For weeks they could do no right. Amid fan protests, bungled transfers and dull performances, 2014 started poorly for Walter Mazzarri and his Nerazzurro outfit. As the pressure mounted, last week’s slender victory over Sassuolo was the breakthrough needed.
“Winning last Sunday was definitely good for us,” commented Mazzarri as he prepared to invade the banks of the River Arno. “Subconsciously, winning puts you in a different frame of mind. Now we need to start stringing together results and performances more consistently.”
At Fiorentina they were aiming for back-to-back wins for the first time since early November. With Champions League football next term slipping towards the realms of outside prospect, Inter had to make noise, show they were up to the task against the side sitting directly above them. Their only win against one of the top four this season was against the Viola back in September.
Inter had to do it the hard way then, replying to Giuseppe Rossi’s penalty to gain a 2-1 victory. There would be no Rossi this time, but his sometimes strike partner Mario Gomez was ready to make his Serie A return after five months on the sidelines. When he did come off the bench, he proceeded to not touch the ball.
Rodrigo Palacio – so often Inter’s fulcrum in attack this season – prodded a shot past Neto to put the visitors ahead just past the half-hour mark. The goal was his first in 10 hours of football. Juan Cuardrado made it two goals in a week to level proceedings just as fans were shuffling back to their seats after half-time.
It was down to another drought breaker to give Inter maximum points. Barely 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute for his maiden appearance this calendar year, Mauro Icardi scored his first goal since September. An early birthday present for the Argentine, who is 21 on Wednesday, and a finish to offer plenty of confidence.
The Viola weren’t in a party mood, however. They were more concerned with the fact Icardi was offside when latching on to Yuto Nagatomo’s cross. “It’s a shame to lose to an offside goal,” stated irritated Fiorentina chief Andrea Della Valle. “Inter have been moaning for months about referees. Should we moan as well? What should I do? These are mistakes that happen even to excellent referees.”
Mazzarri considered it a ‘great performance’ from his side, while counterpart Vincenzo Montella blamed fatigue following their midweek Coppa Italia exploits. It gets no easier for his Viola, with European football returning this week.
No such problem for their opponent in May’s Final, as Napoli won at Sassuolo. Blerim Dzemaili scored from his customary position on the edge of the penalty area to knock the stuffing out of Alberto Malesani’s men before the break. Lorenzo Insigne engineered a classy finish to extend the advantage, curling a lovely shot into the far corner.
It means the southern club open their lead over Fiorentina to six points in the battle for Champions League qualification. Rafael Benitez sees an ever-improving Napoli, but is not quite ready to hand the reins over to Partenopei legend Diego Maradona, who has made his presence felt in the city in recent days. “If we win many things together, then we’ll let Maradona come in and take over...”
Roma put Sampdoria to the sword on Sunday evening. In a subdued atmosphere caused by bans to both ends of the Stadio Olimpico, the biggest question was when, not if, Roma would open the scoring. With the Blucerchiati thinking they had survived the first half, the Giallorossi’s own comeback boy, Mattia Destro, broke Samp’s resistance. A one-two punch from Miralem Pjanic and Destro after the interval sealed the deal.
In Turin earlier in the day it looked a case of déjà-vu for Juventus. They again raced to an early two-goal lead against a Veronese side, this time Chievo. Just as seven days prior they appeared to panic early in the second half as Eugenio Corini’s men benefited from a comical own goal to get back into the contest. There was to be no comeback this time, as Fernando Llorente nodded home shortly after.
Both sides of the Milan divide were celebrating over the weekend. Milan kicked off proceedings on Friday by downing Bologna. It wasn’t a vintage Rossoneri performance, but Mario Balotelli’s late goal was worthy of winning any game. From 40 meters he thumped an unstoppable drive past the helpless Gianluca Curci. Winning momentum for Clarence Seedorf’s men ahead of the visit of Atletico Madrid.
Roberto Donadoni’s Parma know something about momentum. They equalled a club record for most games unbeaten by dismantling Atalanta in Bergamo. Cristian Molinaro and Ezequiel Schelotto netted on their Ducali debuts, bookending a rout which also included a double whammy in the form of Yohan Benalouane’s own-goal-of-the-day and an Antonio Cassano free-kick. Parma are up to sixth thanks to unbeaten match No 12.
It was a tale of three’s in the remaining games. Livorno defeated Cagliari 2-1 in a match which had a trio of red cards, while Catania put three past Lazio. It was the capital club’s first League loss under Edy Reja. Meanwhile, Genoa and Udinese netted three apiece in what proved an entertaining contest.
All this, and still one match to go tonight as high flyers Verona host the equally impressive Torino.