Serie A Analysis – Week 12 – Milan deliver sucker punch in derby to remain top

If all the talk this weekend in the UK was of the big heavyweight boxing contest between David Haye and Audley Harrison, then over in Italy Serie A provided three back-to-back heavyweight battles involving the top six sides, culminating in Sunday evening’s Milan derby. The Rossoneri beat city rivals Inter for the first time in seven attempts to maintain their one-point lead at the top.
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First up was Saturday night’s titanic tussle in Turin between Juventus and Roma. This game has so much previous that you could devote an entire library to the epic battles that have taken place down the years.
This latest instalment saw a rejuvenated Roma side travel to Turin looking to continue their great run of form which included last Sunday’s morale-boosting derby win over Lazio. Juventus, meanwhile, wanted revenge for last season’s last-gasp 2-1 defeat to the Giallorossi.
The atmosphere in the Stadio Olimpico was red hot and referee Nicola Rizzoli set the tone by booking Roma’s French midfielder Jeremy Menez after just 40 seconds. When former Roma starlet Alberto Aquilani sent over a beautiful ball that striker Vicenzo Iaquinta clinically dispatched just after the half-hour mark, it looked like the Bianconeri were on their way to erasing the painful memories of last season. However, inspired by the brilliant Menez, Roma got back up off the canvas and pulled themselves level on the stroke of half-time in controversial circumstances.
From a free-kick just outside the penalty area, Francesco Totti’s strike cannoned off the arm of Juventus striker Simone Pepe on the edge of the wall. Amid howls of protest from the Roma players, Rizzoli pointed to the spot. The ensuing chaos lasted around six minutes before Totti coolly slotted home to level things up.
The second half continued to be a battle royale, with Juventus’s Giorgio Chiellini playing with bandages wrapped around a head injury reminiscent of England centre-half Terry Butcher 20 years ago. Roma’s French central defender Philippe Mexes was also outstanding in the heart of the defence, and a draw seemed a fair result in a match that left spectators breathless.
Next up was the Sunday lunchtime encounter in the capital between Lazio and Napoli. A win for the Biancocelesti would see them regain top spot from Milan ahead of the big derby showdown, and they duly obliged thanks to goals from Mauro Zarate and Sergio Floccari. Lazio coach Edy Reja’s decision to reinstate the little Argentine striker to the starting line-up after his act of petulance following his substitution against Cesena in midweek paid dividends. Napoli protested that his opening goal should not have stood as he appeared to control the ball with his arm, but referee Mauro Bergonzi thought differently.
Reja’s decision to rest several players in midweek was a controversial one but there was a freshness about his team on Sunday, and the 65-year-old Coach was keen to point it out:
“I always choose the team which I feel will win the game. The players I rested returned stronger today and won this very important match,” Reja insisted.
His opposite number Walter Mazzarri chose to defend his team, who noticeably ran out of steam in the latter stages of the match:
“We have paid the price of eight games in 29 days. In the first half we were strong, but in the second we had nothing left,” he admitted.
So, on to the main event on Sunday evening at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Fighting out of the blue corner were Inter, decimated by injuries to key personnel and led by a Coach in Rafa Benitez operating under intense pressure. In the red corner were Milan, looking for a win to regain top spot, as well as their first derby victory in seven meetings.
Within five minutes, Inter were on the canvas as their former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic left veteran central defender Marco Materazzi for dead before being upended in the penalty area. It was a clear spot kick, which was dutifully netted by the big Swede. Inter were stunned and their midfield anonymous as Milan veteran Clarence Seedorf, alongside Gennaro Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini, controlled the contest.
Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito were left as virtual spectators, while Wesley Sneijder, clearly not fully fit, was devoid of any service from his teammates. Materazzi’s performance was nothing short of embarrassing, with Benitez seemingly blind to how out of his depth the 37-year-old now is.
Inter were given a lifeline on the hour when Milan defender Ignazio Abate was dismissed for an altercation with Inter substitute Goran Pandev. But despite throwing on youngster Jonathan Biabiany, it was to no avail and the referee called time on Inter’s reign – for now at least – as top dogs in the city.
The Rossoneri are six points clear of their fierce rivals, who now languish in fifth. Benitez’s future at the helm of this great Italian institution is now hanging by a thread as the shadow of Jose Mourinho and last season’s achievements refuses to go away.

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