By David Mosse
Juventus supporters could be forgiven for wishing 2012 had lasted forever, particularly given the sputtering start the club has made to the New Year. Antonio Conte’s side was seeking to bounce back from last week’s shock defeat to Sampdora, but surrendered a late equalizer to Nicola Sansone in a 1-1 draw away to Parma on Sunday, and its lead atop the standings has dwindled to three points.
In both games, the Bianconeri conceded goals from the area in which Giorgio Chiellini would usually occupy. The Italian international is currently sidelined with a calf injury and will be out several more weeks, while the lack of a top class striker remains an issue. Fernando Llorente can’t arrive soon enough, if rumors are indeed true of a move for the Bilbao hitman.
Conte is also minus the services of Kwadwo Asamoah, away on African Cup of Nations duty, placing even greater responsibility on Andrea Pirlo who shook off his absurd exclusion from the FIFPro World XI by scoring yet another free kick goal. Pirlo did benefit from a massive deflection, but he had already forced an incredible save from Antonio Mirante from a deal-ball situation earlier in the match.
Parma maintained its unbeaten record at home, and not enough praise can be heaped on Roberto Donadoni for his work since replacing Franco Colomba 12 months ago with the Gialloblu wallowing near the relegation zone. Donadoni guided the club to an 8th place finish last season thanks to a seven-match winning streak to close out the campaign, and Parma is once again in the top half of the table.
Last season, the former national team boss relied on Sebastian Giovinco for inspiration, but with the diminutive playmaker off to Juventus, Donadoni has turned to Ishak Belfodil. The French talent continues to form a strong partnership with veteran striker Amauri, and the pair caused plenty of headaches for the Juventus back line, as Parma created the best chances of the match.
The Gialloblu remain just one point behind AC Milan after the Rossoneri were held to a scoreless draw on Sunday by a Sampdoria side suddenly brimming with confidence. Massimo Allegri unveiled an attacking trident with a combined age of 60, as M’Baye Niang and Bojan flanked Stephan El Shaarawy, but the Little Pharaoh failed to find the back of the net for the third consecutive league match.
El Shaarawy didn’t fall any further behind in the Capocannoniere race, however, as Edinson Cavani’s remarkable run finally came to an end. The Uruguayan hitman had scored in eight straight matches in all competitions, but was denied by his former club in Napoli’s 3-0 thrashing of Palermo. The Azzurri have won three in a row, and would be second without the two-point deduction for match-fixing.
Lazio is the nearest challenger to Juventus at the moment, and the Biancocelesti upped their unbeaten run to nine league games with a controversial 2-0 home win over Atalanta. Substitute Sergio Floccari broke the deadlock midway through the second half after controlling the ball with his arm in the box, and an own goal from Davide Brivio sealed the points for Vladimir Petkovic’s side.
The capital club overcame a sluggish performance from Miroslav Klose, but another veteran striker made the difference for his side, as Antonio Di Natale scored twice in Udinese’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Fiorentina. The 35-year-old has struck four times in the last two games, raising his total to 167 career Serie A goals, and trails only Cavani in the scoring charts this season.
Elsewhere, Inter-Milan overcame an injury crisis and picked up its first win in four league games, knocking off Pescara 2-0 with Rodrigio Palacio and Fredy Guarin supplying the goals. Alberto Gilardino bagged a brace, as Bologna brushed aside Chievo 4-0 in a relegation battle on Saturday, while Alessandro Rosina missed a penalty against his former club, as Siena fell 3-2 away to Torino.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Roma has looked at times this season like the second best team in Serie A, but a run of three defeats in four league games has the Giallorossi drifting towards mid-table irrelevance. The latest setback was a 1-0 loss away to Catania on Sunday, as Zdenek Zeman was forced to make do without both Pablo Osvaldo and Francesco Totti who suffered a muscular injury during warmups.
The surprise was Daniele De Rossi’s exclusion from the starting XI after the veteran midfielder played all 90 minutes in the previous two league contests. The 29-year-old has been linked with a move to the Premier League for some time, and could finally be headed to England this January.
*The Wesley Sneijder saga continues to drag on with the Dutch midfielder reluctant to accept a move to Galatasaray amid reports Liverpool could be interested in his services. Sneijder clearly still views himself as a top class player, hence his refusal to accept any salary reduction with Inter-Milan, but unless the Reds make a credible offer for the 28-year-old, Turkey may indeed be his next destination.
*Palermo could be set for another coaching change following a run of just one point from six league matches has sent the club tumbling all the way down to 19th place. Gian Piero Gasperini is reportedly in serious trouble with former Lazio boss Edy Reja lined up as a replacement, as lunatic president Maurizio Zamparini continues his quest to hire every manager in Italy before the end of the season.