By David Mosse
Francesco Totti has suffered through some difficult times at Roma, but this season has to rank among the most frustrating given the potential his side flashed in the first half of the campaign. A run of five defeats in eight league games cost Zdenek Zeman his job and sent the Giallorossi tumbling down towards mid-table mediocrity, raising serious questions about the direction of the club.
Through it all, Totti remained the consummate professional, and his reward came early in the second half against Juventus on Saturday when his missile clocked at 70 miles per hour found the back of the net for the only goal of the match. It was the 10th time in his career Totti has scored against Gianluigi Buffon and gave Roma its first victory under caretaker boss Aurelio Andreazzoli.
Whether the result represents a turning point will depend on the play of the back-line, which held up well against a Juventus’ attack brimming with confidence after putting three past Celtic in the Champions League. Indeed, Roma recorded just its fifth clean sheet of the campaign, and the Giallorossi have still conceded the second most goals in Serie A, behind only relegation threatened Pescara.
The Bianconeri seemed a step slow following their midweek exertions, and Antonio Conte was justifiably upset his side was forced to play on Saturday. Conte should also be unhappy at referee Gianluca Rocchi who allowed Totti to stay on the field after an uncharacteristically brutal first-half foul on Andre Pirlo, but the Juventus manager is probably reluctant to risk another touch-line ban.
Rocchi also continued a strange new pattern when he blew the final whistle before Juventus could take a corner in stoppage time, but on the balance of play, Roma was well deserving of its first league win over the Bianconeri since January 2010. Daniele De Rossi missed a golden opportunity to double the lead, while the much criticised Pablo Osvaldo created problems for Juventus throughout the match.
Andreazzoli’s arrival has given several Roma players a new lease on life, most notably De Rossi who started over American Michael Bradley in the midfield. Kwadwo Asamoah played his first match for Juventus since returning from the African Cup of Nations, but Claudio Marchisio missed out through suspension, while Nicolas Anelka is not fit enough yet to contribute much of anything.
The good news for the Bianconeri is that Napoli inched just one point closer following a disappointing scoreless draw against Sampdoria. Walter Mazzarri’s side was still feeling the after effects from a stunning 3-0 home defeat to Czech side Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League, and put forth one of its more lackluster performances of the campaign with even Edinson Cavani held in check.
Mauro Icardi was a constant menace and Sampdoria actually looked the more dangerous side until the middle of the second half when Napoli finally awoke from its slumber and piled on the pressure. The Partenopei may soon be looking over their shoulders at AC Milan, which remains the in-form team in Serie A and upped its unbeaten run to seven league games with a 2-1 victory over Parma.
Mario Balotelli scored his fourth goal since joining the Rossoneri, this time from a direct free kick, and his presence afforded Massimo Allegri the luxury of resting Stephan El Shaarawy for the upcoming Champions League clash with Barcelona. Milan now finds itself ahead of Inter -- which was 13 points above its crosstown rivals in mid-November -- with the two teams set to square off next weekend.
The Nerazzurri suffered a humiliating 4-1 defeat away to Fiorentina on Sunday in the first match since Diego Milito was ruled out for the remainder of the campaign with a knee injury. Stevan Jovetic confirmed his status as one of the hottest talents in European football with a devastating performance, scoring twice and setting up Adem Ljajic for the first of his two goals on the day.
Elsewhere, Palermo remains in the relegation zone, but the Rosanero did salvage a 1-1 draw away to Chievo thanks to a second-half equalizer by Cyril Thereau. Udinese paid the price for some awful finishing and suffered its third defeat in the last five league games, falling 1-0 away to Genoa, while Torino secured a 2-1 home win over Atalanta thanks to goals from Alessio Cerci and Valter Birsa.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Italian clubs enjoyed mixed fortunes in Europe last week with the Juventus result representing the highlight, as the Bianconeri overcame an incredible atmosphere at Celtic Park. Inter-Milan took care of business with a 2-0 first-leg home win over CFR Cluj, though the result was somewhat marred by Diego Milito’s agonising injury, while Lazio earned a thrilling 3-3 draw away to Monchengladbach.
Napoli’s capitulation at home against Viktoria Plzen was a complete embarrassment, however, as Walter Mazzarri’s side looked capable of making a deep run in the competition, and every result matters in terms of Italian football restoring some of the prestige it has lost in recent seasons.
*The success of Sampdoria sensation Mauro Icardi has unsurprisingly caught the attention of bigger clubs with reports in the peninsula last week claiming a deal with Inter-Milan was already in place. The Blucerchiati quickly denied the story, but with Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini also expressing interest in the Argentinean striker, Icardi could very well be on the move this upcoming summer.
*Sergio Almiron’s first-half header was enough to give Catania a win over Bologna this weekend. It has been an impressive campaign for the Elephants who are challenging Fiorentina for the title of biggest surprise in Serie A. Catania now finds itself in seventh place and has a chance to claim a European spot with showdowns against Inter-Milan, Juventus and Lazio looming in the coming weeks.