It shows what fine margins we are working with, that had there been some sharper finishing and officiating during this week’s European ties, then this News from the Peninsula would be taking a very different slant.
As it is, three of the four Italian sides in combat will have to overturn first leg deficits to prolong their stay in European competition, whilst it was Juventus of all teams, who saved face with a victory at Ajax.
Roma will be confident of overturning a 3-2 score at home to Panathinaikos, after coming unstuck in Athens, but the task is not so enviable for Milan and Fiorentina. Both will be regretting the bad luck which costs them results against Manchester United and Bayern Munich respectively.
Milan’s downfall was largely of their own doing. Not since United were ran about by Kaka at the San Siro back in 2007, they have looked so disorganised; and last years beaten finalists contrived to hand the Rossoneri ample opportunity to replicate that score during a lacklustre first half. Unfortunately for il Diavolo, they were unable to capitalise on the visitor’s generosity and were made to regret such profligacy when Wayne Rooney showed them how to do it. Much has been made about the perceived gulf between the top sides in Serie A and the Premier League, however, the Rossoneri were more than a match for the 2008 Champions League winners, who appeared reliant on the outstanding Rooney to rescue them from an uncharacteristic slumber. What the match did further highlight however, is the relentless efficiency and knowhow the English have acquired in consistently reaching the latter stages of the competition – a luxury now out of Milan’s hands.
Despite dominating for long periods and appearing overall the better side, Milan lacked the ruthlessness and conviction to finish the job off. One cannot imagine United would have been as forgiving had the roles been reversed, and it’s unlikely they’ll be as bad at Old Trafford. Going the distance in Europe requires you to get results when you aren’t playing well. Playing well and not getting results isn’t conducive to prevailing in Europe, yet this trait has slipped increasingly into the Italian game over recent years, which suggests more of a psychological defect, rather than any great weaknesses in quality. This is a fault best attributed to Inter of late, and it will be interesting to see whether they can overcome the perils their neighbours fell to, when they host Chelsea next week.
Fiorentina on the other hand have every reason to cast disparaging glances elsewhere. True, they were a good second to Bayern Munich for long periods at the Allianz Arena, but that would have mattered little as they escaped from Bavaria with a draw and an away goal. The comically inept Tom Henning Ovrebo and his silly sidekicks have altered a Champions League tie once again. His dismissal of Massimo Gobbi was ill-judged at best, the failure to spot Miroslav Klose three yards offside was downright incompetent. Still, the fates of fortune have conspired against la Viola but that’s just tough luck really. Swings and roundabouts. What is more relevant is whether they have the strength of character to recover from, however it came about, this defeat. After all, a one goal deficit from an away first leg is not the stuff of Harry Houdini, and such leads have been rectified on countless occasions by sides that mean business. Ovrebo and his chums may have cost Fiorentina a draw in Munich, but at home, with only a one goal win needed, they can only blame themselves if they fall.
Surprisingly it was Juventus who put a silver-lining round the cloud with a well fought 2-1 victory over Ajax. So far on the continent this season, the Bianconeri had been about as much use as a three-pin plug, but they registered a second win in two games thanks to Amauri’s brace. Furthermore, la Vecchia Signora showed resolve in battling back from going behind, and scored two goals from open play – feats deemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Alberto Zaccheroni is now unbeaten in four matches as he tries to rudder Juve towards respectability, and possibly a bit of silverware this season.
His endeavours probably won’t be rewarded with a full-time spot on the bench past this summer with massive restructuring predicted in Turin. Last week we reported that Marcello Lippi had been lined up for a presidential role with his former club, and il Riformista are speculating that Adriano Galliani could be considering jumping ship from Milan.
The Rossoneri Vice-President’s relationship with owner Silvio Berlusconi has reportedly deteriorated to such an extent, that he is considering ending his 24 year affiliation with the Milanese giants. Although whether such a stalwart of Milan would see moving to a direct rival is a viable option, it will be interesting to keep an eye on the boardroom comings and goings as two of the Peninsula’s biggest clubs continue their shake-up.
Looking forward to the league schedule, Inter never seems to be able to put the race to bed. Having seen off Milan, the Scudetto looked a forgone conclusion, but since then the Nerazzurri have squandered points in three of their last five games, with Roma steaming up along the blindside. Il Lupi will fancy collecting all three points against Catania at home, meaning Jose Mourinho’s men will need to do likewise against a resurgent Sampdoria. The Blucerchiati represents a tricky task, especially if la Beneamata has half an eye on Wednesday’s clash with Chelsea.
Where do your priorities lie, Jose? We’ll soon find out.