On Saturday night at a packed out Stadio Olimpico, Roma entertained AC Milan in a game that many thought would give the best indication as to who would be Inter Milan’s biggest challengers for the Scudetto. At the end of 90 stifling minutes, punctured only by the occasional flash of brilliance, the answer was still no clearer.
The hosts seemed yet again to be overawed by the sense of occasion – it was the first time the Giallorossi had entertained a full-house since May 2001 when they beat Parma to clinch their third championship. Claudio Ranieri had Julio Sergio back between the posts and David Pizarro returned to partner Daniele De Rossi in midfield, Luca Toni was deemed fit enough only for a place on the bench. Leonardo opted for an adventurous three pronged attack with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar partnering Marco Borriello and Ronaldinho. Mathieu Flamini bolstered the Rossoneri midfield alongside Massimo Ambrosini.
After the home side dominated the opening exchanges with De Rossi and Julio Baptista coming close to breaking the deadlock, the impressive Ambrosini started to impose himself on the central area for the visitors. Pizarro’s threat was nullified as the Rossoneri took control of the game. Ronaldinho was becoming more and more instrumental as the half wore on but his strike partners were guilty of squandering two great chances as half-time approached.
The second period became a real dogfight and goal scoring chances were at a premium. This was mainly down to the exceptional abilities of the two Brazilian central defenders, Juan for the hosts and Thiago Silva for the Rossoneri, both were simply sublime in their tackling and distribution. On the hour mark, Ranieri decided to take a gamble with Luca Toni – the 32-year-old striker replacing the largely ineffective Baptista. Leonardo made three changes in the final quarter with Ignazio Abate coming on for Luca Antonini at right full-back, David Beckham replacing Flamini in midfield and the evergreen Filippo Inzaghi taking up his customary striking role in place of Borriello. The formations stayed pretty much the same, as did the score line with both teams struggling to make that all important breakthrough. A 0-0 final score a fair reflection on the evening’s proceedings.
“I am satisfied with the efforts of the squad, they did all they could do” was Ranieri’s summing up of the contest, “We have played really well and we have players of exceptional quality, now we look to Manchester” was Leonardo’s assessment as his team prepare for their biggest game of the season at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. In truth both teams will see this as two points lost in the race for the Scudetto, could Jose Mourinho’s men now seize the moment and take a giant step towards retaining their crown?
The last time a team from Genoa visited the Giuseppe Meazza stadium, Mourinhos’s side finished with just nine players on the pitch with the Special One also receiving his marching orders. The controversial tactician from Portugal had a bird’s eye view of this contest watching from high up in the stands as he served the second of his three match ban. He opted for a 4-2-3-1 starting formation, deploying Diego Milito as the lone striker with Wesley Sneijder, Goran Pandev and Mario Balotelli playing just behind. Gian Piero Gasperini sent his Genoa side out in their usual 3-4-3 formation, David Suazo being allowed to play against the club that currently holds his registration. The visitors had nothing to lose and took the game to the Nerazzurri right from the first whistle – Il Grifone are nothing if not courageous and Gasperini should be congratulated in sticking to his principles. The home side were clearly rattled and were looking for inspiration. Sadly, this was not to come from Balotelli who was having one of his less effective nights. The young striker who has gained a reputation for being volatile certainly lived up to his billing as time and time again he argued with officials about decisions that he perceived to be going against him. It is a real travesty that a player with such outstanding ability seems to have the troubles of the world on his shoulders – something that he must come to terms with soon if he is to fulfil his huge potential.
As the second-half got under way, Mourinho had moved to ground level and seemed to be orchestrating things from the VIP area – this was surely breaking the rules of his touchline ban but recently this most controversial of characters seems to pushing the boundaries to the absolute maximum – his time in Italy is surely up at the end of the current campaign. With time running out the Nerazzurri were taking on the persona of their coach as they argued amongst each other as frustration’s reached boiling point. A 0-0 full-time score line could have been much worse had Giandomenico Mesto managed to slide the ball under the on-rushing Julio Cesar in the dying seconds but the ball seemed to get stuck under his foot and the danger was averted. So its four draws out of the last five for Mourinho and Co. but yet again, the chasing pack could not capitalise.