Week 25’s Milan-Juve was full of intrigue, yet, as Rob Paton writes, it may only be remembered for one very specific controversy.
Milan-Juventus was billed as a definitive clash in the sides’ Scudetto race, yet even as the Bianconeri’s draw gives them the advantage and the better head-to-head record, it will be a while before focus moves away from what might have been.
Post-match saw heated debate between sections from both sets of players on the pitch, Antonio Conte involved in a furious live television argument and Massimiliano Allegri again taking the opportunity to jibe at Juve: “I’d complain, but I don’t have permission from Beppe Marotta.”
La Gazzetta dello Sport described the 1-1 result as ‘a poisonous draw’, whilst Il Corriere dello Sport echoed Allegri’s words in deeming it as falsified. In short, the season’s biggest game had ended with the spotlight on the officiating. Where there was Alessandro Matri’s incorrectly disallowed goal for a close offside call and inconsistencies in similar fouls from Arturo Vidal and Simone Pepe - the former sent off, the latter booked - one particular incident has drawn attention.
A goal to the good through Antonio Nocerino’s deflected effort and in the ascendancy in the first half, Milan thought they had scored a second on 25 when Sulley Muntari appeared to head the ball over the line. Referee Paolo Tagliavento also thought so as he turned and pointed to the centre-circle. However, assistant referee Roberto Romagnoli on the far side had not flagged, Tagliavento had to trust him and so waved play on. Replays showed that the ball had crossed the line by a good metre and that, frustratingly, Romagnoli’s perfectly sighted gaze was fixed upon it.
It remains to be seen the direction that the game would have taken had that goal been correctly awarded. However, as it was, the Rossoneri struggled soon after that to penetrate the Juventus penalty area again, with only Robinho managing a second-half wayward effort inside the box, as Conte’s adjustments brought his side back to a more organised state.
Certainly, post-match focus should be on the work both the Juve boss and his adversary on the Milan bench carried out over the 90 minutes that made the game as fascinating as it was. With a team’s worth of absentees again, Allegri’s selection of Alexandre Pato, Robinho and Urby Emanuelson may not have carried the same immediate level of industry and inspiration that Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Kevin Prince Boateng.
Yet, that trio contributed to a collective effort of high-line pressing that somewhat startled Juve and can be directly attributable as the reason for the Rossoneri’s early ascendancy. From Leonardo Bonucci’s mistake that led to the opening goal to a noteworthy instance of Andrea Barzagli and Stephan Lichtsteiner heatedly exchanging words after an uncomfortable episode led to the centre-back’s booking, a Milan side that was otherwise weak in many ways, had Juve on the back foot and rattled.
Equally, Conte’s response - a formation change just before half-time followed by Simone Pepe, Mirko Vucinic and goal-scorer Matri’s respective second-half introductions - stole back momentum. As Pepe and Vucinic demonstrated in having more touches-per-minute than those they had replaced, the Bianconeri’s switch in shape, coupled with Milan’s tiring, saw the away side take possession in areas that mattered more.
At the same time, Matri’s highly effective 20-minute contribution of the disallowed goal and then equally legitimate equaliser came from a remarkably small number of touches - just eight. However, it was enough to put Robinho’s otherwise seemingly influential performance, Conte’s initial team selection and the weekend’s later international call-up all into a context to favour the former Milan youth product and current Juve top scorer.
Whether or not Matri’s goal should have been making the score 1-1, 2-1 or 2-2, however, is a question neither camp will agree on. Perhaps, though, both can gain solace from the overriding pre-match admittance that whatever the result, it would not be determining the forthcoming title race.
As it was at San Siro so it proved to be across an unusually high number of games in Serie A, as referees maintained centre-stage in Week 25.
Both Parma and Lecce can feel aggrieved to have seen penalties for involuntary handballs awarded, particularly as a similar incident against Chievo was not given. Indeed, in the latter episode, Cesena were the side ‘penalised’, according to debutant Coach Mauro Beretta, who also saw defender Maurizio Lauro sent off for a debatable second yellow card.
Likewise, Roma will feel hard done by for seeing Pablo Daniel Osvaldo sent off and not Atalanta’s Luca Cigarini for similar actions in their off-the-ball clash, whilst Palermo were also aggrieved this weekend to see Federico Balzaretti’s straight red in the first minute of play at Siena, and the hosts awarded a soft penalty to equalise later on.
The weekend also saw some football played and some extraordinary action take place - you need look no further than Catania goal-scorer Giovanni Marchese for such evidence.