The Derby d’Italia on Saturday night at least answered one question and that is that AC Milan are clearly in the championship race! As Juventus hosted Inter Milan in the most highly anticipated game of the season, Leonardo and his team could sit back and see who would take points off whom.
Just a few hours earlier, the Rossoneri had despatched Sampdoria with a ruthlessness that will send shockwaves around Serie A. Three up inside half an hour, Il Diavoli are riding the crest of a wave at the moment and are playing some scintillating football that nobody thought possible just a couple of month’s ago. As the action got under way up the road in Turin, the nation came to a standstill in the hope of witnessing the best game of the season so far. What they saw was a turgid, bad tempered affair that did absolutely nothing to enhance the credibility of the Italian game. In the build up to the contest, both sides had been playing a game of verbal chess with each othe,r and the racist abuse that certain sections of the Juventus support had already aimed at Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli a week or so ago was nothing short of disgraceful. It was no surprise when Jose Mourinho left the young striker out of the starting 11.
The game had a nasty undercurrent right from the first whistle and when the hosts took the lead after only 20 minutes, through a highly dubious Giorgio Chiellini goal, the blue touch paper was well and truly lit. Mourinho sarcastically applauded referee Massimiliano Saccani’s decision to allow the goal to stand and was sent straight to the stands. One thing is for sure, and that is that the Nerazzurri are bad losers, their sense of injustice at being a goal down affected their rhythm, they were like a boxer who had been hit in the closing seconds of the opening round of their fight and were just looking to get to their corner unscathed. When Samuel Eto’o found himself totally unmarked in the Juventus penalty area six minutes later, it seemed his equalizer would be the catalyst for the visitors to stamp their authority on proceedings – however, the only thing they seemed to want to stamp any authority on was the legs of their opponents.
The game was decided by the one true moment of quality as Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio found himself all alone in the penalty area and placed the ball over the on-rushing Julio Cesar and into the roof of the net. The Bianconeri still had time to flex their muscles even further as Felipe Melo was sent off for an inexcusable elbow on substitute Balotelli, and as a relieved Saccani blew for time, Juventus players and supporters rejoiced to signify that they had laid down a serious marker for the remainder of the campaign, Mourinho deciding not to give any post match interviews. His Brazilian counterpart just down the road would surely have been sporting the biggest smile in the whole of Italy with AC Milan now hovering just four points behind the Nerazzurri.
Sunday night in the capital gave Roma and Lazio the chance to restore some footballing pride in the peninsula. The match was seen as the last chance saloon for Biancocelesti coach Davide Ballardini, whose side had not won a game since August. As the match started, the crowd disturbances that have dominated the fixture down the years, once again came to the fore. Referee Nicola Rizzoli was forced to suspend play for nearly 10 minutes as Lazio supporters in the Tribune Tevere, let off a multitude of flares and firecrackers as riot police moved in to try to restore order. As play restarted, events on the pitch did nothing to improve the mood in the stands as both sides committed foul after foul in a match that was descending into farce. The result was settled by the unlikeliest of heroes as Roma’s Marco Cassetti grabbed the game’s only goal to surely condemn Ballardini to the sack. But the controversy didn’t end there as at the final whistle Francesco Totti incensed the Lazio players and supporters by demonstrating to them the division he believes they will be playing in next season. A derby weekend that had promised so much had delivered nothing to enhance the reputation of the Italian game.