Sunday was derby day in Serie A as Napoli took on Roma in the afternoon, while Juventus travelled to Milan to face Inter in the day’s evening kick-off.
First up was the Derby del Sole (Derby of the Sun) in the south. Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli welcomed Claudio Ranieri’s struggling Roma to the San Paolo for what promised to be an intriguing encounter. Roma were showing signs of turning the corner, having beaten Inter last weekend and then Cluj of Romania in the Champions League on Tuesday. It looked the ideal time to play Napoli, who’d been bruised and battered in a 3-3 draw with Steaua Bucharest two days later in the Europa League.
But around six in the evening local time, it was back to reality for the Giallorossi as their bitter rivals dusted down their weary legs and deservedly beat them 2-0, rising temporarily to second spot in Serie A. It was the first time in three years Napoli had beaten Roma, who slipped to second-bottom.
In Bucharest, Mazzarri was forced to bring on Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi to rescue the sinking ship after previously intending to rest both players ahead of Sunday’s big clash. He need not have worried, as both were instrumental in dismantling a Roma side now in serious trouble.
Ranieri changed his shape yet again for the clash, this time employing a 3-4-1-2 formation. Using Cicinho and John Arne Riise as wing-backs, he tried to expose Napoli down the flanks. However, it left his own back three brutally exposed as Lavezzi, Hamsik and the brilliant Edinson Cavani tortured Il Lupi’s rearguard. Nevertheless, it took the home side 73 minutes to get their noses in front through Hamsik, before doubling their advantage six minutes from time through a Juan own goal to convincingly seal the three points.
Rumours were Hollywood superstar Robert Di Niro was at the San Paolo to watch the game as guest of Club President Aurelio De Laurentiis. After 90 minutes he was probably imagining starring in a remake of The fall of the Roman empire.
In the north, meanwhile, the last occasion the Derby d’Italia finished goalless was February 1999, a time of riots in New York City, avalanches in the French Alps and the acquittal of then-US President Bill Clinton at his impeachment trial. In truth, Sunday night’s match at the Giuseppe Meazza in Milan will not live long in the memory as Luigi Delneri’s Juventus side succeeded in stifling Samuel Eto’o and co to take a hard-earned point back to Turin.
Delneri certainly won the tactical battle against his Inter counterpart Rafael Benitez, culminating in the home side having most of the possession but the visitors largely keeping the hosts at bay and looking the more threatening on the counter-attack. Benitez relied on youth to cause trouble in wide areas, selecting the 18-year-old Brazilian Philippe Coutinho on the right and 22-year-old Jonathan Biabiany on the left. Diego Milito was on the bench, having not fully recovered from the injury sustained last weekend against Roma, but after only 32 minutes the Argentine was required as Biabiany pulled up with an injury that forced him straight down the tunnel for treatment.
Juventus’s Vincenzo Iaquinta had a goal disallowed for offside in the first half, while Inter’s best chance fell to Douglas Maicon, who headed straight at Marco Storari from point-blank range midway through the second period. Both Coaches agreed the stalemate was the right result.
“Tonight we started with the same formation as against Werder Bremen on Wednesday but we were unlucky to lose Biabiany so early in the match. We wanted victory tonight but I have to be happy with my squad,” Benitez told Sky Italia. The Inter Coach also reserved special praise for Coutinho:
“He is a young player of immense talent. He is not a defensive player but in attack he makes a great difference.”
It was only Juventus’s second clean sheet of the season and Delneri was also satisfied with his team’s efforts:
“It was the right result. We both created chances so I have no complaints. The squad is growing but we need to be more clinical in front of goal,” the Juve Coach commented.
The main talking point of the night was in the VIP area, where former Inter striker Mario Balotelli was watching his former teammates. As the host broadcaster zoomed in on him, he made a one-figured gesture to the camera. An action of shocking disrespect, Benitez will certainly not lose any sleep over his transfer to Manchester City.
The result saw Inter lose the top spot in Serie A to Lazio, who beat Brescia 1-0, while Juventus climb to seventh.