Monday March 31 2014
Keep Calm and Callejon

A showdown in the San Paolo saw Napoli inflict Juve’s second defeat of the Serie A season. Giancarlo Rinaldi examines what impact, if any, it can have in the campaign’s final rush.

A sliver of hope has been spotted somewhere over the Gulf of Naples. The almost invincibles of Italian football felt the rare sting of defeat to trim their lead at the top of the table to a still substantial 11 points. It seems unlikely to change the destination of this season’s Scudetto but it at least gave hope to Juve’s domestic rivals for campaigns to come.

Rafa Benitez’s men were well worth their win against a Bianconeri side which - shorn of top scorer Carlitos Tevez through suspension - played its first half in rope-a-dope mode. That defensive counter-punching approach has worked in the past but it failed to do the job at the Stadio San Paolo. A precise through ball from Lorenzo Insigne saw Jose Callejón grab a touch-and-go offside opener which was just reward for the Partenopei’s enterprising approach. Then, when the visitors attacked more in the second half, Dries Mertens produced a sweet finish from a Goran Pandev assist to complete the job.

If there is an Achilles Heel to La Vecchia Signora’s dominance, it might be her away form against the very best sides. Outside the Juventus Stadium in Serie A, they have managed to beat just two of the current top nine teams in the Division - Parma and Atalanta - with Roma still to play at the Olimpico. Meanwhile, in the Champions League, they failed to win a single game when they travelled from the comforts of Turin. It’s not a huge sample of games, of course, but it still suggests that an away trip to a top level team can prove a poser for Antonio Conte.

Before anyone gets their hopes up, however, it’s worth pointing out how relentless Juve have been against everyone else and at their own ground. They haven’t dropped a single point at home nor have they against a side in the bottom half of the table. It’s a ruthless streak which no rival has come close to matching. And that form line would be more than enough to get them home to a third Scudetto in a row.

Elsewhere, the action felt a bit like a showreel of talents trying to provide delight or dilemmas for Cesare Prandelli as he draws up his squad for Brazil this summer. One by one the would-be participants or racing certainties queued up to show off their skills. The final few weeks of Serie A action might well give him more headaches than a boy band album your teenage daughter plays for hours without a break.

First to give the Italy boss a boost was Mario Balotelli, who found the net for the second game running as Milan gunned down Chievo with ease. It speaks volumes about the Rossoneri’s troubled season that three games without defeat is seen as a significant revival. A couple of goals from Kaka in his 300th match for the club completed a morale-boosting triumph. Clarence Seedorf still looks like a tightrope walker teetering over shark-infested waters but, at least until next weekend, he appears to have got his balance back.

Next to submit his CV for examination was Roma’s Mattia Destro, who has hit a rich vein of form which must have seen him rise up the World Cup rankings. He hit the opener in a competent 2-0 away win over Sassuolo which also saw Francesco Totti provide Michel Bastos with an assist for the goal which clinched the game. There seems, however, more chance of the young Giallorossi striker making the trip to South America this summer rather than his evergreen teammate.

Another Calcio veteran giving Prandelli food for thought was big Luca Toni who helped himself to a double in Verona’s home win over Genoa after fellow ex-Viola Marco Donadel had opened the scoring. The fact that Hellas played half the match with 10 men after Michelangelo Albertazzi had been given his marching orders was all the more admirable. They were two tap-ins, to be sure, but the hero of Berlin is now second only to Ciro Immobile among the League’s Italian marksmen.

And how there must have been pangs of regret among the Fiorentina ranks about letting him go as they were playing out a goalless draw at Sampdoria. With Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez once again missing through injury, it was up to Alessandro Matri to lead the line with disappointing results, including a spurned chance in the closing stages. It’s safe to say the ex-Milan and Juve striker will not be seeing the Azzurri boss’s number flashing up on his mobile phone any time soon.

That’s not the case for Alessio Cerci who strengthened his already convincing case for continuing international duty with another sumptuous display for Torino. He set up one and scored the other in a 2-1 victory over Cagliari which got the Granata’s season back on track. In the process, they helped to make the Europa League fight more congested than the streets around the San Paolo stadium on matchday. With Inter still to play on Monday night, eight teams are within seven points of the fifth-placed Nerazzurri.

