With Juventus setting a tough tempo at the top of the table it was up to Roma to respond. Giancarlo Rinaldi looks at how Rudi Garcia’s side fared and rounds up the rest of the action.
Sitting on the sidelines must be torture for a professional footballer. Unable to do the job you are paid for, you have to watch your colleagues in action like any other spectator. But if Roma’s Mattia Destro had been bottling up his frustration for six months or so, it exploded like Spumante on Sunday lunchtime.
It was a curious comeback for the Giallorosso hitman who feels effectively like a new signing for the capital club. He was a much-heralded signing the summer before last but had yet to deliver the return which was hoped for. A match-winning goal to decide a thoroughly entertaining clash in the Stadio Olimpico with Fiorentina was - the club will hope - a small down-payment on future success.
Destro did not start the match but his team were in thumping form in its opening exchanges. Brazilian wing back Maicon opened the scoring after a typically searing burst from Gervinho and, soon after, Daniele De Rossi could have doubled their advantage. But the Viola hung in there tenaciously and the Juan Manuel Vargas revival tour continued when he hammered home an equaliser before half time.
But that was the catalyst for Destro’s crucial cameo appearance. He came on at about the hour mark, smacked home another delightful Gervinho cutback and was then substituted after Miralem Pjanic picked up a late red card. His contribution lasted about half an hour but was enough to give Roma the win which allowed them to stay within three points of a Juve side which had clinically put away Bologna 2-0 on Friday night. The young striker could not contain his delight.
“It was important to get back on to the pitch after such a long time,” he said. “I scored a goal too, which is tremendous. I have had a hard time but that is all behind me now. We played a great game. Our message to Juve? We will go about our business and continue to fight.”
Before kick-off Rudi Garcia had said his side would have to play like 11 wolves to get back to winning ways after a run of drawn matches. He certainly got a hungry display from his troops which will have boosted hopes of keeping up pressure on the Bianconeri. And all of this was achieved with Francesco Totti sitting on the bench giving out instructions.
By that stage, Napoli had already blown their chance to keep within reach of Antonio Conte’s men after an incredible 3-3 draw with Udinese on Saturday night. The game was not the best preparation for a make or break Champions League clash with Arsenal as Rafa Benitez’s outfit lost a two-goal lead, reclaimed the advantage and then let it slip once more. It was not the kind of display to have the Gunners fearing they will miss their qualification target.
There were similar frustrations for Milan on their travels to Livorno as they threatened to lose a game where they took the lead through Mario Balotelli. It needed a wonderful free-kick from the Italy international - who appears to have rediscovered his goalscoring touch - to ensure a share of the spoils. A top three finish, however, looks about as likely as Adriano Galliani starting his own line of hair care products.
City cousins Inter, of course, are much closer to the top but they too fluffed their lines. Presented with a chance to get closer to third-placed Napoli they could only match the Partenopei’s result in a madcap 3-3 draw with Parma. The game contained doubles from Rodrigo Palacio and Nicola Sansone, a howler from Samir Handanovic and the kind of defensive distraction which neutrals love but infuriates Coaches. These sort of goal-crazy affairs are becoming a hallmark of Italian football nowadays.
Elsewhere, there was a revival tonic for Verona who came from behind to beat Atalanta and confirm their amazing form at the Stadio Bentegodi. If Serie A was decided on home results alone, Hellas would currently be locked with Juventus at the top of the table. Just six of their points this season have come when they have left the safety of their own ground behind.
Meanwhile, in the lower reaches, a dogfight to avoid relegation is becoming more of a reality every passing week. By the end of the weekend’s matches there were 13 sides covered by just a seven-point gap stretching from Torino in seventh spot down to Bologna in second bottom. Only Catania, who allowed Sinisa Mihajlovic to get his first win in charge at Sampdoria, look cut adrift in last place.
Another new manager enjoying an impressive impact is Eugenio Corini at Chievo and his team secured a vital win - at least we think they did - in foggy Reggio Emilia against Sassuolo. The Gian Piero Gasperini effect also looked to be working for Genoa when Alberto Gilardino gave them the lead against Cagliari only to be overhauled. It was a case of Sau far, Sau good for the Sardinians as the inspired Marco bagged a brace.
One club meditating its manager’s fate is Lazio and Vlad Petkovic’s situation got no easier when his team went down to defeat against Torino. In truth, they could easily have got something out of the game, particularly on their second half display, but it almost feels as if winning the Coppa Italia over Roma was part of a pact with the devil which has seen their fortunes fall apart ever since. They have the quality to turn things around, there is little doubt about that, but whether they will be willing to wait much longer for the man currently in charge to steady the ship is getting more doubtful by the day.