What a week for Italian football, with a catalogue of vital games both domestically and in Europe. The action kicks off this weekend with a host of mouth-watering games.
Top of the bill is the Derby d’Italia at the Olimpico where Juventus will try to overhaul Inter’s eight-point advantage, whilst at the San Siro, Milan can seize on any dropped points in Turin against Champions League hopefuls Sampdoria. We also have the Rome derby, a battle for southern supremacy between Napoli and Bari and a basement clash with Siena hosting Catania. A weekend on the sofa with some cold Peroni’s sounds very appealing. But before the dust has settled on round 15 of Serie A, we’re straight back into Europe, with the Champions League fate of Inter, Milan and Juve still in their own hands, but also still largely in the balance. One way or another, it is bound to be an exciting few days for connoisseurs of Calcio.
There’s only one place to start, and that’s with the top-of-the-table tussle as Inter travel to Juventus. The Derby d’Italia is one of the most intense rivalries in Italian football, borne from the success and rivalry of two of the country’s biggest clubs. The fixture has been littered with fractious encounters and controversial incidents down the years, and given the relative pressure on both sides to deliver, this game promises to follow suit. A defeat in Cagliari has left the Bianconeri adrift of the leadership by some distance, and another defeat would leave an almost impossible task to wrestle the Scudetto away from their old foe. Such a result would do little to inspire confidence prior to the visit of Bayern Munich mid-week in another match the Old Lady daren’t lose. It’s safe to assume that these two games will shape the remainder of Juventus’ season, as defeat in both would leave it in ruins and Ciro Ferrara’s job perilously uncertain.
Not that his adversary Jose Mourinho is sitting that much more comfortably. Softened by the buffer of a healthy league lead, the Portuguese tactician’s future as la Beneamata’s Coach could hinge on the outcome of their encounter with Rubin Kazan on Wednesday, where a defeat and elimination from the Champions League knock-out phase would have President Massimo Moratti searching for hard answers to some very testing questions. In effect, Inter’s priorities lie with their European commitments, although preparations for the Rubin game will not be helped by succumbing to their bitter rivals and potential Scudetto challengers.
This game last year was overshadowed by yet more racist chants directed at Inter striker Mario Balotelli, and following more allegations of racial abuse by Juve fans towards Balotelli at a recent European game, the club have taken steps to contact fans pleading for an end to the abuse. The widow of former Juve legend Gaetano Scirea wrote an open letter to the fans pleading for the offensive chants to stop, and President Jean-Claude Blanc has done likewise. In a statement posted on the club website, Blanc told supporters: “We want the two games against Inter and Bayern Munich to be a battle on the field and a party off it, with heated and passionate support, but it must never be excessive or, worse, offensive.”
The biggest victors of the week could be Milan. Having won six out of their last seven Serie A games, the Rossoneri pose the strongest threat to the Nerazzurri’s crown. Indeed Sampdoria’s away perils mean il Diavolo start as firm favourites on home turf, before a negotiable encounter with FC Zurich to cement their place in the Last 16. How the seas have changed since Leonardo appeared to be on borrowed time. Elsewhere, Lazio are in dire need of a victory as they face neighbours Roma in the Derby della Capitale. The Biancocelesti are without a win in 12 league outings and have returned a paltry six goals in that time, whilst Claudio Ranieri’s revitalised Giallorossi are unbeaten in four, winning three, having already negotiated their way out of Europa League Group E.
Ahead of Napoli’s game with fellow southerners Bari, Partenopei President Aurelio De Laurentiis spoke of his belief of a ‘new Calciopoli’. De Laurentiis was unsatisfied at the standard of officiating in last weekend’s draw with Parma, claiming: “We are missing five points snatched from us by the referees, but let’s not say anything until we discover something else negative that up until now has not emerged.” Of course, the authorities have given the accusations short shrift, and a statement from the Italian Referees Association read: ‘The AIA reiterates its constant efforts to guarantee all the federations and clubs the utmost transparency, impartiality and professionalism. Behaviour is verified to ensure conformity to the principles of transparency and ethics to prevent and therefore avoid even the slightest chance of a return to the notorious events that blighted Italian football.”
De Laurentiis’ claims are largely unsubstantiated, but they do come against the backdrop of the ongoing Calciopoli court case in Naples. As the trial goes on, more and more revelations begin to surface from the scandal, and this week former linesman Rosario Coppola has claimed that Inter – previously exempt from Calciopoli prosecution – tried to pressure former designator Gennaro Mazzei to lessen the suspension handed out to Nerazzurri defender Ivan Cordoba following a red card against Venezia. Coppola suggests: “All the clubs with power, with the greater weight, they all made recommendations or signals.” The trial continues.
So, an intriguing week ahead, with a number of crucial games to be played and pivotal points to be won. Just as interesting as the on-field action will be the fall-out off it, with managerial positions on the line and reputations at stake, whilst we also have a court case scurrilously examining the underbelly of Italian football. Who said Calcio was dead? Better stock up on Peroni.
News from the Peninsula
Week 6-7 –
Milanese managerial mess – September 27 – October 3
Week 7-International week (Rep. of Ireland vs. Italy, Italy vs. Cyprus) –
Cannavaro stung by doping claims – October 4 – October 10
International week (Rep. of Ireland vs. Italy, Italy vs. Cyprus)-Week 8 –
Lippy Marcello blasts the tifosi – October 11 – October 17
Inter-spective look at Mourinho’s European Nerazzurri – October 18 – October 24
Life begins at the quarter – October 25 – October 31
Inter late show keeps the Euro fire burning – November 1 – November 7
Week 12-International week (Italy vs. Holland, Italy vs. Sweden)
The human side of the modern day footballer – November 8 – November 14
International week (Italy vs. Holland, Italy vs. Sweden)-Week 13
Giovanni Trap-ped as Thierry hands France a place in South Africa – November 15 – November 21
The bad, the bad and the ugly – November 22 – November 28
Italy gears up for a pivotal week of Calcio – November 29 – December 5