The knives were already being sharpened for Leonardo, the new Coach of Milan, as they went into Saturday night’s tricky opening fixture against Siena in the compact Artemio Franchi stadium.
After a disastrous pre-season campaign, a trip to face Marco Giampaolo’s side was the last thing the newly installed Coach would have wanted. President Silvio Berlusconi had predicted a Rossoneri renaissance after a penalty shoot-out win against bitter rivals Juventus in the Trofeo Berlusconi, named after his father, and proclaimed rather bizarrely that Ronaldinho was his Usain Bolt. If that statement was meant to motivate the former World Player of the Year it worked as the mercurial Brazilian produced a wonderful display, playing just behind a front two of Alexandre Pato and Marco Borriello. The old magic is beginning to return and every football fan should celebrate seeing this hugely gifted individual once again demonstrate the talents that made him the world’s greatest player. Gennaro Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini deserve huge praise as they wrestled midfield supremacy from Siena, allowing Ronaldinho to play at the tip of a diamond formation, whilst Andrea Pirlo orchestrated things from just in front of the defence. If it’s not broken don’t fix it seemed to be the message from il Diavolo, a 2-1 victory was hugely deserved and whilst one swallow does not make a summer, Leonardo should be applauded as he has had to go about his work amid mounting criticism of his ability to take the reigns at such a big club, his players on Saturday night repaid his faith in them.
On Sunday afternoon we witnessed a rare sight in football, José Mourinho being tactically outwitted by his rival Coach. Step forward Giampiero Ventura, Coach of newly promoted Bari. Playing a classic 4-4-2, he stifled the Inter midfield so much that after half an hour, Mourinho sacrificed Sulley Muntari and introduced Mario Balotelli to adopt a 4-3-3 system which also saw the youngster scurrying around the central areas to help out Patrick Vieira, Thiago Motta and Dejan Stankovic. The pace of Edgar Álvarez on the right flank was giving Javier Zanetti a torrid afternoon as the Honduran kept evading his markers, the only thing lacking was an end product. After the interval, Ricardo Quaresma replaced Vieira as Mourinho finally went with a 4-4-2 that could easily be adapted to a 4-2-4. After a hugely debatable penalty decision put the Nerazzurri in front, Ventura immediately went to his bench and introduced wide man Antonio Langella, another masterstroke by the 61-year-old Tactician as the substitute was pivotal in the Biancorossi’s well-deserved equaliser. Inter were rocking with Mourinho stomping around his technical area arguing with anyone who would listen. Ventura’s second substitute Emanuel Rivas should have inflicted Mourinho’s first defeat in a home fixture since 2002, but he lost his head at the crucial moment, blazing his shot over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy. It was an encouraging start for the Serie A newcomers and food for thought for the Nerazzurri and their charismatic Coach. As we count down to next weekend’s Milan derby, did anyone seriously expect Mourinho’s side to be two points down on their city neighbours?
Luciano Spalletti described his side as ‘unpredictable’ in the build up to Sunday night’s big clash at the Luigi Ferraris stadium against Genoa. After letting a 3-1 lead evaporate against Slovakian minnows Kosice on Thursday in the Europa League, he admitted that even he did not know how his team would perform in the season’s opener. After 90 exhilarating minutes he had his answer as the Giallorossi were on the wrong end of a 3-2 score line. Without doubt Serie A’s Jekyll and Hyde team can self destruct at any minute and after taking a 2-1 lead against the run of play, Spalletti saw his side again squander the advantage to return to the capital empty-handed. The likeable Coach from Tuscany must be boiling inside as the same old defensive frailties come back to haunt him time and time again. Admittedly he was missing his first choice centre-half pairing of Philippe Mexès and Juan, and had put new signing from Inter, Nicolás Burdisso straight into the heart of his defence to partner youngster Marco Andreolli. However, last season’s achilles heel again came to the fore as eight minutes from time Genoa’s Giuseppe Biava reacted quickest to a spillage from Roma goalkeeper Artur to break Spalletti’s heart once again. Roma continue to be pure box office.