By David Mosse
Almost as predictable as Juventus capturing its second consecutive Scudetto was the fact that the title-clinching goal would come from a midfielder. Arturo Vidal converted a penalty early in the second half against Palermo, becoming the first Bianconeri player to reach double figures, and the 1-0 home win set off wild celebrations in Turin that figure to last for the next several weeks.
All season long, Antonio Conte’s side has benefitted from a balanced approach offensively, but the same can’t be said for many of its rivals who rely heavily on their strikers for important goals, and this was a round in which many of the league’s top marksmen rose to the forefront for their respective clubs. The most impressive display came in Lazio’s 6-0 thrashing of Bologna courtesy of Miroslav Klose.
Once upon a time, the Biancocelesti looked like legitimate challengers for the league crown. Lazio trailed Juventus by just three points after 20 rounds but suffered through a miserable run of form that coincided with the absence of the 34-year-old hitman due to injury. Klose underlined his importance on Sunday by becoming the first player since Roberto Pruzzo in 1986 to score five times in a Serie A match.
His explosion comes much too late to salvage a Champions League spot for Lazio, and Klose remains well behind Edinson Cavani in the Capocannoniere race. The Uruguayan produced the other truly devastating performance of the weekend with a hat-trick in Napoli’s 3-1 victory over Inter Milan, as the Partenopei further cemented second place and direct entry into next season’s Champions League.
The 26-year-old has now managed 101 goals in 135 competitive matches for Napoli, and is virtually assured of finishing as the top scorer in Serie A for the first time in his career. It remains to be seen how many more goals he’ll score in Italy with the Premier League beckoning, but reaching Europe’s elite competition offers Walter Mazzarri’s side a fighting chance to hold on to its prized asset.
Cavani’s departure in the summer would undoubtedly make Mario Balotelli the favorite next season for the Capocannoniere crown. With the exception of missing two important matches due to suspension, and notwithstanding his negative effect on the play of Stephan El Shaarawy, the Manchester City reject has proven a remarkable midseason acquisition, finding the back of the net nine times in 10 matches.
The latest goal gave Milan a hard-fought 1-0 win over Torino at the San Siro on Sunday, as the Rossoneri capitalized on Fiorentina’s home defeat to Roma the day before to open up a four-point lead for third place. Pablo Osvaldo, almost as polarizing a figure as Balotelli this season, continued to silence his critics by bagging the winner at the Artemio Franchi deep in stoppage time.
Interim manager Aurelio Andreazzoli is unlikely to earn the job on a permanent basis, but he has done well to guide Roma to fifth place and the brink of Europa League qualification, though the Giallorossi must continue looking over their shoulders at Udinese. Francesco Guidolin’s side is the in-form team in Serie A and made it five straight victories with a 3-1 home triumph over Sampdoria.
Antonio Di Natale has flown under the radar a bit this season, but at 35 years of age, he remains as lethal ever, and Di Natale scored two superb goals against the Blucerchiati to reach 20 for the fourth consecutive Serie A campaign. Colombian Luis Muriel also found the back of the net to help the Friulani remain just one point behind Roma with a very manageable scheduled the rest of the way.
Elsewhere this weekend, Marco Borriello maintained his strong form by scoring a spectacular brace in Genoa’s 4-1 victory over Pescara that assures the Delfini are headed down to Serie B. Chievo and Cagliari played to a scoreless draw that moves The Flying Donkeys even closer to safety, while Parma claimed a 2-0 win over Atalanta thanks to goals from Marco Parolo and Jonathan Biabiany.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Plenty of rumors in the peninsula regarding who the next Roma manager will be assuming interim boss Aurelio Andreazzoli is not retained. The Giallorossi’s Americans owners have already come under some criticism for being more concerned with brand recognition than winning, and must choose wisely after striking out with Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman each of the past two seasons.
Most of the names mentioned thus far, including Massimo Allegri, Walter Mazzarri and Luciano Spalletti, are gainfully employed, and Roma reportedly approached Pep Guardiola before he opted to join Bayern Munich. Failing to qualify for the Champions League certainly won’t help in attracting a big name.
*Catania has been a wonderful story all season, and the Elefantini set a new club record for points in a Serie A campaign in style, claiming a 3-0 home win over Siena thanks to a hat-trick by Gonzalo Bergessio. Rolando Maran’s side is still mathematically alive for a Europa League spot, but will be content with a top-half-of-the-table finish, its highest league placement since returning to Serie A in 2006.
*Paul Pogba’s season is over after the Juventus midfielder was handed a three-match ban for spitting in the direction of Palermo’s Salvatore Aronica. But the former Manchester United youngster has enjoyed an impressive campaign and represents one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s rare mistakes. Pogba scored five league goals this season, displaying a knack for connecting on long-range strikes.