Missing In Action
By David Mosse
Few managers in Europe received as much praise for their work last season as Antonio Conte, who guided Juventus to its first official league title since 2003 with an undefeated campaign. And Conte’s fingerprints will be all over the current Juventus side looking to repeat, as the former Italian international is still permitted to lead practice every week and pick the gameday squads.
But the 10-month touchline ban Conte received for his failure to report on match-fixing taking place at former club Siena does mean this Juventus season will represent a fascinating case study on the importance of managers during matches. The Old Lady is off to a strong start under caretaker Massimo Carrera, but not every victory will come as easy as the one achieved Sunday in Udine.
For the second week in a row, Juventus benefitted from a curious refereeing decision with Udinese goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic sent off early in the first half following a collision with Sebastian Giovinco. And Juventus took full advantage with Giovinco, in particular, capitalizing on all the extra space against an Udinese team still traumatized from its midweek Champions League elimination on penalties.
The diminutive playmaker, poised to become a full-blown star in European football this season, scored twice in the second half after Arturo Vidal and Mirko Vucinic had already found the back of the net in the first 45 minutes, as Juventus ran out 4-1 winners to move to the top of the standings. With Conte’s game-plan working to perfection, Carrera once again cut a relaxed figure on the bench.
His job requirements do figure to increase moving forward. In addition to meticulous preparation, Conte also earned plaudits last season for his ability to make tactical adjustments during games, and for providing a calming influence, especially when Juventus found itself 7 points behind AC Milan heading into a showdown against Inter in late March. The Old Lady won that match 2-0 and never looked back.
Carrera insists in every interview that Conte remains the real coach and true inspiration for any success this season. But when the going gets tough – and it’s unrealistic to think Juventus will sail through the entire campaign without encountering adversity – the caretaker will be called upon to show his mettle. And if Carrera isn’t up to the challenge, Conte’s importance will be more fully appreciated.
Inter is widely regarded as the team most likely to challenge Juventus for the title, which made Roma’s 3-1 victory at the San Siro all the more impressive. Zdenek Zeman’s side created numerous chances thanks to a turn-back-the-clock performance from Francesco Totti, and could’ve won by a bigger margin with more clinical finishing upfront, as Zeman’s attack-minded style is already paying dividends.
Youngster Alessandro Florenzi notched his first Serie A goal, while Pablo Osvaldo and Marquinho also found the back of the net for the Giallorossi. Mattia Destro made his long-awaited Roma debut against his former club, but the big question is whether the likes of Nicolas Burdisso and newcomer Leandro Castan can defend well enough for the Giallorossi to show more consistency than last season.
Inter’s lone goal came courtesy of Antonio Cassano who once again lined up alongside Diego Milito, but this week it was AC Milan getting the better of the controversial swap of Italian national team strikers, as Giampaolo Pazzini fired in a hat-trick in a much-needed win over Bologna on Saturday. Pazzini will be counted on in the coming weeks with Robinho joining Alexandre Pato on the injury list.
The Rossoneri did well to acquire Bojan Krkic on loan from Roma, while the addition of Nigel de Jong spells bad news for creative midfielders hoping to make it through the season with their knees intact. The Dutchman made his debut against Bologna, coming on for the injured Riccardo Montolivo late in the first half, as Massimo Allegri continues to search for the right combination in the center of the park.
Elsewhere, Napoli earned a 2-1 win over Fiorentina, overcoming absurd pitch conditions at the San Paolo and the sensational Stevan Jovetic, who managed his 3rd goal of the campaign, while Miroslav Klose scored twice in Lazio’s 3-0 thumping of Palermo. Antonio Candreva added a wonder strike for the Biancocelesti who, with a healthy Klose, look like contenders for a Champions League spot.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Dimitar Berbatov seemed destined to end up in Serie A this season with both Fiorentina and Juventus in need of a striker and heavily linked to the Bulgarian hitman, but Fulham swooped in on the final day of the transfer window. While Massimo Carrera publicly blasted Berbatov as unreliable, the truth is the Manchester United reject would’ve been a perfect fit for Italian football.
Fiorentina opted instead for Luca Toni, while Juventus, which at one point this summer actually dreamt of Robin van Persie, settled for another Arsenal striker, picking up Nicklas Bendtner on loan.
*Sampdoria is enjoying its return to the top flight with a 100 percent record through two games. The Blucerchiati followed up last week’s shock win over AC Milan at the San Siro with a 2-1 home victory over Siena. The well-travelled Maxi Lopez found the back of the net and looks poised for a strong season upfront, while Enzo Maresca, acquired from Malaga this past week, should bolster the quality in the center of the park for Ciro Ferrara’ side.
*For the second straight week, Catania was involved in the most thrilling match of the round, this time claiming a 3-2 victory over Genoa with Gonzalo Bergessio scoring twice and Francesco Lodi producing the winner late in the second half. The Elephants opened with a 2-2 draw against Roma at the Olimpico, and should provide plenty of excitement thanks in part to a leaky back line.