We witnessed three days of legendary challenges and unexpected debacles for the Italian teams in the European competitions. Whilst Juventus and Roma are still hanging to their chances of making it to the next Champions League stage, Napoli faced the cruel truth of a possible relegation to Europa League – where Italian clubs, except for Lazio, walked the boulevard of broken dreams this week.
In their Champions League round, Roma astounded everyone inside and outside the Olimpico stadium, collecting an important victory against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. It all started just 30 seconds after the opening whistle: Stephan El Shaarawy, the so-called Pharaoh, enchanted Giallorossi supporters with a magnificent goal scored from outside the box, kicking the ball with the outer instep. Things got immediately complicated for the Blues, who tried to get back in the game, but Alisson Becker first, and some luck then ruined Chelsea’s plans to score an equaliser.
Right when the Blues were at their best, Radja Nainggolan found again El Shaarawy with a long-range pass to put him right in front of Thibaut Courtois. Thanks also to a sleeping defense, the Pharaoh just had to touch the ball to place it right behind the Belgian goalkeeper. It was then up to Diego Perotti to dissolve any chances for Chelsea to come back: The Argentian dribbled Pedro, and shot from outside the box right on the spot covered by Courtois.
The result could have been even worse for Chelsea if their Belgian goalie didn’t save the Blues dignity on a header by Alessandro Florenzi. This great victory gave the first place to Roma in Group C – but luckily for Chelsea, Atletico Madrid got only one point from their home match against Azeri side Qarabag FK!
In Group D, Juventus limited the damage by bringing back home a vital point against Sporting in Lisboa. The script of the match seemed to be the same as the fist leg played two weeks ago at the Allianz Stadium: Sporting took the lead with Bruno Cesar, who finalized an impetuous solo started by Gelson Martins.
But Bianconeri did not surrender and dominated the match, despite the equaliser was denied several times by an astonishing Rui Patricio. The Portuguese goalkeeper stopped everyone on their way, from Paulo Dybala to Mattia De Sciglio, from Gonzalo Higuain to Mario Mandzukic. However, he could do nothing on a lob shot by El Pipita, who converted a great pass in the middle of the box by Juan Cuadrado.
Given the draw between Olympiacos and Barcelona, the situation in the group is stable but still uncertain: Next round is going to be decisive for setting the balance towards the knock-out stages.
Wednesday was a drama night for Napoli’s supporters, who couldn’t hold back their tears after the rumble with Manchester City. Yet, the match had started on a different trend, with Napoli looking for the first goal and finding it thanks to a combination between Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne in the box – the latter scoring a wonderful goal.
Thirteen minutes later, Manchester City found the equaliser with a precise header by Nicolas Otamendi. Napoli got disoriented and the City took advantage of the hit, moving ahead right after half time, with another header, this time by John Stones from a corner kick.
Napoli needed a quick comeback, and Insigne showed his lads that it was indeed possible, with a shot from out-of-the-box that made the upper post rattle. Moral got higher as the Partenopei found the equaliser thanks to a penalty scored by Jorginho. But the speed of the Citizens counterattacks increased by the minute, and Napoli could not hold it back: Maurizio Sarri’s boys were caught unprepared in two of those occasions, which led Sergio Aguero first, and Raheem Sterling to increase the scoring tally and condemn the Partenopei to a solid and heavy 2-4 defeat.
The qualification fight is almost decided: Napoli have to summon the power of their patron saint San Gennaro, and pray for a miracle to see the knock-out stages, since Shakhtar Donetsk defeated a powerless Feyenoord 3-0 in the other match of Group F.
Thursday night matches crowned Lazio as the queen of the Italian teams in the Europa League. The Biancocelesti defeated Mario Balotelli’s Nice with a last minute goal that consolidated their leading position in Group K.
When the matched seemed to be fated to end up with no goals, Maxim Le Marchand diverted the ball into his own goal and gave Lazio the three points they needed. In the group standing, Zulte Waregem got closer to Nice by defeating Vitesse 2-0: Next fixture between Nice and Zulte Waregem will be a tie-break match for the two.
A disappointing 0-0 for Milan against AEK Athens, in a match where the post was the third squad on the pitch. AEK deserved something more from a game that they mostly dominated, and in which they were way more dangerous that their Italian opponents. Nevertheless, both teams are still in the highest part of the Group D ranking, and next matches may consolidate their chances of qualification.
Last but not least, Atalanta got reached both by Apollon Limassol at the very last minute of their match, and by Lyon at the top of Group E. The Goddess now shares the first place with the French team, which defeated a more and more pitiful Everton.
The match at the Neo GSP Stadium in Cyprus started positively for the Nerazzurri, who took the lead with a penalty scored by Josep Ilicic. Atalanta had multiple chances to score the second goal, but missed all of them – and, as a divine punishment, Apollon leveled off at 93′ with a header by Emilio Jose Zelaya, under the unbelieving look of Erit Berisha.