Serie A has new leaders after the latest round of midweek fixtures. Milan take over top-spot leapfrogging Lazio, who lost for the second time in four days. On a strange night of top-flight action, it seemed as though at half-time the players were protesting at having to play on a particularly rain sodden night across the peninsula. As referees called time on the opening 45 minutes across the country, only Milan and Roma had managed to find the net but the significance of both strikes could not be underestimated.
Alexandre Pato scored the first goal of the evening with a beautiful header against Palermo at the Giuseppe Meazza – unfortunately for Il Papero, it was to be the highlight of his evening as a second-half injury means he will now miss this weekend’s big derby showdown against Inter. Down in the capital, Fabio Simplicio got his first goal in a Roma shirt, the 31-year-old Brazilian has had a year to forget after a debilitating injury, but after impressing in last Sunday’s Rome derby and having broken the deadlock on Wednesday evening after a truly forgettable first 45 minutes, it seems his rehabilitation is now complete.
Back in Milan, the Rossoneri came out for the second period seemingly with one eye on Sunday’s big showdown and it was no surprise when their opponents, Palermo got back into the game with a goal from their Slovenian midfielder Armin Bacinovic. Just two minutes later, Pato had to leave the field with a muscle injury but the game turned on a rather dubious penalty award 13 minutes from time when Milan midfielder Massimo Ambrosini was upended by Palermo goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and referee Luca Banti pointed to the spot. Zlatan Ibrahimovic put away the spot-kick and Milan were home and dry. Robinho, on as a substitute for the injured Filippo Inzaghi who had lasted only 15 minutes after replacing Pato, put some gloss on the result. As news filtered through that league leader’s Lazio were losing in Cesena, Milan supporters would face their city rivals on Sunday sitting on top of the championship.
Lazio are self-destructing after a fantastic start to the campaign, two defeats in succession means they have surrendered top spot and the club looks to be blighted by in-fighting between players and coach Eduardo Reja. The facts are that they lost to Cesena on Wednesday night after an unbelievable strike from midfielder Marco Parolo five minutes from time. Reja made six changes from the team which lost to Roma last Sunday, Brazilian playmaker Hernanes and inspirational midfielder Stefano Mauri were left out of the squad completely as was Swiss defender Stephan Lichtsteiner. Tenacious midfield workhorse Cristian Brocchi was only on the bench as French defender Mobido Diakite moved to the left-back position and Australian Mark Bresciano played just behind the strikers. Reja’s changes came up short and with Napoli visiting the capital at the weekend – only a win will ease the fears of the tifosi on the Curva Nord.
Napoli are flying domestically, a brilliant counterattack five minutes into added time in the second-half was finished off superbly by Ezequiel Lavezzi to put the Vesuviani into third spot. They leapfrog Inter who were held to a 1-1 draw in Lecce. Stripped of some of their prime assets through injury, the Nerazzurri took the lead through second-half substitute Diego Milito, who put his side ahead with just 14 minutes remaining. Just three minutes later, Lecce levelled as Uruguayan midfielder Ruben Olivera found himself unmarked in the penalty area to head home a deserved equaliser.
With Juventus dropping points in Brescia, we return to where we started, in Rome. A 3-2 win for the Giallorossi flattered their opponents Fiorentina. The Tuscan side are a pale shadow of their former selves and the pressure will again be mounting on coach Sinisa Mihajlovic after an insipid display that leaves them just a point off the relegation places. Congratulations must go to Davide Ballardini, who got his tenure as Genoa coach off to a winning start against Bologna at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
So we move onto week 12, and what a weekend we have in prospect. The top six are all in direct confrontation with each other as the two Milan giants go head to head, Roma visit Turin to face Juventus and Lazio entertain Napoli in the capital. Week 11 served merely as an appetizer for this weekend’s main course.