Their number include Lazio and Parma who fought out the most dramatic clash of the weekend. The Biancocelesti twice lost a lead before Antonio Candreva - another with high hopes of Brazil - clinched the match with its fifth goal. After 17 games without suffering a loss in Serie A, it meant back-to-back defeats for Roberto Donadoni’s men.

Oddly enough, their title as the Division’s form team has probably been taken by a side who have turned their season around after a 4-0 thumping by the Ducali. After a draw with Udinese, Stefano Colantuono’s Atalanta have now managed a superb six-win streak which has made them another contender for Europe. In-form Giuseppe De Luca, nicknamed La Zanzara - The Mosquito - stung poor Bologna with a goal and an assist in their latest triumph. It left the Rossoblu hovering just above the drop zone but - with Livorno and Catania still to play this week - that position might yet be under a lot more pressure by the time next week’s action rolls around.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
I can sense the tiredness coming from how juve train probably Conte ask them running like military since they've been playing 3 days a week I don't think anyone could stand being fit all the time.
on the 1st April, 2014 at 8:40pm
@ Wolfy and Daniel Giambrone there are serious issues with the training regime in Italian football. It seems to have been left behind. In 80s, 90s and early 00s Italian football was miles ahead in terms of training and physical fitness and also seemed to have a handle on injuries. Now the players cannot seem to compete physically with other European sides. It is concerning. All this talk about players adapting to Italian training. Perhaps this is not such a good thing. Serie A needs to modernise
on the 1st April, 2014 at 8:56am
@ Daniel Giambrone in fairness I think Cristante is injured. But if Seedorf insists on using 2 DMs then his chances will be limited. Seedorf is making lots of changes each week which for now is fine because he should probably test everyone out but squad is just so ridiculously big. Saponara didn't get a run out on Saturday because Robinho was subbed on instead. What does Robinho add (other than a massive wage bill)?
on the 1st April, 2014 at 8:52am
@ Viktor and Daniel Giambrone Honda had a decent game.I think he's be fine since he arrived. We probably shouldn't have signed since we already had Saponara and Kaka and unfortunately the only way I can see him fitting into the team is in Seedorf's current system. He does seem to want the players to interchange so it could work quite well.We could play with a similar system to Ancelotti's 03/04 side with Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf, Kaka.We cold play Monty, Poli, Honda, Kaka. Not quite the same....
on the 1st April, 2014 at 8:49am
I'd never take Luca Toni for the Azzurri again. There are some players that are scoring machines for their clubs but can't do it on the national level. Wayne Rooney comes to mind, even Messi to a lesser extent isn't the same player for Argentina as he is for Barca. Toni miss fires when he wears the Italian Blue. Italy has Balotelli and possibly Cassano.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 8:48pm
@Wolfy, I too cannot stand the 'tired' excuse. You don't hear this from the other 1/4 finalists in the European competition's. I also think that it is a sign of weakness to continually cite fatigue. You were also spot-on with your sitting back & the need for a plan b observations. I hope that last night will give them a kick up the backside, as another showing like that will see Lyon turning them over & comfortably so.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 8:37pm
@Malidini's Heir, good posts! I too dislike the midfield two of NDJ & Muntari. What has happened to Cristante? Is he injured? I haven't seen him play since Allegri's final days. I really hope that Inter & Udinese don't qualify for the EL. Given Mazzarri's disdain towards the EL & Udinese's pitiful showings in recent years; it could prove disastrous for our co-efficients. It's good to see Balo, Kaka, & Honda (aside from his miss) playing well!
on the 31st March, 2014 at 8:23pm
I've been having my doubts over Insigne this season: his end product, especially his finishing can be weak. He really impressed me last night though. His movement, dribbling & passing were all very good. He was excellent in possession-rarely giving away the ball-and was always involved. I hope that he can consistently reproduce this kind of form. If so, he will have to go to Brazil. Jorginho was also quietly effective: Napoli are much better with him in the starting 11.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 8:15pm
Last nights performance told me that Juve, despite dominating Italy, are still a long way from being a Champions League contender. When they come up against good teams, that push up against them & double-up down the flanks, this exhibits the weaknesses in the 352 system. I hope that Juve sign some high quality attacking wide players in the summer to, allow Conte to switch to an effective 433. Napoli were very good last night & had it not been for Buffon, could have scored 4 or 5.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 8:04pm
The only impact it will likely have is preventing Juve getting their points total into triple figures. They've been worthy champions this season, though like everyone I'd like to believe Roma can give us some excitement.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 6:21pm
This defeat has been coming, Juve havent looked great lately and i wish Conte would start taking the game to teams rather than sitting back. I also dont understand the tiredness excuses, we are a big club and all big clubs play every 3 days! A few good youngsters are needed for next season so they can be rotated in and a plan B needs to be worked on, we're far too predictable after 3 years of doing the same thing!
on the 31st March, 2014 at 6:18pm

