By David Mosse
Zdenek Zeman is still most remembered in Italy as the man responsible for sparking a massive doping scandal in the late 1990’s in part because the Czech manager has failed to claim a single Serie A crown in his lengthy career. Zeman was granted yet another opportunity with Roma this season, but early indications are the Giallorossi will be hard-pressed to even match last season’s 7th place finish.
The clash with Juventus on Saturday represented a statement game, and the statement was heard loud and clear throughout the Italian peninsula. Roma are not serious title contenders after suffering a humiliating 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Old Lady. A back line that struggled against the likes of Catania and Bologna already this season was, not surprisingly, unable to cope with a Juventus side eager to rebound from its first dropped points of the campaign midweek against Fiorentina.
It was 3-0 after 20 minutes, and all four Roma defenders had been booked within the first half hour, including Brazilian Leandro Castan who continued a disastrous start to his Giallorossi career by giving away a penalty for the second goal. Andrea Pirlo had opened the scoring with a direct free kick, and the 33-year-old produced probably his best all-around performance of the campaign. Alessandro Matri added the third before Pablo Osvaldo and Sebastian Giovinco traded goals in the second half.
Juventus certainly benefitted from the absences of Michael Bradley and Miralem Pjanic in the center of the park, but with the exception of the round 2 victory over Inter-Milan at the San Siro, Roma has looked unconvincing no matter what combinations Zeman has tried. The Giallorossi remain largely dependent on Francesco Totti for inspiration, and the captain struggled to make much of an impact before being replaced by Mattia Destro midway through the second half.
Osvaldo has been a revelation since returning from Spain, while youngsters like Erik Lamela and Alessandro Florenzi are blessed with enormous potential, but Roma didn’t lack for any quality last season. Luis Enrique’s project was undermined by problems defensively and maddening inconsistency, and Zeman has done little so far to correct either of those issues.
Furthering Roma’s discontent this weekend was Lazio’s 2-1 win over Siena, as the Biancocelesti righted the ship following consecutive defeats, including a 3-0 drubbing by Napoli. Brazilian Ederson found the back of the net in his first Serie A start in place of suspended countryman Hernanes, while Miroslav Klose was back to his best, earning a penalty that Cristian Ledesma stepped up to convert.
Lazio is level on points with Inter Milan, which finally celebrated a win at the San Siro over 10-man Fiorentina on Sunday (2-1) thanks to goals from Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano who continue to form a lethal partnership. Andrea Stramaccioni’s side is very much a work in progress, however, and benefitted immensely from Gonzalo Rodriguez’s dismissal, as Fiorentina was pushing for an equalizer.
Indeed, the only team that appears capable of keeping up with Juventus this season is Napoli, especially if Edinson Cavani continues his goal-scoring exploits of late. The Uruguayan followed up his hat-trick midweek against Lazio by scoring the winner from the penalty spot on Sunday, as Napoli earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Sampdoria, handing the Blucerchiati their first defeat of the campaign.
AC Milan came close to a fourth defeat in seven games against Parma on Saturday at the Tardini before settling for a 1-1 draw. Perhaps the only bright spot for the Rossoneri has been the emergence of Stephan El Shaarawy who scored yet another goal, while Daniele Galloppa equalized for the hosts. Massimo Allegri’s side limps into another Champions League week with only two wins on the season.
Elsewhere, Alberto Gilardino bagged a brace for Bologna in a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Catania, while Torino produced a stunning display in a 5-1 demolition of Atalanta at the Stadio Azzurri d’Italia. Giampiero Ventura’s side now finds itself in the top half of the table, well ahead of Udinese, which played out a scoreless draw at home against Genoa without Antonio Di Natale.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Andrea Pirlo set an incredibly high standard in his first campaign with Juventus, so when he appeared slightly off the pace in a couple of matches early on this season it generated plenty of discussion with former AC Milan midfielder Zvonimir Boban suggesting it was time for the 33-year-old to quit the national team. Boban argued such a move would benefit Pirlo much the same way it has Paul Scholes.
Pirlo alleviated any immediate concerns with a strong performance in the 4-1 win over Roma, but he does face a grueling schedule ahead with Juventus back in the Champions League this season and Italy in the midst of its World Cup qualifying campaign, so his fitness bears watching.
*Gian Piero Gasperini picked up his first victory as Palermo boss thanks to a hat-trick by Fabrizio Miccoli in the 4-1 win over Chievo on Sunday. It was Miccoli’s first start under Gasperini who had lost both his matches in charge since replacing Giuseppe Sannino. The 33-year-old saved his best for last, as the third goal was a sensational volley from almost the center circle that sailed past Stefano Sorrentino.
*Cagliari was finally able to play in front of its fans at the Is Arenas this weekend, though only one section of the stadium was opened to the public. Pescara promptly spoiled the occasion with a 2-1 victory thanks to second-half goals by Christian Terlizzi and Vladimir Weiss, but the Rossoblu will view this as progress after being forced to forfeit their last home match against Roma.