“Scudetto Sabato” (Scudetto Saturday) was the morning headline from Gazzetta Dello Sport as four of Serie A’s heavyweights went head-to-head on a mouth-watering evening of top-flight action.
First up was one of Italy’s biggest grudge matches as Juventus entertained Fiorentina in a rivalry dating back to 1990 when Roberto Baggio, Il Divin Codino, was sold from La Viola to Juventus in one of the most controversial transfers in the last 20 years. The Stadio Olimpico was rocking as the teams entered the field and the game lived up to all the pre-match hype. The stereotypical view of Italian Football was destroyed as both sides focused on grabbing all three points with all-out assaults on their opposition’s goal. The match was truly gripping and an early goal for the visitors from Juan Manuel Vargas seemed to ignite the blue touch paper.
Cesare Prandelli kept faith with Stevan Jovetic to support Alberto Gilardino in attack with Adrian Mutu remaining on the bench, a decision which seemed entirely justified as the young Montenegrin orchestrated his team’s opening goal for Vargas. The hosts had to react, and their own mercurial genius Diego acted as the catalyst as Juventus battered the Fiorentina rearguard in search of the equaliser. Ciro Ferrara went for a two-pronged attack with Vicenzo Iaquinta and Amauri given the task of erasing the memory of the defeat to Palermo two weeks ago. It was the former Palermo man Amauri who got his side level on 19 minutes and it was no more than the Bianconeri deserved for the intense pressure shown after going a goal behind.
That other much used cliché of superior Italian defending was not in evidence here as both sides were seemingly intent on letting their opponents grasp the advantage. Such was the kamikaze way Juve came forward it was often the case that Fabio Cannavaro was left alone at the back as Fiorentina hit their hosts on the counter-attack. Prandelli’s back four were completely incapable of dealing with any aerial balls entering their penalty area, and it was a miracle that the scores remained level at the break. The second half followed a similar pattern and the match was turning into the Jovetic vs Diego show, both players having outstanding evenings, but both sadly running out of steam as the match wore on. A point each was a fair reflection on proceedings, but both Coaches should be congratulated on the courage shown in such a high profile contest. A special mention must go out to referee Nicola Rizzoli, one of the Peninsula’s best officials who let the contest breathe and ensured we had a match to remember for all the right reasons.
Our starter had been served, and now came the main course as Inter Milan visited Genoa in another highly anticipated encounter. Sadly though it could not match the events in Turin a couple of hours earlier. Genoa seemed far too pumped up for the match, it was as if they had it in their minds that their visitors would get all the marginal decisions and it was totally out of character with how Il Grifone have played their football since their return to the top flight. The week leading up to the game was yet again dominated by the now statutory back-bighting from the main protagonists. Jose Mourinho was counter-acting claims against his team winning ugly and Genoa President Enrico Preziosi announced rather foolishly, that his team were every bit as strong as the reigning champions.
By half-time that statement had absolutely no credibility as his side were three goals down to a resurgent Inter Milan who were missing all three of their summer signings, Thiago Motta, Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o. In total contrast to Rizzoli’s handling of events in Turin, Emidio Morganti stifled the life out of this game by being constantly fooled by some quite pathetic play-acting from the home side who simply could not live with the quality of the Nerazzurri’s play. Mario Balotelli and Dejan Stankovic were constantly punished for offences so trivial, it was embarrassing. Wesley Sneijder was fantastic yet again, and was at the heart of all of Inter Milan’s forward play proving just what a stylish operator he is, as Mourinho’s team put down a strong reminder to any pretenders to their crown that this squad is without doubt the team everyone has to finish above to take the Serie A title.