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Happy Returns

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If Juventus is able to earn at least a point on Wednesday night in Donetsk, securing a place in the next round of the Champions League, the period without Antonio Conte must be deemed an unqualified success. Conte will return to the bench next weekend in Palermo with the Old Lady on top of the Serie A table thanks to a 3-0 victory over crosstown rivals Torino on Saturday.

The first Turin derby since 2009 provided more excitement than the scoreline might suggest with Il Toro hanging tough for the first half hour until defender Kamil Glik was shown a straight red card for a nasty challenge on Emanuele Giaccherini. Andrea Pirlo actually squandered a penalty shortly after, but the numerial disadvantage, predictably, proved too much for the visitors to overcome.

Claudio Marchisio broke the deadlock early in the second half, meeting a Sebastian Giovinco cross with a diving header, and the roles were reversed minutes later with the 26-year-old setting up Giovinco for the second goal. Marchisio could be finding his form at the just the right time, and completed a brace later on in the match, while Gigi Buffon was rarely tested after halftime.    

Giorgio Chiellini sat out with a calf problem, while Angelo Alessio had the courage to leave Arturo Vidal and Kwadwo Asamoah out of the starting XI. All three will be counted on for big performances against Shakhtar in the most important match of the season thus far. A victory would give Juventus the top spot in the group with Conte more than ready to pick up where others have left off.  

Napoli also benefitted from a sending off in the 5-1 home win over Pescara, as Delfini defender Antonio Bocchetti received his marching orders early in the second half after taking down Edinson Cavani in the box. The Uruguayan scored twice to keep pace with Stephan El Shaarawy in the Capocannoniere race, and, more importantly, Walter Mazzarri’s side remains two points behind Juventus in the standings.   

The aforementioned “little pharaoh” was on target twice more this weekend, as AC Milan made it three straight victories in all competitions with a 3-1 triumph at Catania. The home side took the lead early on and was threatening an upset until two refereeing decisions swung the match in favor of the Rossoneri with Pablo Barrientos sent off before El Shaarawy scored the equalizer from a clearly offsides position.

Kevin-Prince Boateng managed his first goal of the campaign, but the red card theme continued with the Ghanaian sent off before the final whistle. Milan’s revival has been impressive with the Rossoneri up to 7th place and entering an exceedingly soft part of the schedule that features matches against Torino, Pescara, Siena and Sampdoria. The Blucerchiati did knock off Milan in the opening round.  

Inter-Milan received help of a different kind on Sunday with Palermo defender Santiago Garcia turning an Andrea Ranocchia cross into his own net for the only goal. It was the first league win for the Nerazzurri since knocking off Juventus early last month, and a frustrating defeat for Palermo boss Gian Piero Gasperini who was hoping to exact revenge on the club that fired him after five matches.

Andrea Stramaccioni’s side finds itself four points behind Juventus, but just two points above Fiorentina for the final Champions League spot. The Viola were held to a second straight 2-2 draw, this time against Sampdoria, with former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic finding the back of the net twice. Fiorentina is unbeaten in 10 matches in all competitions since falling to Inter in late September.   

Elsewhere, Albano Bizzarri saved a Parma penalty to help Lazio claim a 2-1 win at the Olimpico, upping its unbeaten run to six matches in all competitions, while Udinese earned its first league win since late October with a 4-1 thrashing of Cagliari. Antonio Di Natale looked lively throughout, but, amazingly enough, was unable to contribute to Udinese’s highest scoring match of the season. 

Some Other Thoughts:

*The Wesley Sneijder saga could be approaching a climax after the player and his agent met with the club following this weekend’s win over Palermo. The Dutch midfielder has been left out of the squad since returning from injury due to his refusal to accept a reduction in salary, and all signs point to a January exit for the man so influential in Inter’s Champions League triumph four seasons ago.   

In truth, Sneijder has never looked the same since Jose Mourinho’s departure, and the Nerazzurri have tended to play better without him the past couple of years. It remains to be seen how much interest the 28-year-old would attract, and whether Inter would search for a replacement immediately. Sneijder has started five league games, and scored his only goal in the opening match against Pescara.

*Mattia Destro felt no compunction about celebrating either of his goals against former club Siena, as the 21-year-old helped Roma come from behind to earn its first win at the Stadio Franchi since 2009.   The patience shown by the Giallorossi this past summer in their pursuit of Destro is beginning to pay off with the talented midfielder scoring four goals in his last four leagues, and emerging as a key figure.

*Last week’s surprise win over Atalanta proved to be a temporay respite for Genoa, which suffered a 4-2 defeat at home to Chievo on Sunday, dropping back into the relegation zone. Former Milan striker Alberto Paloschi inflicted most of the damage for the Flying Donkey’s with a hat-trick, and Genoa has managed only one league win since Gigi Del Neri replaced Gigi De Canio on the bench.