A cap, a bandage on his neck, a hollow-cheeked appearance that showed the signs of the battle he is fighting, but did not affect his proud look. Sinisa Mihajlovic dropped like a bomb on the Serie A opening round as he decided to sit on Bologna’s bench during their visiting debut in Verona.
He had promised his boys, after all. I am going to be there. And Sinisa is a man who keep his promises, no matter chemotherapy and no matter leukemia. His doctors said that he is reacting well to the therapy, and that he will likely be able follow his club in more occasions. On that note, the Serbian coach has already confirmed he will be present this Friday as well, for Bologna’s home debut against SPAL. Priceless.
Mihajlovic’s unexpected appearance was the icicle on the cake of a Serie A Round 1 which offered 33 goals and no goalless game. Azzurri strikers Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne claimed the top spot of the scorers standing with a brace each, as they led their Lazio and Napoli sides to two convincing away victories.
Speaking of the Partenopei, Dries Mertens won the prize for the Controversy of the Week as he produced himself in a graceful dive into Fiorentina’s box that induced referee Davide Massa and his VAR assistants to award him a non-existing penalty. The Belgian’s feat was instrumental to Napoli catching a thrilling 3-4 away win in Florence, but prompted football inquisitors to advocate a ban for Carlo Ancelotti’s number 14 – which was not agreed by the Italian Football Prosecutor Office anyway.
Incumbent champion Juventus made full score in Parma by means of a lone goal by their captain Giorgio Chiellini, offering a down-to-earth performance that had much of Massimiliano Allegri and little of Maurizio Sarri (maybe because Juve’s pneumonia-stricken new coach could not be of the match…)
Inter’s performance against Lecce was impressive, especially in view of what shown by newcomers Stefano Sensi and Romelu Lukaku. Oh, and on a side note, the Nerazzurri have just reached a deal to welcome back to Serie A El Nino Maravilla Alexis Sanchez. Antonio Conte’s brand-new Inter seem to have all they need to be a serious contender for the Italian Scudetto.
But if Conte had a stunning start on his new coaching job, managers like Marco Giampaolo and Eusebio Di Francesco resoundingly failed their first test on the benches of Milan and Sampdoria. Giampaolo saw his Rossoneri giving way to Udinese without even managing to make a shooting attempt, whereas Di Francesco’s Blucerchiati were literally annihilated by Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio.
Here is what happened more in details in the above games, as well as in all the other matchups of Serie A 2019-2020 Round 1:
Alfredo Donnarumma, the bomber who led Brescia to a promotion from Serie B last season, has not lost his touch: The Neapolitan 28-year-old buried the penalty spot in the opening match at the Sardegna Arena to deliver the Rondinelle a precious away win at the expense of Cagliari. The home Sardinian side and their ambitious transfer market campaign fell at the hands of a team lead by their former captain Daniele Dessena, and chaired by their former President Massimo Cellino.
Three times Roma took the lead at the Stadio Olimpico, and three times Genoa caught them. The Italian capital hosted a pretty entertaining match, where the hand of Portuguese coach Paolo Fonseca on the Giallorossi was already visible: Roma were sparkling and courageous, but showed some evident limits in defense – especially on the part of their center backs Juan Jesus and Federico Fazio (Kostas Manolas, you are already missed!) Cengiz Under and Edin Dzeko, both coming from a fresh contract renewal with the Wolves, scored Roma’s first two goals, whereas Aleksander Kolarov sealed the third with one of his usual atomic free-kicks. Andrea Pinamonti – a young striker on the Nazionale’s radar – made it to the scoresheet for Genoa in the 6th minute, then Domenico Criscito and Ivorian Christian Kouamé nullified the hosts’ subsequent leads.
A stunning start for Lazio, which dominated Sampdoria and raided the Luigi Ferraris Stadium with a brace by Ciro Immobile and a goal by Joaquin Correa. The Azzurri striker scored his 100th and 101st Serie A goals, well served by a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic whose performance reminded us of the irresistible midfielder he used to be two years ago, but seemed lost last season. The Blucerchiati were absolutely non-existent, and their brand-new coach Eusebio Di Francesco will have much to work on.
Atalanta don’t want to stop surprising. The soon-to-be Champions League debutants came from behind in Ferrara to neutralize SPAL’s double lead and ultimately take the three points to pick up from where they left off last season. Federico Di Francesco broke the balance for the Biancoazzurri in the 7th minute, then former Nerazzurro Andrea Petagna doubled the lead with a goal dell’ex. A header by Dutchman Robin Gosens reduced Atalanta’s gap, then former Sevilla striker Luis Muriel turned the tables scoring twice between the 70th and the 76th minute, after having spent the first half of the game on the bench.
Torino debuted in Serie A with a comforting win over Sassuolo, courtesy of goals by his striking duo Simone Zaza (a former Sassuolo player himself) and Andrea Il Gallo Belotti. Probably not enough for coach Walter Mazzarri to forget his disappointing 2-3 loss to Wolverhampton in a Europa League Preliminary a few days earlier, but this is it. Torino’s manager left out key defender Nicolas Nkoulou, who is rumored to being close to move to Roma and whom had allegedly claimed “not to be motivated enough” to play. Sassuolo woke up too late, and found the 1-2 goal with Francesco Caputo only in the 69th minute. The Granata’s goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu pushed back all the Neroverdi’s further attempts to rebalance the match.
Marco Giampaolo’s debut on the Rossoneri’s bench turned into a nightmare. Not only did Milan succumb in Udine to a lone goal by newcomer defender Becao, but they didn’t even manage to shoot a single time in 95 minutes of play. Udinese’s coach Igor Tudor surprised all commentators as he left on the bench his star midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, but found an unexpected goleador in 23-year-old Brazilian Becao, who managed to beat Gianluigi Donnarumma with an effective header in the 72nd minute. Milan’s goalkeeper avoided the Rossoneri an even worse punishment with a couple of providential saves. Giampaolo lined up his side with an unprecedented 4-3-1-2 formation, only to admit in his post-match remarks that he probably doesn’t have the right players for such a lineup. Module change in 3…2…1…
There was one clear winner at the Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Stadium in Verona, and it was obviously Bologna’s coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. The Rossoblu’s manager sat on his club bench despite being under chemotherapy treatment to fight his battle against leukemia. On the pitch, the match ended in a draw, with Verona’s Miguel Veloso’s free kick equalising Nicola Sansone’s opener. Bologna didn’t manage to make full score despite playing with one man more for most of the match, but seeing their brave coach supporting them live was undoubtedly enough to make their night special.