Serie A returned to action after November’s international break with a whirlwind weekend packed with exciting and dramatic moments. Matchday 13 is still underway, but all high-profile fixtures relevant to a fierce battle for the European spots are behind us.
Let’s look at the five leading storylines.
Kvara is Back as Mazzarri Off to Winning Start
Not since the glory days of Diego Maradona have Napoli fans grown fond of one player as they’ve of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The 22-year-old winger was the revelation of 2022/23 as Luciano Spalletti’s side halted a 33-year Scudetto wait with a dominant title win. ‘Kvaradona’ played a pivotal role alongside Capocannoniere-award-winning striker Victor Osimhen.
However, the Georgia international has suffered a significant dip in form at the start of the new campaign. His differences with former Napoli boss Rudi Garcia didn’t help his cause either. But the quicksilver forward is steadily returning to his best. After scoring in both Georgia’s Euro 2024 qualifiers, Kvaratskhelia opened the scoring in Bergamo.
Walter Mazzarri’s second touchline debut saw Napoli squeeze past Atalanta 2-1, with the ex-Dinamo Batumi star breaking the deadlock with a rare header. While he spent most of the first half trying to get a foothold in the game, he showed up when Partenopei needed him the most.
In the first half of a few chances, Kvaratskhelia’s goal on the stroke of halftime came as a massive confidence boost for Napoli. Though they needed Elif Elmas to find the net off the bench to take three points, the reigning champions can be optimistic about their talisman’s recent showings.
Almighty Theo Channels Inner Giroud
Milan headed into the international break with troubled minds, having alternated between drawing and losing in four Serie A outings, losing crucial ground on leading duo Inter and Juventus. Pressure was building on Scudetto-winning manager Stefano Pioli amid a dreaded injury crisis at the San Siro.
Without Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud, Milan seemed destined to fail against Fiorentina. Yet, Theo Hernandez had other plans. With Luka Jovic and Samuel Chukwueze continuing to underperform, Christian Pulisic looked like Pioli’s best hope of beating Pietro Terracciano. The United States captain handed the spotlight over to the Frenchman.
Widely considered one of the world’s best left-backs, Hernandez took it upon himself to carry Milan to an all-important victory. How often do you see a defender sprinting through the middle in the manner of Kylian Mbappe or Marcus Rashford? Well, that’s what the 26-year-old did on Saturday night.
He received a ball in his stride and broke one-on-one with Terracciano, only for Fabiano Parisi to take him to the ground before he had a chance to pull the trigger. Even in these tumultuous times for Milan, Hernandez’s confidence is off the charts as he took the penalty right before the break to hand Rossoneri three points.
Ciro Scores but Lazio ‘Immobile’
Every run comes to an end sooner or later. Salernitana needed 13 matches into the new Serie A campaign to get off the mark. And Filippo Inzaghi’s side made fans’ patience worthwhile as they staged an unlikely second-half comeback to beat last season’s runners-up Lazio 2-1 at the Stadio Arechi.
Out-of-sorts basement boys were meant to collapse again when Ciro Immobile put away a penalty late in the first half to give Lazio a 1-0 cushion at halftime. Maurizio Sarri’s men were in swimming control of the proceedings in the first half. And after their talisman put them in front, it should’ve been another day in the office for Biancocelesti.
Whether it was complacency or a lapse of concentration, Lazio conceded twice in the space of 11 minutes to succumb to a third consecutive winless Serie A match. Grigoris Kastanos initiated Salernitana’s comeback before Antonio Candreva struck home a thunderous long-range strike to sink his former club.
Sarri offered his resignation in the aftermath. It might have been a sarcastic gesture, but it’s also uncertain how Lazio president Claudio Lotito will react to Biancocelesti’s underwhelming form. Maybe Sarri’s wish will come true.
Dybala Is the New Prince of Rome
Agony and frustration spread across the Stadio Olimpico as Roma underperformed against bottom-half Udinese upon their home return. Desperate to atone for back-to-back scoring blanks against Lazio and Slavia Prague, Jose Mourinho’s team went into the game seeking three points to stay within touching distance of the Serie A top four.
Mourinho needed someone with a specific skill set to unlock Udinese’s stubborn backline, and Paulo Dybala answered the call. The Argentine forward delivered a top-class cross from a set-piece play to set up Gianluca Mancini on a silver platter for the Roma opener. But after Udinese leveled the score, Giallorossi caved in.
Gabriele Cioffi’s lads were on the verge of playing out a ninth draw in 13 Serie A matches this season before Dybala crushed their dreams. In a blitz, Romelu Lukaku’s backheel flick released the ex-Juventus forward in space. When one-on-one with Marco Silvestri, there wasn’t a shred of doubt. The ball was in the back of the net.
What a player!
Usual Suspects Run the Show in Dramatic Derby
A mouth-watering showdown between the division’s best defensive sides was supposed to end with at least one team outside the scoreboard. But Juventus and Inter boast such formidable frontlines that even their water-tight backlines couldn’t have kept them silent.
Sunday’s Derby d’Italia yielded an evenly-contested 1-1 stalemate, with the Serie A leading duo relying on their heavy hitters to deliver the goods. Massimiliano Allegri’s high-flyers drew first blood as Federico Chiesa set up his ‘partner in crime,’ Dusan Vlahovic, for the opening goal.
It’s been a while since the Serbia international last found the net after netting four by September. He couldn’t have chosen a better occasion to add to his Serie A tally, turning home Chiesa’s teasing pass with a weaker right foot. But it was all in vain.
Juventus have made a habit of winning matches by a goal to nil. Allegri’s tactics failed this time. You can’t expect to keep Inter at bay, especially when Marcus Thuram and Lautaro Martinez are on the field. It takes no rocket science to grasp the all-star duo put their stamps on a well-crafted equalizer.
Unselfish as ever, Thuram picked out Martinez inside the box with a defense-splitting ball across the face of goal. It was a routine finish for the Serie A top-goalscorer, as Inter fought back to keep hold of their two-point lead at the table’s summit.
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