By David Mosse
As Juventus shows signs once again of pulling away from the pack, the carousel of teams directly behind them took another turn this weekend with Lazio knocking off Inter-Milan at the Olimpico courtesy of a late goal from Miroslav Klose who continues to defy the odds. The victory moved Vladimir Petkovic’s side level on points with Napoli for third place, and just one point behind the Nerazzurri.
It had been an unusually wasteful evening for the 34-year-old up until he ran onto a perfect through ball from Mauri and beat Samir Handanovic with a superb angled drive eight minutes from time. Lazio is now unbeaten in six league games and Klose has scored four times during that run, more than picking up the slack with the team’s other match-winner, Hernanes, in the midst of a slight dip in form.
The German international might be a step slower, but has lost none of his predatory skills and looks fully recovered from the thigh injury that limited him to just 25 minutes in the final 10 rounds of last season. Indeed, the absence of Klose likely cost Lazio a Champions League spot, and the Biancocelesti’s hopes once again rest on his shoulders with no other striker on the team having managed a league goal.
Klose, meanwhile, scored his 10th of the campaign against Inter, and trails only Stephan El Shaarawy and Edinson Cavani who both added to their totals this weekend. As long as he remains fit, Lazio should be in good in shape, and Klose can continue setting his sights on immortality two years from now in Brazil.
After scoring against Ghana at the 2006 World Cup to surpass Gerd Muller as the tournament’s all-time leading scorer, Ronaldo (the transvestite one) likely expected to hold on to the record for some time, but Klose has all but caught up. He upped his total to 14, just one behind the Brazilian, by scoring four times in South Africa, and remains very much in the frame for Germany.
With Mario Gomez sidelined, Klose started World Cup qualifiers against Ireland and Sweden in October, and promptly found the back of the net three times in the two matches. Many in Germany still prefer him to Gomez, and if the former Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich hitman can keep on scoring for Lazio, where he’ll always be first choice, his race against time will be no contest.
Remarkably enough, Klose was not the oldest striker contributing important goals this weekend, as Luca Toni helped Fiorentina get back on track, scoring twice in the 4-1 home win over Siena. The 35-year-old was forced to assume greater responsibility in the absence of Stevan Jovetic who finally made his return to the lineup this weekend following more than a month on the sidelines.
Vincenzo Montella’s side moved ahead of Roma into fifth place, but the Viola are one of several teams suddenly looking over their shoulders at AC Milan, which continued its astonishing offensive explosion with a 4-1 victory over Pescara. The Rossoneri were the beneficiaries of two own goals, proving times are indeed good right now, and they have scored 11 times in the last three league games.
Next up for Milan is a visit to the Olimpico to face the most maddeningly inconsistent team in Italy, as Roma seeks to rebound from a 1-0 defeat away to Chievo on Sunday. The Giallorossi were hampered by extremely foggy conditions at the Bentegodi, where they had never lost in Serie A, but Sergio Pellissier took advantage of Roma’s typically slack defending to strike the winner late in the second half.
Elsewhere, Antonio Di Natale rescued a point for 10-man Udinese at home against Palermo, scoring a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw between two of the more disappointing teams in Serie A, while Genoa played to a 1-1 draw with Torino, avoiding defeat for only the second time since Gigi Del Neri took charge. The Rossoblu remain in the relegation zone, but Del Neri likely lives to fight another day.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Juventus guaranteed the title of Winter Champions with a 3-0 thrashing of Atalanta on Sunday, a bad omen for the rest of the league, as the Turin giants tend to finish the job when they are leaders at the halfway stage. Mirko Vucinic, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio supplied the goals with Pirlo scoring from a direct free kick for the fourth time in the campaign.
It was the first home league match for Antonio Conte since coming back from suspension, and Juventus has yet to concede since his return. In fact, the Old Lady has allowed only two goals in the last 10 matches in all competitions, and one came as a result of a ludicrous penalty decision in the loss to Milan.
*The shocking result of the weekend came at the San Paolo with Napoli falling 3-2 at home to Bologna. It is the third straight defeat in all competitions for Walter Mazzarri’s side, which may be distracted from the current betting scandal enveloping the club. Ironically enough, Bologna’s winner came courtesy of Daniele Portanova, making his return following a four-month ban for failing to report on match fixing.
*Sampdoria’s 3-1 defeat away to Catania spelled the end for Ciro Ferrara, who was sacked on Monday and will be replaced by Delio Rossi. Ferrara was hired this past summer and enjoyed a promising start to the campaign with three straight victories, including an opening round win over Milan at the San Siro, but the Blucerchiati have won only twice since, suffering defeats in nine of their last 12 league games.