but, try as they might, the home side could not quite give Clarence Seedorf another come from behind win. Perhaps Adriano Galliani, who reckons the Europa League is not in his club’s DNA, will have been relieved anyway as it surely makes a top five finish unlikely.
In the lower reaches, Catania and Livorno fought out a 3-3 draw which was not the result either side craved. “It’s a second game without defeat,” said home boss Rolando Maran, trying to find his grappa-glass half-full. “It was good to get a point away from home,” echoed equally upbeat Mimmo Di Carlo as the battle of the baldies ended in a share of the spoils.
Both sides made up a little bit of ground on Chievo, at least, as they were sunk at home by the ongoing Edy Reja revival at Lazio. A neat finish from Antonio Candreva - his seventh of the Serie A season - and a deflected Keita strike were enough to do the business. “Nobody wants to come to Lazio,” the manager had lamented prior to the match, having lost Hernanes and being unable to bolster his squad as he would have wanted. However, on recent evidence, maybe they don’t need too many additions after all.
A side which is always bringing in new faces, Udinese, got a vital win on Saturday evening with an away triumph at fellow-strugglers Bologna. A generous penalty award, converted by Toto Di Natale, set the Friuli side on the right track before Nico Lopez completed the triumph late in the day. It gave Francesco Guidolin and company a little bit of breathing space and a six-point gap over the drop zone which will allow them to prepare better for their Coppa Italia semi-final clash with Fiorentina.
There is the little matter, of course, of the Genoa derby to come on Monday night. Sinisa Mihajlovic has been busy telling anyone who might listen that the Rossoblu are favourites to beat the Blucerchiati. But it surely can’t be as one-sided as the Derby d’Italia, can it?