By David Mosse
Nine months ago, Milan and Juventus met in a highly-anticipated clash at the San Siro that served as perhaps the greatest advertisement yet for goal-line technology, and Sunday’s rematch provided further proof that no matter how things change, Italian referees can always be counted to spoil big matches.
The Rossoneri found themselves in a much different position than last February, mired in the bottom half of the table and 17 points adrift of leaders Juventus. But Massimo Allegri’s side was the beneficiary this time around of a truly wretched decision, as referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded Milan a first-half penalty after an Antonio Nocerino header clearly struck Mauricio Isla on the ribs.
Robinho stepped to the spot with all the confidence of a player who hasn’t scored a league goal since May, but his weakly-taken penalty did squeeze past Gigi Buffon. And it proved enough for Milan to come away with, undoubtedly, its biggest win of the campaign, as Juventus struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities, despite dominating possession for most of the match.
The best second-half chance fell to Mirko Vucinic who’s shot was cleared off the line by Kevin Constant, while the Rossoneri were fortunate Sebastian Giovinco was ruled offsides just moments before being chopped down by Marco Amelia. But controversies side, the final result was just reward for Allegri who has done a more than credible job this season under extremely difficult circumstances.
In a week when a manager six months removed from winning the Champions League was shown the door, it might seem ludicrous to defend someone presiding over his club’s worst league start in more than 70 years. A closer look at Milan’s roster, however, reveals Allegri is closer to a Coach of the Year candidate than a manager who should be fretting over his job.
The Rossoneri are through to the knockout stages of the Champions League with one round to spare, despite not boasting a single player who would command regular playing time at any of the top clubs in Europe. And Allegri’s side moved up to ninth in the league with Sunday’s victory, just 5 points behind both Roma and Lazio who are currently level in fifth place.
Milan has improved steadily throughout the campaign, and was desperately unlucky to lose to Inter a few weeks back. The players continue to show fight, as evidence by the two-goal rally away to Napoli, and near comeback from three goals down against Lazio at the Olimpico. Allegri has also coaxed a superb season out of the only impact player in the entire squad in Stephan El Shaarawy.
Nevertheless, the 45-year-old has been forced to discuss his status on an almost weekly basis, and will likely be the scapegoat if the Rossoneri are unable to make significant inroads up the table in the coming weeks. Milan received a big break this weekend, which Allegri freely admitted after the match, but he may need plenty more help, unfortunately, to avoid paying the price for others mistakes.
Juventus is beginning to drop points with frightening regularity, and must account for a new challenger with surprising Fiorentina four points removed from the top of the table. The Viola fought back twice on Sunday to salvage a 2-2 draw away to Torino, and Vincenzo Montella’s side hasn’t tasted defeat in two months. Fiorentina already held Juventus to a scorless draw at home in late September.
Elsewhere, Sampdoria made it two straight wins by overcoming 10-man Bologna thanks to a goal from Andrea Poli, while Genoa put an end to a run of six consecutive defeats with a 1-0 victory at Atalanta. Andrea Bertolacci bagged the winner late in the first half, as Gigi Del Neri claimed his first points since taking charge, and the Rossoblu momentarily climbed out of the relegation zone.
Some Other Thoughts:
*A roller-coaster season for Roma has taken a positive turn again with three wins in four games, and the latest victory came on Sunday against the side Zdenek Zeman guided to promotion last summer. Cristiano Bergodi made an inauspicious start on the Pescara bench, as the Delfini allowed Mattia Destro to find the back of the net early on, and mustered very little offense the rest of the way.
Roma squandered numerous opportunities to increase its lead, but Zeman will be encouraged by a second straight clean sheet, as the Giallorossi overcame the absences of Daniele De Rossi (suspension) and Erik Lamela (injury) to pick up a fourth road victory. Mauro Goicoechea is still deputizing for Maarten Stekelenburg in goal, while the ageless Francesco Totti lasted all 90 minutes.
*Palermo was in an unusual position heading into the first Derby di Sicilia this season, well behind Catania in the table, but the Rosanero put forth an impressive performance in a 3-1 victory on Saturday. Fabrizio Miccoli remains one of the most underrated players in Italian football, and picked up his 100th Serie A goal to open the scoring, while Josip Ilicic found the back of the net twice.
*Siena has quietly been one of the in-form teams in Serie A with 7 points from the previous 3 games to climb out of the cellar, despite a six-point penalty to start the campaign, and the Bianconeri would have claimed another victory this weekend against Chievo but for the finishing of Emanuele Calaio. The 30-year-old squandered several good chances, and Serse Cosmi’s side settled for a scoreless draw.