Italy’s top two could not take advantage of one another’s shortcomings at the weekend. Giancarlo Rinaldi reports on how Juventus and Roma fluffed their lines.
It was not a derby many of us will remember in years to come. The backdrop was spectacular and the fireworks sometimes deafening but events on the field of play never really hit the heights. One of the biggest cheers at the clash between Lazio and Roma was from Giallorossi fans when they heard that a late Verona goal meant they had not lost further ground on Juventus.
Rudi Garcia’s side were the more enterprising, for sure, but Edy Reja has performed some major surgery on the Biancocelesti by inserting a bit of backbone. They weathered an early storm and never really saw Etrit Berisha called upon to make many saves. A close but correct offside call on a Gervinho disallowed goal was about as near as we got to breaking the deadlock.
The build-up had been a little bit tasty with Garcia taking offence at his opposite number suggesting a couple of Roma injuries ahead of the match would be no bad thing. It is the kind of thing most supporters think, but few managers actually let slip. As it was, Lazio had enough to fend off anything their city rivals had to offer without needing anyone to be stuck on the treatment table.
“We tried our best but to win the game but you have got do better with the final or penultimate pass,” said the Roma boss. “That’s what we were missing - but it’s still a point away from home. It’s not enough to just attack, you need to be more determined in front of goal.”
Any frustration that Francesco Totti and company might have been feeling was surely as nothing compared with Antonio Conte’s rage at the Stadio Bentegodi. He is usually furious when his side loses goals, even when they go on to win a match anyway. To let a two-goal lead slip against Hellas went against every teaching of his Calcio credo of complete concentration.
“It is not enough to dominate for 45 minutes when a moment of distraction can wipe it out,” he said with ill-disguised bitterness after goals from Luca Toni and Juanito Gomez had cancelled out a Carlitos Tevez double. “We were the only ones who could put this game back in the balance and that is exactly what we did. I saw an unacceptable lack of focus, this was a missed chance. It is puzzling that when we concede a goal we seem to panic and get anxious.”
He need not worry too much as, like a man who pays a little bit extra for his theatre seat, their cushion remains comforting. The two draws, however, did let third place Napoli and fourth-placed Fiorentina move a little bit closer. Conte can’t be concerned, however, about either sides’ headlights appearing in his rearview mirror anytime soon.
The Partenopei underlined what a different prospect they are with Gonzalo Higuain in their team with a come-from-behind triumph over Milan. QPR loan signing Adel Taarabt announced his arrival in the space of eight minutes with a lung-bursting run followed by a sweet finish to give the Rossoneri the lead. But that just seemed to get Napoli angry and they roared back with a deflected Gokhan Inler strike and a double from their Argentinean hitman.
It was all too much for Mario Balotelli who missed a chance to knock in a goal after another Taarabt strike with the scores at 2-1. Pictures of the match showed him being substituted and then breaking into tears. It prompted widespread speculation that he had been desperate to find the net in a week where he confirmed - via Twitter, where else? - that he was the father of a baby daughter, Pia, with Neapolitan showgirl Raffaella Fico. Even his harshest critics must have felt a little pang of sympathy for the Rossoneri’s striker.
Fiorentina’s win was a more routine affair with a Josip Ilicic free-kick giving them the lead early in their match with Atalanta and a great run and strike from Rafal Wolski deciding the game once their opposition had been reduced to 10 men. The Bergamaschi are Serie A’s sixth best side on their own ground but only Catania have a worst record away from home. Stefano Colantuono may have to take to blindfolding his players when they go on their travels to try to convince them they are in the comforting confines of the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
It was a good weekend for the city of Genoa with the Rossoblu grabbing a single-goal victory away to Livorno while Sampdoria secured a similar scoreline at home to Cagliari. Both sides are striding towards safety as are born-again Udinese. Francesco Guidolin’s side seem to be staging one of their typical second-half of the season revivals with a 3-0 drubbing of Chievo their latest victory with the return leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final with Fiorentina on the horizon. That avenue could yet give them a place in European football once again.
One side who saw their Europa League dreams take a bit of a blow were Torino who threw away a lead gained via Ciro Immobile against lowly Bologna. Much of the talk pre-match was of how David Ballardini’s side had lost Alessandro Diamanti to China but they showed plenty of team spirit without him. Giampiero Ventura was the first to admit that was the kind of attitude sorely missing from his troops.
Rounding out the weekend was a 0-0 draw between Parma and Catania and Inter’s Sunday night skirmish with Sassuolo. The San Siro match was a clash between two sides in about the worst form in the whole division, and it showed. All eyes were on new signing Hernanes to see if he could transform the Nerazzurri single-handedly but that is surely a task beyond any one player. Instead, it was old stager Walter Samuel who got the game’s only goal and it least gave his team the tonic of three precious points.