An entertaining week of all things football in Italy is behind us as the racial issues overshadowed some inspiring performances and brilliant moments.
What was supposed to be a big match between Roma and Inter at the Stadio Olimpico turned into a farcical campaign by newspaper Corriere dello Sport, which decided to publish a Black Friday front-page headline featuring an image of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.
Roma and Milan immediately jumped up to ban the newspapers’ correspondents from their clubs. However, the small letters read that the ban will stand until the end of the year – and it was December 7 at the time it was announced.
Nevertheless, the Friday fixture opener went ahead with Inter looking to extend their lead at the top, and the Romans expecting to catch up with cross-town rivals Lazio for a Champions League spot.
Antonio Conte was left without his two primary midfield options – Stefano Sensi and Nicoló Barella. This showed on the pitch where Inter lacked the creative spark. However, Roma’s defenders did their best impression of Inter’s missing duo, gifting the ball to Inter in a couple of very dangerous situations. Conte’s men still couldn’t take advantage of the Giallorossi’s disconnected performance and the match ended in a boring 0-0 draw.
Then, along came Saturday and so did Atalanta. Gian Pero Gasperini and his squad are proving that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke, but rather a sign of better things to come. The Nerazzurri hosted Verona in Bergamo and just when it looked like the hosts might slip-up, Luis Muriel converted a penalty that saw the match tied at 2-2.
The clock was striking minute 94 and it looked as if it was all over. However, Atalanta are a team in every sense of the word. This means that all of their three center-backs combine like the world’s best strikers to score the winning goal in the dying seconds of the match.
And as much as Atalanta’s story is inspiring, another interesting match-up came afterward as Napoli played Udinese later in the afternoon. Napoli’s story, on the other hand, has been all but inspiring at this point.
The Friulani looked like the perfect target for the Carlo Ancelotti’s squad to show their teeth and end their eight-match non-winning streak. However, it turned into yet another winless affair for Napoli. The result was 1-1, with the Partenopei suffering a potentially very dangerous counter-attack. In what looked like an open boycott, none of the players ran up the pitch to help Mario Rui, who actually tried to initiate the counter. The Portuguese stood there with his hands protesting at his uncaring teammates. It was a moment salvaged in time as a perfect metaphor of the current events at Napoli: A disjointed squad unsatisfied with their president, a manager balancing between the two big forces, and big boss Aurelio De Laurentiis playing the game of chicken with his players. A sad act, really.
From the look of things, Lazio watched the Napoli match and decided to do exactly the opposite against Juventus. Ciro Immobile & co-hosted Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored an opener for The Old Lady. However, Simone Inzaghi’s crew means business this season and their heart and bravery won’t be questioned. It all started with Luiz Felipe tying the score at the end of the first half with Luis Alberto’s assist. The brilliant playmaker displayed his Barcelona roots once again in the 74th minute when he perfectly found a little forgotten Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who reminded us all of his endless talents by perfectly finishing the action to make it 2-1.
Ciro Immobile missed a penalty afterward, but even that couldn’t spoil the Biancocelesti’s party as Felipe Caicedo delivered the final blow, definitely killing all Maurizio Sarri’s hopes of avoiding his first defeat as a Juventus manager.
While the first two days offered some top-heavy duels, Sunday was reserved for relegation battles. Thus, SPAL and Brescia ensued in a duel that was really worth six points, given that both sides are at the bottom of the league table. Mario Balotelli made the difference, with the Italian scoring his third goal of the season amidst exit speculations.
Goran Pandev. The old master of the ball shone once again as Genoa took the 1-0 lead over Lecce, scoring with a 40-meter lob and making the most out of Ionut Radu’s mistake. Domenico Criscito made it 2-0 after converting a penalty for Genoa. However, if there’s one thing everyone knows about the Grifoni, it’s that it’s never boring with them. So, after Filippo Falco had reduced the gap with a stunning shot from wide-angle, Kevin Agudelo earned himself a red card, leaving Thiago Motta’s side with 10 men.
Falco was the protagonist once again as he assisted Andrea Tabanelli with a pin-point accurate cross for him to equalize. Pandev circled the crazy matchup by receiving a red card, so Genoa were down to nine men. They somehow still managed to keep the Salentini at bay, but are now dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Cagliari entered the Sassuolo clash coming from 13 matches without a defeat. It looked like an incredible streak was coming to an end as Domenico Berardi and Filip Djuricic scored for Sassuolo’s two-goal lead. However, enormous self-belief didn’t allow the guests to give up on the match: Joao Pedro scored his 10th goal of the season before bench boost Daniele Ragatzu could tie the match in the 90th minute.
If Cagliari are a synonym for a great form this season, Fiorentina are quite the opposite. La Viola suffered their fourth league defeat in a row, slipping down further in the table, now in 13th position. Coach Vincenzo Montella doesn’t seem to be the answer the club needs, and President Rocco Commisso might be looking for another solution to proceed with the season because the team is too talented to fail this consistently. Torino beat them 2-1 almost routinely behind goals from Simone Zaza and Christian Ansaldi.
Sampdoria continued their struggle against Parma, which in turn are now looking more like a European spot candidate than a relegation-battling club. Juraj Kucka’s header after a corner was enough, especially with Fabio Quagliarela continuing his poor form – to the point that he even failed to convert a penalty for his team.
Bologna and Milan ended the matchday program with the Rossoneri starting to look more like a real deal under Stefano Pioli. A couple of unlucky defeats at the start of Pioli’s tenure are coming back to them now, and there’s a prevailing sensation that Milan deserved a lot more than “just” a 3-2 win. The fight for the club’s top scorer also continued as Theo Hernandez scored his fourth goal of the season, overtaking Krzysztof Piatek who had converted a penalty earlier in the match. Hernandez being Hernandez, the Spaniard scored an own-goal and conceded a penalty, but it didn’t hurt the Milanese because Giacomo Bovanentura’s beautiful shot was enough to see them through at one of the toughest away matches in the league.
Many talking points are coming out after another weekend in Italian football, the main one being Juventus’ confirmed struggles: It looks like the Bianconeri’s poor performances from the beginning of the season are coming back to haunt them. Inter have taken some advantage so far, but the real test for Antonio Conte’s men will come on Tuesday as they face Barcelona at Giuseppe Meazza in a crucial tie for the Nerazzurri’s Champions League campaign. Luckily for them, Barca already secured the first place in the group, meaning that the job should be made easier for Inter.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio – the best in-form side of the league – confirmed a string of good results, and are now serious about catching up with the top two, something that seemed impossible earlier in the season. Next week brings us a big duel between Cagliari and Lazio, as the two rising forces collide to determine which one deserves the sensation of the season label.
Stay tuned as we deliver another update for the next fixture, keeping you fully posted on the latest events from your favorite football league.