A table-top showdown, a serious injury for Serie A’s top scorer and a landmark goal for a club legend. Giancarlo Rinaldi tries to round up the action in Italy.
It was the weekend when something had to snap. In the end, it turned out to be Roma's unbeaten record and Giuseppe Rossi's troubled knee which gave way. Both could have a significant say on the outcome of matters near the top of the Serie A table this season.
The steamroller was in full effect at the Juventus Stadium on Sunday night and it crushed everything Giallorosso in its path. Arturo Vidal, Leonardo Bonucci and Mirko Vucinic were the executioners in a 3-0 triumph which saw the Bianconeri's closest rivals end with nine men. Even that chronic curmudgeon Antonio Conte cracked a hint of a smile at the full-time whistle. He was, he admitted, ‘moderately satisfied’.
Not that Rudi Garcia's side disgraced themselves despite the scoreline, nor should they lose heart. They went to the toughest ground in Italy and tried to play their football and enjoyed some lengthy spells of possession. But getting close to this Juve side - for Italian teams anyway - is a trickier task than getting the World Cup stadiums ready for Brazil 2014.
For Serie A's best have, undeniably, got better and we can hardly be surprised. A team which was already strong has upgraded its attacking options with Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente as well as seeing Paul Pogba grow in stature and influence with every passing game. Coach Conte's claims that a third Scudetto would be his toughest challenge look a little laughable now.
As for Roma, they shouldn't dive into despair just yet. Their improvement has been so marked this season that their progress is, if anything, superior to Juve's. They started, of course, from a much lower base than La Vecchia Signora. They played well enough in Turin but were picked off ruthlessly by their title rivals. Nonetheless, there is a Champions League return there for the taking by the capital club.
Fiorentina's hopes of participating in that competition suffered a bitter blow on Sunday despite victory in a hard-fought Tuscan derby with Livorno. Gonzalo Rodriguez scored the only goal of the game but events were overshadowed by a right knee injury for Rossi after an unnecessary tackle by Leandro Rinaudo. It was a challenge which is bound to have had Italy boss Cesare Prandelli wincing in pain too.
The immediate fear was a repeat of the cruciate ligament injuries which have twice hit the Italo-American hitman but initial tests have ruled that out. Nonetheless, he faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines which the Viola could well do without with Mario Gomez still continuing his lengthy recuperation journey. Vincenzo Montella was more downbeat post-match than he has been after any defeat he has suffered during his time in Florence.
It was smiles all-round, however, in Milan as they went gaga for Kaka. He struck his 100th goal for the Rossoneri in a feel-good win over Atalanta and added his 101st for good measure. There was more rare delight for bags-already-packed Max Allegri when youngster Bryan Cristante completed the scoring. The European spots remain a distant dream for now, but even the most miraculous recoveries have to start somewhere.
“I knew I wasn’t finished,” grinned goal-hero Kaka. “I played below my abilities in Madrid but I’ve kept working to get back to my old self. I was always a true professional at Real and I was confident I’d get back to these levels.”
Firmly ensconced in the fight for the Champions League are Napoli after a Dries Martens double put the boot into Sampdoria. The win put Rafa Benitez’s side to within two points of Roma to turn up the heat in that particular battle. At least the fight for second place looks likely to go down to the wire, even if the Scudetto appears safely in Bianconero hands for now.
Another team with European aspirations of their own, Verona, pulled off only the second away win in Udine of their Serie A history. Big Luca Toni scored twice in the 3-1 triumph to continue the amazing Indian summer of his career. As for the boys from the Friuli, it appears their sell-your-stars approach has finally hit the buffers. Even a scouting system as good as the one they run takes time to replace lost talent. And things got even more glum when club hero Toto Di Natale announced he would be hanging up his hugely prolific boots at the end of the season.
Hellas preserved their surprise fifth place thanks to Inter’s defeat at the Stadio Olimpico to newly-appointed Edy Reja’s Lazio. In a game where chances were as rare as hairs on the head of Esteban Cambiasso, it took a moment of brilliance from Miro Klose to decide the outcome. In the process, the Biancocelesti bumped Milan back down into the bottom half of the table. Both sides will hope to rise up the table both significantly and swiftly.
Elsewhere, homecoming hero Francesco Lodi was the man of the match with a goal and an assist in a precious 2-0 win for Catania over fellow Serie B contenders Bologna. Alberto Gilardino scored one and missed a penalty as Genoa got past Sassuolo and Parma overturned a Ciro Immobile goal to see off Torino. Only Chievo and Cagliari stubbornly refused to score goals with Mauricio Pinilla failing to convert a penalty for the Sardinians. It would, in truth, have been excitement which the game scarcely deserved.