Serie A review - week 8
It was probably a bad omen when Edinson Cavani missed his flight back to Italy following international duty, and was limited to one training session ahead of Saturday’s top-of-the table clash with Juventus. And the rest of his team appeared jet-lagged as well at times, as Napoli put forth a limp display in the showdown between the two most impressive teams in Serie A this season.
Juventus once again showed off its frightening strength in numbers, overcoming the absences of Gigi Buffon and Mirko Vucinic due to injury, and claiming a 2-0 win thanks to goals from substitutes Martin Caceres and Paul Pogba in the final 10 minutes. Caceres broke the deadlock with a header from close range, but it was Pogba who grabbed the headlines with a sensational volley to seal the victory.
The young Frenchman, who failed to make an impact in his brief time at Manchester United, is showing signs of emerging as a key player for Juventus, which upped its Serie A unbeaten streak to a remarkable 47 matches. Pogba became the 12th different player to find the back of the net for the Old Lady in league play this season, and may receive an opportunity from the start against Nordsjælland on Tuesday.
Andrea Pirlo hasn’t tasted defeat in Serie A in 22 months, and it was the bearded one who provided the assist for Caceres to open the scoring. Pirlo had a relatively quiet game, however, as Napoli dominated possession, but the Partenopei lacked ambition going forward with a dangerous first-half free kick from Cavani representing Napoli’s only clear-cut scoring opportunity the entire match.
The Uruguayan cut an isolated figure up front with both Marek Hamsik and Goran Pandev struggling to make an impact, while the introduction of Lorenzo Insigne came much too late to make a difference. Juventus didn’t create all that much either in a tense encounter between two sides that have developed a healthy dislike for one another following Napoli’s victory in last season’s Coppa Italia final, and the controversial extra-time win for Juventus in the Supercup.
The task now for the Partenopei is to remain within striking distance before the rematch in early March at the San Paolo, but even the most ardent Napoli supporters must be wondering whether Walter Mazzarri’s side can possibly keep up with a Juventus squad this deep and resourceful. A three-point gap is hardly insurmountable -- unless the team ahead in the standings is unbeatable.
Lazio and Inter also hope to stay in contention, and both sides did their part this weekend with the Biancocelesti adding to Milan’s misery with a 3-2 win at the Olimpico. The hosts jumped out to a 3-0 advantage early in the second half thanks to goals from Hernanes, Antonio Candreva and Miroslav Klose, then survived a furious rally from the Rossoneri who finally welcomed Alexandre Pato back into the fold.
Stephan El Shaarawy remains the lone bright spot for Milan after managing his 5th league goal of the campaign, the same amount as former teammate Antonio Cassano who continues to shine for the Nerazzurri. Cassano was on target again on Sunday against Catania at the San Siro, while Rodrigo Palacio – one of 14 Argentines to start this match – found the back of the net as well in the 2-0 victory.
Another striker in splendid form this season is Pablo Osvaldo. The Argentine-born, Italian international scored twice on Sunday in Roma’s come-from-behind 4-2 victory away to Genoa, as the Giallorossi were once again involved in the most entertaining fixture of the weekend. A second consecutive win has Zdenek Zeman’s side surging up the table, while Francesco Totti continues to move up in the record books, as Totti is now the 3rd leading scorer in Serie A history after notching his 217th goal.
Elsewhere, Parma distanced itself from the relegation zone with a 2-1 victory over Sampdoria thanks to a pair of goals from Amauri, and the Gialloblu revealed shortly thereafter that manager Roberto Donadoni had put pen to paper on a new deal. Palermo played out a disappointing scoreless draw against Torino, while Atalanta celebrated its 105th anniversary with a 2-1 win over Siena.
Some Other Thoughts:
*It was an eventual few days for Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci who prior to putting forth a commanding display in the win over Napoli was forced to show his courage in a much different away. Bonucci was confronted by a mugger this past Thursday after exiting a Ferrari dealership with his wife and three-month old son, and reportedly had a gun pointed at his face.
The mugger demanded Bonucci turn over his watch, but the 25-year-old Italian international somehow managed to punch him in the face and then chased the would-be aggressor down the street. Bonucci’s wife had jumped in the car, providing no help at all throughout the episode.
*Gigi De Canio became the fourth different manager sacked in Serie A already this season after Genoa squandered a two-goal lead this weekend in the 4-2 home defeat to Roma. De Canio did well to save the Rossoblu from relegation last season, but two wins from eight games this season was deemed not good enough by President Enrico Preziosi. Former Juventus boss Gigi Del Neri, who was replaced by Antonio Conte in the summer of 2011, will take charge.
*Brazilian midfielder Maicosuel was expected to be an important player for Udinese after joining from Botafogo this summer, but he has been a peripheral figure ever since his bizarre penalty miss in the shootout against Braga cost the Bianconeri a place in this season’s Champions League. The 26-year-old has started the last two league games, however, and produced the winner in Sunday’s home win over Pescara, as Francesco Guidolin’s side begins to climb up the table.