By David Mosse
A season to forget for Inter Milan reached catastrophic proportions on Sunday with the injury to Javier Zanetti who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the 1-0 defeat to relegation threatened Palermo. The result leaves the Nerazzurri in serious danger of missing out on European football next season, but all the attention following the match centered on the future of the fallen captain.
For any other player at Zanetti’s advanced age, such an injury would effectively spell the end of his career. The recovery time is estimated to be around eight months, but the 39-year old has vowed to return stronger than ever and has earned the right not to be counted out. Simply put, Zanetti is the Ryan Giggs of Italian football, having made his Inter debut in 1995 and accumulated more than 600 Serie A appearances.
Zanetti has served as captain since August 1999, representing the only source of stability at a club that has experienced an unusual amount of change with 11 different managers over that span. Remarkably, he tops the team in league appearances this season, having started 33 out of 34 matches in addition to featuring prominently in the Nerazzurri’s Europa League campaign.
The Argentine joins a lengthy injury list that currently includes countrymen Diego Milito, Walter Samuel and Rodrigo Palacio as well as Antonio Cassano and Fredy Guarin. The loss of so many key players is why Andrea Stramaccioni has escaped heavy criticism and will be given another opportunity to prove himself next season. The long-term absence of Zanetti, however, just made his task infinitely more difficult.
No club has undergone more change this season than Palermo, but the Rosanero somehow seem poised to stave off relegation thanks to an improbable five-match unbeaten run. Josip Ilicic bagged the winner against Inter and has found the back of the net in all five of these matches to help Palermo leapfrog Siena, which suffered a devastating 4-0 defeat away to Roma this past weekend.
The task now for Palermo is to prevent Juventus from clinching a second consecutive Scudetto when the sides meet next week in Turin, which seems unlikely considering Antonio Conte’s side needs just a point after claiming a 2-0 win over Torino in a fiery derby on Sunday. The Bianconeri left it very late with both goals coming in the final five minutes courtesy of Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio.
Roma rebounded nicely from the disappointing draw with Pescara last week and finds itself in good position to claim a Europa League spot, though the Giallorossi must contend with suddenly surging Udinese, which made it four straight victories with a 1-0 win over Cagliari. Roberto Pereyra was on target early in the second half, as the Friulani moved to within one point of Roma for fifth place.
The Giallorossi will also have a big part to play in the battle between Milan and Fiorentina for the final Champions League berth with visits to the Artemio Franchi and San Siro in the next three weeks. Both clubs held serve this weekend with the Viola disposing of Sampdoria in ruthless fashion (3-0) thanks to goals from Juan Cuadrado, Adem Ljajic and Alberto Aquilani, while the Rossoneri rallied to beat Catania.
Giampaolo Pazzini came on in the second half with Milan trailing 2-1 and scored twice in the final 15 minutes, while Mario Balotelli, back in the lineup after his suspension was reduced on appeal, converted a stoppage-time penalty to seal the 4-2 win. Massimo Allegri’s side remains one point above Fiorentina with four rounds left to play, but crucially the Viola hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Elsewhere this weekend, Genoa claimed a massive 1-0 victory away to Chievo with Marco Borriello bagging the winner, as the Grifone kept their hopes alive of avoiding relegation. Another former Milan striker continued his impressive campaign with Alberto Gilardino notching the equalizer for Bologna in a 1-1 draw with Atalanta, a result that virtually ensures both clubs will be back in Serie A next season.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Napoli moved closer to securing second place and automatic entry into next season’s Champions League with a comprehensive 3-0 win away to Pescara, and the Partenopei also got a taste of life without Edinson Cavani who missed out through suspension. Rumors are still rampant in the Peninsula that Cavani will head to the Premier League this summer with Manchester City the likely destination.
Walter Mazzarri’s side has actually fared well over the past three seasons without the Uruguayan hitman, but would no doubt miss him over an entire campaign. The question is how Aurelio de Laurentiis would spend the more than 60 million euros Napoli could likely fetch for the 26-year-old.
*In a battle between two clubs very much in crisis, Parma and Lazio played out a scoreless draw at the Stadio Tardini on Sunday. The decline of the Biancocelesti has been most alarming, as Vladimir Petkovic’s side was joint second, just three points behind Juventus after 20 rounds. Lazio has only one win in its last eight league matches and continues to drift further away from the European spots.
*Clarence Seedorf found the back of the net this past weekend for Brazilian side Botafogo, but the 37-year-old has surprisingly emerged as a coaching candidate for Milan next season in the event Massimo Allegri was to leave the club. Adriano Galliani refused to rule out the possibility, despite Seedorf’s lack of management experience. The midfielder spent 10 seasons with the Rossoneri.