Football is not a level playing field and never can be. Over the course of a season, big games will come at bad times for some, they’ll all have different fixture lists, referees won’t always interpret similar incidents the same way and you won’t react to obstacles in identical fashion either. That’s what sets a league tournament apart from a shorter knock-out competition, as in theory, these should all even themselves out. In theory.
Napoli saw their perfect start ended after eight wins, although it’s 13 in a row if we include last season too. Lorenzo Insigne grit his teeth and played on just days after limping off against Manchester City, while Jorginho and Allan were back in the starting XI, having been rested in the Champions League. This is not an even playing field, because Inter had a whole week to prepare for this test, free from any other concerns. The lack of European commitments is a huge advantage for Luciano Spalletti, so in these circumstances, getting a draw at the Stadio San Paolo might be the least they could’ve aimed for.
Would this have been a different match had Napoli not been so thinly-stretched? Probably. At the end of the day, a point in this tie could prove crucial come the end of the season, as let’s not forget that in Serie A position is decided not by goal difference, but head-to-head records. Will it be considered an opportunity missed by Inter or a show of Napoli’s genuine strength? We won’t know for a few months yet.
Roma and Atalanta proved they know how to ‘win ugly’ with slender 1-0 results over Torino and Bologna respectively. In theory, Toro-Roma should’ve been a goal-fest, but in reality it was down to an Aleksandar Kolarov free kick. You never can predict what will happen in sport, no matter how much we kid ourselves that we can.
The way Juventus react to going down to 10 men after 25 minutes is not the same way that Milan do. The Old Lady reared its head and bit back, scoring another four goals to win 6-2 away to Udinese after Mario Mandzukic proved in the most inappropriate way that he has learned Italian perfectly well.
Leonardo Bonucci’s elbow on Aleandro Rosi is the kind of incident VAR was invented for, yet while last week Rossoneri fans crowed that Max Allegri only complained about the technology because it was preventing them from getting away with dubious decisions, suddenly these same people – and Vincenzo Montella – are repeating his words. “This isn’t football.”
VAR isn’t perfect and it won’t ever be, because there still has to be a human viewing the footage and making a decision. It’s just a different type of imperfect. We had believed it would at least be inarguable for offsides, but discovered this weekend that even that isn’t guaranteed. Cagliari had a goal disallowed because a part of Diego Farias’ shoulder was over the computer-generated line. That seems like the degree of offside we could probably let go. So much for the rule change about giving forwards the benefit of the doubt.
In Udinese-Juventus, social media went wild with conspiracy theories over the apparent offside position of Danilo, even though it had been checked and re-checked by the officials with access to better camera angles than the average TV viewer. We are in a post-inarguable era.
Everything is up for interpretation, as on the same day a team can draw 0-0 against 10 men away and feel regret, while another can lose 6-2 at home in an identical situation and insist “there’s no dishonour in that.” Beg to differ, Gigi Del Neri. That’s thoroughly dishonourable and downright embarrassing.
Hellas Verona saw Bruno Zuculini sent off in the first half of the Derby della Scala after a genuine nightmare performance. He gave away the free kick for the Chievo equaliser, then lost his marker, gifted the penalty and received two yellow cards for easily avoidable challenges. Hellas didn’t give in and kept pushing to the end, beaten only by the original Flying Donkey, Sergio Pellissier.
SPAL and Benevento continue to not actually play that badly and still get beaten, so I hope they can pull a Crotone and spring to life in the second half of the season. If they don’t, then the relegation battle will be over before it has even begun.