The top three all won resoundingly but a 19-year-old striker stole the headlines. Giancarlo Rinaldi joins the queue to pay tribute to the skills of Sassuolo’s matchwinner against Milan.
There might be better days to come in Domenico Berardi’s career, but it is hard to imagine many. With his team trailing 2-0, the teenage forward sparked into life in spectacular fashion with four goals to defeat one of European football’s elite. In the process, he added another miserable chapter to the gloomy tale of Milan’s season.
The timing of the performance could hardly have been better for the Sassuolo forward part-owned by Juventus. A ban on his international involvement after he failed to show up for a call-up to the Under-19s has just expired, freeing him to play for the Azzurrini - Italy’s Under-21s. On his showing against the Rossoneri, Cesare Prandelli might be taking a second look too.
“I will never forget this day,” said Berardi, in what was probably something of an understatement. “We played for our pride because we were having a bad spell of four defeats.” Indeed, the result had the air of a vindication for Coach Eusebio Di Francesco whose days at the club appeared to be numbered. His swashbuckling 4-3-3 was a key part in kickstarting a comeback after falling behind early on to goals from Robinho and Mario Balotelli.
“It was a strange defeat,” said Max Allegri. “We were 2-0 up after 12 minutes and everything looked simple. This was an important game to get a better position in the League table. We need to roll up our sleeves and start again.”
The Milan Coach, of course, is set to depart at the end of the season but the question must now be whether the club will bring his departure date forward. For a club with the Rossoneri’s reputation, this season has been harder to swallow than the roughest homebrewed grappa.
Things are much more smooth, of course, for table-topping Juve who indulged in what felt like a little one-upmanship. Rudi Garcia’s Roma went on a 10-game winning run at the start of the season as they devoured their opponents with their lupine lust for victory. But a come-from-behind crushing of Cagliari gave Juventus a club record 11th victory in a row in the top flight. The Old Lady, it seems, likes to spell out her superiority in the most emphatic terms.
There was a moment, at about 3.20pm on Sunday in Italy, when she dangled a morsel of hope for her closest pursuers when she trailed to a Mauricio Pinilla strike. It took all of 10 minutes to cancel out that lead before three goals in seven deadly second-half minutes swept the Sardinians aside. At the halfway point in the season, the Bianconeri enjoy an eight-point advantage and are setting a pace which would take them past a century if they maintained it for the whole campaign. Antonio Conte’s side seem to set landmarks with the regularity the rest of us set our alarm clocks for work.
“The record of 11 wins in a row is an extraordinary achievement, unique in the history of the club,” said the at least semi-satisfied Juve boss. But, with trademark tenacity, he added: “Now I want to extend this sequence of successes.”
The incredible thing about this championship is that the Turin giants are being driven to such feats by the achievements of their pursuers. Roma’s 44-point total is the best they have ever managed midway through a Serie A season and matches what Juve achieved on their way to the Scudetto last year. It is almost as if the Giallorossi have acted as a pacemaker in pushing Gigi Buffon and company to ever-greater heights.
The capital club shook off their showdown defeat by the Bianconeri with a 4-0 dismantling of Genoa opened by a wonderful overhead strike from Alessandro Florenzi. “If I scored a goal like that, I think I’d hang up my boots straight away,” quipped Francesco Totti, who also found the net. “Juve are in a league of their own, they are reigning champions and are proving their worth. But they have a strong Roma side behind them which won’t give up - we’ll push them all the way.”
Even third-placed Napoli would, in a normal year, find themselves in much closer contention. They faced a potentially tricky trip to the Stadio Bentegodi to face high-flying Hellas but goals from Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Blerim Dzemaili gave them a convincing win. Verona tested them at times, but the extra splash of class in the Partenopei’s ranks was enough to give them the edge.
“This was a tough game but we showed once again that we are a strong side,” said Rafa Benitez. “Our closest target is Roma but we’ll just continue going about our business and see where we end up.”
The only top team which failed to keep up the hectic pace was Fiorentina. Shorn of strikers Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi through injury they could do no better than a 0-0 draw away to Torino. There will surely be action on the transfer market soon as the Viola try to cling on to the dream of a return to the Champions League by the end of the season.
In Bologna, the Davide Ballardini revolution hardly got off to a gripping start as his side shared the spoils with recently-appointed Edy Reja’s Lazio. The goalless game smacked of the typical Italian brodino - a chicken broth to aid the recovery of two ailing teams. It did not, however, prove a very appetising medicine for the home support, who jeered the Rossoblu as they left the pitch.
Elsewhere, Atalanta grabbed three precious points in the Bergamo fog with a 2-1 win over Catania while Parma snuffed out Livorno - and probably Coach Davide Nicola - with a convincing 3-0 triumph in Tuscany. Many pundits thought the world might be about to end when that particular match included a double from Amauri. But amazing things can happen - and continue to happen - in this most intense of Italian seasons.