All eyes were on San Siro to see if Clarence Seedorf could turn around Milan’s season. Giancarlo Rinaldi examines his winning start and the rest of Week 20.
The new regime started with a trademark of the old one. Last season, Milan enjoyed an impressive second half of the season surge thanks, in part, to the penalty-taking skills of Mario Balotelli. And he welcomed his new boss, Clarence Seedorf, with another vital spot-kick in the Rossoneri’s first League game since bringing the Max Allegri era to an end.
It was a deserved victory but one which looked to be slipping away until an ill-timed intervention by Verona’s Alejandro Gonzalez upended Kaka late in the game. Despite a couple of recent blunders which spoiled his perfect record, Super Mario regained his composure to secure three precious points. The delighted look exchanged between the striker and his manager suggested that they might work well together.
This was no panacea performance, however, nor could it hope to be. Seedorf could not be expected to tackle all Milan’s problems overnight and it would be unreasonable to expect him to make much impact in a matter of days. What he did see, particularly in the first half, was an attitude which pleased him with the four attacking players in his notional 4-2-3-1 formation pressing their opponents deep in their own half.
“This is a group of players which deserves more than it has got so far,” said the recently retired Botafogo player. “This victory is dedicated to all Milan fans. There’s a lot of work still to do - but when you are winning, everything is a bit easier.”
There were two other less-heralded coaching appointments made during the week but neither did anything like as well as Seedorf. Attilio Perotti stepped in for Davide Nicola at Livorno with a pretty testing opening fixture, a trip to the Olimpico to take on Roma. If he thought his survival goal was achievable, he was in for a Rudi awakening from Garcia’s men.
The capital club was in killer mode with goals from Mattia Destro, Kevin Strootman and Adem Ljajic winning a game about as imbalanced as a see-saw being shared by an elephant and a dormouse. Even the Tuscan team’s new gaffer seemed glum about their prospects.
“I wasn’t expecting such a low-key performance even if we were playing a Roma side which is really strong, fast and lucky - given that they got a goal after five minutes,” he admitted. “I’m disappointed not to have seen more of a reaction from my team. I expected more determination - they enjoyed themselves and could do as they pleased while we simply struggled.”
There was no joy either, at the Stadio Massimino in Catania where President Antonino Pulvirenti’s will have to revise his masterplan once more - if he can decide exactly what it is. Having sent Rolando Maran packing earlier this season, he brought him back to replace Gigi De Canio after a Coppa Italia stuffing by Siena. The outcome was another Tuscan tanking, with their game with Fiorentina ending in jeers.
The match, of course, was a chance for Alessandro Matri to fill in for the injured Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi as well as show he was not the dud he appeared to be at Milan. As an opening gambit, he did not do too badly. Two goals and an assist for Mati Fernandez in a 3-0 victory before being substituted with a calf strain were a good calling card.
“I dreamed about an afternoon like this, I wanted to play my part again,” he said. “I have suffered for six months and I want to thank everyone who stood by me - my family and my girlfriend - I dedicated my goals to them.”
Another reviving striker, Rolando Bianchi, also grabbed a double as Bologna held Napoli to a draw, a result which allowed the Viola to narrow the gap on that last Champions League spot. After slipping behind, Rafa Benitez’s side looked to have turned the match in their favour with a Gonzalo Higuain penalty and a Jose Callejon finish as slick as his hair-do. But the former Manchester City front man struck a late goal to deny them three points.
Inter suffered an even worse blow to their European hopes with a defeat to their old Coach Gian Piero Gasperini in a soggy Genoa. Walter Mazzarri is in danger of sinking like so many of his predecessors who have tried to rouse the Nerazzurri since the departure of Jose Mourinho. Erick Thohir must be starting to realise the scale of the job he has taken on since completing his takeover of the Milanese giants.
It was down to earth with a bump for last week’s heroes Sassuolo who found Torino a tougher prospect than Milan and lost out to goals from Ciro Immobile and Matteo Brighi. While a single strike from Giacomo Bonaventura was enough for Atalanta to win their midtable clash with Cagliari.
Elsewhere, goalkeeping clangers played a key part in deciding Udinese and Chievo’s fate. Both sides had the lead at one stage in their matches with Lazio and Parma respectively but both saw that vanish. An ill-advised Superman-style dive by Zeljko Brkic let the ball cannon off his Friuli teammate Andrea Lazzari and into his own net to kick-start a late recovery and a 3-2 win for the Biancocelesti. In Verona, Christian Puggioni went one better and punched the ball straight into his goal to give the visitors a 2-1 triumph.
And, of course, Juventus won again - but this is hardly news these days. In fairness to Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Sampdoria side, they at least had the bravery to have a go at the Bianconeri but the outcome was the same as almost every match Antonio Conte’s side has played in Serie A this term. There was the consolation of making the Bianconeri tremble, at least for a moment, but nothing else to take back to Genoa. They should not be too downhearted, however, as La Vecchia Signora has only twice let teams pick any points from her pocket so far this campaign. And, on the latest evidence, she has no intention of getting any more generous any time soon.