In a week where Aurelio De Laurentiis outdid himself, Inter managed to fall out of the Champions League despite playing Barcelona’s combined, almost B-Team, and Lazio kept up with the top duo, it’s been an entertaining seven days in Belpaese.
But let’s go step by step.
Napoli qualified to the Champions League knockout stages on Tuesday by convincingly beating Genk 4-0. It was a nice farewell for Carlo Ancelotti who got sacked immediately after the match as his replacement – Gennaro Gattuso – was lined up long before the Champions League encounter. Ancelotti’s “second son” will now succeed him on the Napoli bench. Aurelio de Laurentiis is hoping to get a positive shock from the team by appointing Rino.
Italy was hoping for more triumph later that evening as Inter needed three points against Barca, which on the other hand had no motive to win whatsoever. But then, Inter did what they regularly do: Pazza Inter. They managed to lose via Ansu Fati’s goal late in the game. Romelu Lukaku was the tragedian, while Lautaro Martinez proved himself to Barcelona, and now the Nerazzurri have a double problem on their hands, with the Argentinian possibly interested in moving to the Azulgrana.
A very similar situation compared to last year, when Inter didn’t go for the win against PSV Eindhoven, which would have ensured them the qualification to the next round. It all ended in a disappointment, just like this time. It seems as if they cannot learn from their mistakes.
Wednesday saw some positivity return to Italy, as Atalanta historically qualified to the Champions League knockout stages, managing to go through after collecting zero points in their initial three fixtures. A win against Shakhtar launched the Bergamo side to the Europe’s Elite 16, and we even got to see Gian Paolo Gasperini do a little celebratory dance – and even while doing that he was as elegant as always. Later in the day, Juventus comfortably beat Leverkusen in Germany. Even if they didn’t need the three points, Maurizio Sarri fielded his best eleven in an attempt to regain the lost confidence from last weekend.
And then, Serie A started. The first fixture opened with new hope for Brescia, as they beat 3-0 other relegation candidate Lecce in a team performance where a player from every line of the team scored – a defender, a midfielder, and an attacker. This win tremendously helps Brescia as they now are on a mini two-match win streak, and just two points behind Sampdoria, Lecce, and Udinese – which all are in the safety zone.
Now, remember the positive shock De Laurentiis was hoping for? Well, that didn’t happen. Napoli lost to a fantastic Parma side, which looked made to play on the counters. A relatively simple setup of eight players defending with Dejan Kulusevski and Gervinho having full freedom to go forward resulted in the duo combining to score two past Alex Meret.
Lorenzo Insigne had another forgettable performance, enhanced by booing from Sao Paolo as he exited the game. Gennaro Gattuso continues his tragic streak with opening games, given that Rino had drew his first match as Milan manager due to the 94th-minute conceded goal. This time at least, he didn’t have to see Benevento’s goalkeeper scoring past him to collect their first point of the season after 14 consecutive defeats.
What is bad for the Partenopei is Kalidou Koulibaly’s form this season. The Senegalese defender is making one mistake after another, just like on Saturday where he gifted the ball to Kulusevski. The Swede impressed with his strength, making the most out of it to score the opener. Jose Callejon seems to be with his head in China already. The other players are also severely underperforming. Things must be fixed quickly, or the Champions League spots will sail away, just like the club’s perspective for the future.
Later in the day, the Thiago Motta experiment failed once again as Genoa lost to Sampdoria in the Derby della Lanterna. Manolo Gabbiadini scored his fourth goal of the season to give Sampdoria some breathing space, as they escaped the relegation zone, leaving Genoa to drown in their own mess of seven consecutive winless matches.
Sunday opened in a spectacular way with Verona and Torino drawing in a thriller where Walter Mazzari’s men confirmed their choker reputation. This time around, they did the impossible, as they wasted a 3-0 lead within 20 minutes against a side who had scored less than a goal per match until that point. Mariusz Stepinski scored the tying goal for Verona, which are now 12th in the table as they recovered from two consecutive defeats.
Maurizio Sarri finally decided to start with the Dybala-Higuain-Ronaldo trident, and it paid off. The Italian champions easily beat Udinese at home, scoring three goals in the first half and giving themselves much time to rest in the second, where Ignacio Pussetto spoiled Gigi Buffon’s clean sheet by scoring in the 93rd minute.
Just when it seemed like things were starting to look better at Milan – they gave us the Marco Giampaolo special. A bore draw against Sassuolo extended Krzysztof Piatek’s crisis, and it looks like the Rossoneri are desperate to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at least to bring some spirit in the side. To be fair to them, Milan hit the woodwork twice, but the excuses aren’t working anymore, even if they’re justified.
Bologna kept up their unpredictability by unexpectedly beating Atalanta at home 2-1. Gasperini’s team were obviously still hangover from celebrating the mid-week success and we can’t blame them. Being a true mid-table team, Bologna are sitting at 11th, just one point behind the 10th place that they seemingly dream of. The next match will bring them Lecce away, and it’s absolutely impossible to even try and guess who will win that one – bettors, stay away!
Roma sneaked into the top four with a 3-1 win over SPAL, and it looks like the Romans are finally ready to win everything that they really need to. This was the third consecutive loss for SPAL and Leonardo Semplici will have to do wonders to keep his side in Serie A, given not just the table situation, but also the overall quality of the squad.
Sunday ended with Fiorentina rounding up Inter’s nightmare week. Borja Valero scored the opener for the Nerazzurri, but then 19-year old Dusan Vlahovic tied the match during injury time. The youngster scored his third goal on the season, putting the spotlight on himself once again. Perhaps this could be the wake-up call that Fiorentina needed, although the change seems unlikely to happen as long as Vincenzo Montella sits on their bench.
Then, when most things seemed settled – Lazio sent a message!
Cagliari hosted the Laziali as the two in-form sides met to fight for the Champions League spots. The Sardinians took the lead as Giovanni Simeone scored for the fifth time this season. However, Lazio then went forward as Simone Inzaghi ordered his men to attack relentlessly – and attack they did.
Cagliari defended, barely crossing the halfway line – although when they did, they created a couple of clear-cut chances. Simeone and Joao Pedro however didn’t convert them, and from what seemed like the hundredth cross of the match, the ball fell on Luis Alberto’s leg, and the Spaniard tied the match in the 93rd minute.
The Rossoblu were out of fuel for a while at that point, and it was obvious they were desperate to hold on. It showed in their playing style, too, as Rolando Maran’s men kicked the opponent’s shins as much as the ball, reminiscing of Maran’s previous Chievo playing style. However, footballing justice prevailed when the super-sub Felipe Caicedo scored to take all three points back to Rome. Lazio are now just three points behind Inter and Juve, and Inzaghi’s men look hungry and motivated for more after their eighth consecutive win.
Despite the excitement on the pitch, things are escalating off of it. In an attempt to send a message against racism, the Serie A League clumsily used some posters with monkey images on them to promote the “No to Racism” slogan. Just as you’d expect, things didn’t go down well as the initiative received criticism from most sides, including the league clubs themselveds. The league is trying to make some progress in addressing the issue – no doubt about that.
However, it looks like they’ll have to ask for some help from the outside as they clearly don’t seem to have the knowledge or vision on how to fight this issue by themselves.
Read more from Nedim Maric on www.whatafinish.com