Andrea Stramaccioni - The Boy Genius
The last time Juventus tasted defeat in league play, Antonio Conte was still in charge of lowly Siena, and the idea of Andrea Pirlo leaving AC Milan on a free transfer seemed unthinkable.
After falling to Parma in May 2011, Juventus embarked on a 49-match unbeaten run, the second longest streak in Serie A history, which makes Inter-Milan’s achievement on Saturday all the more impressive. The 3-1 victory in Turin not only eliminates the aura of invincibility Juventus had built up, it cements the Nerazuzzi as serious title contenders a scant four weeks after yours truly dismissed them as pretenders.
Andrea Stramaccioni’s side recovered from a nightmarish start, as Arturo Vidal gave the hosts the lead after just 18 seconds. It mattered little that Kwadwo Asamoah provided the assist from an offsides position. Juventus looked poised to maintain its 100 percent home record and raise its unbeaten run to 50 games, especially after creating two more excellent chances in the opening minutes.
Inter weathered the storm, however, and the Nerazzurri exploded for three second-half goals with Diego Milito finding the back of the net twice before fellow Argentine Rodrigo Palacio completed the stunning turnaround. Milito, who had yet to score against Juventus in an Inter jersey, is 1 goal behind Stephan El Shaarawy for the league lead, while Inter now trails Juventus by just 1 point in the standings thanks to a seven-match winning streak.
And much of the credit belongs to Stramaccioni who continues to show signs of being a truly special manager. The 36-year-old has displayed remarkable poise since taking over for Claudio Ranieri back in March with Inter suffering through a disastrous campaign, and he was tested early on this season when the Nerazzurri lost their first two home games and were mired in 7th place after four rounds.
Stramaccioni responded by maintaining faith in youngsters like Juan Jesus, while coaxing strong performances out of veterans Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso who appeared to be on their last legs. Inter hasn’t dropped any points since a shock 2-0 defeat to Siena in late September, and the derby victory over Milan, unimpressive as it was, did provide a morale boost along the way.
Perhaps most importantly, Stramaccioni is making good use of Antonio Cassano who has emerged as the creative fulcrum in the absence of Wesley Sneijder. The Cassano-Milito partnership remains Inter’s trump card against a Juventus side that lacks a genuine match-winner up front, but the Nerazzurri also boast a significant edge in the managerial department at the moment with Conte consigned to the stands until early December, while Inter has a budding star on its bench.
In addition to closing in on Juventus, Inter opened up a four-point gap over third-place Napoli, which was held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home against Torino. Edinson Cavani celebrated his return to the lineup with a goal inside of seven minutes, but the Partenopei failed to exert any control over the match and surrendered a deserved equalizer in stoppage time courtesy of Gianluca Sansone.
Lazio continues its downward slide, and the Biancocelesti will be lucky to finish in the top half of the table if they produce too many more performances like the one on Sunday in a 4-0 defeat at Catania. The absence of Miroslav Klose due to suspension hindered the attack, but there was no excuse for the total capitulation at the back, and Vladimir Petkovic looked on in disbelief throughout the match.
Lazio is now just two points above crosstown rivals Roma who got back on track with a 4-1 thumping of Palermo at the Olimpico. It was an eventful day for Mattia Destro who came on in the second half and in seven minutes managed to score his first goal for the Giallorossi and be sent off for two yellow cards. Destro is suspended for next weekend’s showdown against Lazio.
Elsewhere, Antonio Di Natale scored the 160th Serie A goal of his career in Udinese’s 1-1 draw with Bologna, while Stevan Jovetic returned to the score-sheet for Fiorentina in the 4-1 thrashing of Cagliari. Pescara potentially saved manager Giovanni’s Stroppa with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Parma at the Stadio Adriatico, while Serse Cosmi can also breathe easier after Siena’s 1-0 win over Genoa.
Some Other Thoughts:
*It is a measure of how far fallen Milan have fallen that a three-match unbeaten run is seen as a monumental accomplishment, but the Rossoneri did produce their best performance of the campaign on Saturday in a 5-1 dismantling of Chievo. Bojan Krkic scored his first goal for the club, and Stephan El Shaarawy found the back of the net once more to remain on top of the Capocannoniere race.
Massimo Allegri has actually done a credible job given the squad at his disposal, and Milan can now look forward to a crucial Champions League encounter against Malaga with some degree of confidence. The question remains whether Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani will be compelled to dip into the transfer market and provide some reinforcements for a second-half push.
*Sampdoria manager Ciro Ferrara is in serious trouble after the Blucerchiati suffered a sixth consecutive defeat this weekend, falling at home to Atalanta. A campaign that began so brightly for the newly promoted side with three consecutive victories, including a 1-0 triumph over Milan at the San Siro, has spiraled out of control and Ferrara will be fortunate to last until next week’s clash with Palermo.
*It was nice to see both Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon included among the nominees for the Ballon d’Or award given the lack of respect displayed at times towards Serie A in recent years. Pirlo likely cemented his place with an outstanding performance at Euro2012, while setting the Serie A record for clean sheets last season proved a compelling enough argument for Buffon.