Don't be bitter you'll still get the title.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 5:07pm
Juve lost a game on the road to a tough team. Oh no the sky is falling. Please. Listen to the players and coaches reactions after the game, no excuses, Napoli was the better team. Conte's men have been sub par the last little while and got away with it from some great individual performances. This is a good wake up call.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 4:18pm
@maldini heir

I agree with you on Muntari and De jong. Bench Muntari or even better get rid of him. I agree with you on urby. However, something you dint mention was Hondas performance (yes about time) he was great. Won back possession so many times and the pass to kakas first was stellar. I just hope Seedorf can combine Ses, Honda, Kaka, and Balo. That would be great. Get a center back. Slowly very slowly I see improvements with Milan. Finally.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 4:09pm
@maldini heir

I agree with you on Muntari and De jong. Bench Muntari or even better get rid of him. I agree with you on urby. However, something you dint mention was Hondas performance (yes about time) he was great. Won back possession so many times and the pass to kakas first was stellar. I just hope Seedorf can combine Ses, Honda, Kaka, and Balo. That would be great. Get a center back. Slowly very slowly I see improvements with Milan. Finally.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 4:08pm
Juve looked well beaten last night they were completely dependant on long balls from pirlo who was being chased down by higuain and hamsik and runs from pogba who got swallowed up by the napoli defence. As for milan it is a step in the right direction is suppose with only roma and inter being serious opposition coming up that milan can finish on a comparative high. I still see serious problems at this club which are going to haunt milan for a long time to come.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 3:15pm
If their is an achilles heel? There is an achilles heal and that is dominating possession and hitting the Juve defence which is squeeky without that midfield performing for it every week. Tevez would not have made much of a difference last night, as he didn't make much difference in the last game against Napoli - apart from doing his little falling tricks around the box. Juve have no excuses-they got beat-and at the moment they look without passion. Next year will be tough for them.
on the 31st March, 2014 at 11:34am
And before anyone starts fawning over Tarabat. I've never seen a professional footballer give the ball same many times as him. He does far too much. And if I see another short corner which Tarabat then kills by taking too many touches I'm going to explode. Seriously what's not to get. The players start their runs from deep so they can out jump their opponents. The only way players can time their runs is if the ball goes in first time. Why does this need to be said? Still 3-0 yeah!!!!!
on the 31st March, 2014 at 10:21am
Difficult to complain about Milan's performance since they won and may as well enjoy the moment while it lasts but I'm still not happy with some of Seedorf's decisions. Bonera and Emanuelson have shown themselves to be liabilities even though neither made any huge errors. Zaccardo seems as good a choice as any at CB even though he gave away the penalty. My big issue though is De Jong and Muntari in midfield. For me it doesn't work since they're too similar. Poli has to play in the centre
on the 31st March, 2014 at 10:18am
Wow so what well done Napoli raise your game against the big team loose to the small ones...give your fans false hope... Try spend another £100 million in the summer to get closer to Juve.

Toni has to go to Brasil goal machine!
on the 31st March, 2014 at 10:16am
Hey, Rinaldi.. why don't you write about last night's CONTROVERSY in roma's game?? When there were similar situation in juve's games, you always wrote it as CONTROVERSY. So why didn't you write the same now?? Are you just blind, or just could not be objective??

You are pathetic, you know..
on the 31st March, 2014 at 10:16am

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