Juventus’ win and their rivals’ stuttering meant that the Italian champions were the big winners again this weekend. Giancarlo Rinaldi wraps up the Week 21 action.
It might not have been a perfect weekend for Juventus, but it sure came pretty close. A thumping win over Udinese and none of the rest of the top six managed a victory. A stuttering start to 2013 was clearly just the sound of a finely-tuned engine backfiring, not one about to burst into flames.
It is the hallmark of champions that they respond to any mini-crisis with a big performance and Juve's came courtesy of Paul Pogba. The young Frenchman needs the "carrot and stick" treatment according to Antonio Conte. After his latest performance, he deserves a big bucket load of orange vegetables.
His double helped ease the Bianconeri to a 4-0 victory which gave a painful ending to Francesco Guidolin's 500th match in charge of a Serie A side. The boys from the Friuli never got their counter-attacks flowing and the service to their front men was far too sporadic. Their Europa League ambitions fell flatter than a slab of freshly-rolled pizza dough.
And, as so often happens, Juve's triumph was only accentuated by the faltering steps of their rivals. As if intimidated by the prospect of challenging the Winter Champions, everyone in any kind of contention behind them slipped up. It left the Europa League zone looking busier than Juan Vargas’s tattoo artist.
Lazio had the most lucky escape. They needed a late Hernanes penalty to come away with a draw at ailing Palermo when both teams really wanted a win. It was a point which - like an out-of-date bottle of Limoncello - left the two sides with a bitter taste in their mouths.
There was less for Napoli to feel sour about after their point in Florence. Having got two points and two players back after unravelling the elaborate spaghetti of Italian sporting justice, the Partenopei could well have got all three points at the Artemio Franchi. Equally, the Viola will think they might have pinched more than their first point of 2013.
There will be few greater misjudgments this season than Morgan De Sanctis' decision to come for a hopeful long ball from Facundo Roncaglia. It bounced over his head and into the goal in a move which left him more red-faced than a tourist accidentally falling asleep on a Viareggio sun-lounger. It took Edinson Cavani's 100th goal in Italy - his first came against the Fiorentina too - to save his blushes.
Inter and Roma were locked in a draw on Sunday night at the Stadio Olimpico too. The Giallorossi took the lead through a Francesco Totti penalty after Michael Bradley was apparently felled by Andrea Ranocchia’s head. For the visitors, a powering Fredy Guarin run - with a hint of handball - helped to set up Rodrigo Palacio for an equaliser. Both sides could recriminate about the goals conceded but, in the end, a point each felt like just about a fair reward.
As well as Juve, the other club to make progress were Milan with a huff-and-puff victory over Bologna. There are signs that the Rossoneri are finally getting to grips with life after Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It might not be particularly pretty to watch, but at least you can't fault the effort. But it would be hard to think there are too many sleepless nights being suffered in Barcelona at the prospect of facing the Rossoneri in the Champions League.
It's only fair to also mention Catania here as genuine contenders for a European place. A 2-0 win over struggling Genoa puts Rolando Maran's side on the fringes of qualification for continental competition. It sets up an appetising clash with Fiorentina next week at the Massimino which could bring the Europa League even closer for the Sicilian side.
The outbreak of draws also affected Chievo’s clash with Parma and Atalanta’s delayed-by-snow-clearing encounter with Cagliari. Those results gave greater importance to Torino’s gutsy win at Pescara courtesy of ex-Viola wide men - Mario Santana and Alessio Cerci. Giampiero Ventura would never admit it, but his side is starting to look like it can survive comfortably in Serie A and start building confidently for another season in the top flight.
Less assured of their future in the Division are Siena and Sampdoria and emotions boiled over at the end of the Tuscan’s win over the Genoese side which had the feel of a real relegation decider, even at this stage in the season. The victory for Beppe Iachini's men gave them an outside hope of salvation while leaving Delio Rossi’s side locked in a survival battle involving at least six other sides. Tempers are likely to remain frayed between now and the end of the season.
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