It has been a long time since Serie A has garnered this much attention. With David Beckham making his debut last week and Manchester City making a world record £108m bid for Kaka, the English media finally seem to be acknowledging the existence of a football league beyond their own shores. The common denominator in all of this is Milan, a club who cannot seem to escape the limelight at the moment. All eyes were on their match against Fiorentina on Saturday evening, apart from those of Kaka’s prospective new manager Mark Hughes – they would have been firmly fixed on his wife, sitting across from him at a dinner table in a swanky restaurant in Manchester.
The tifosi at the San Siro certainly had their minds on the issue. While a minority seemed determined to push the former World Player of the Year out of the door by unfurling a long banner reading “I belong to money”, the majority were in staunch support of their hero. “Kaka has no price” and “Kaka is not to be touched” left the Milan hierarchy with no doubts as to the fans opinion on the matter.
The shenanigans surrounding the Brazilian playmaker overshadowed what was an important game between two teams who will be fighting for the Champions League spots until the end of the season. The 1-0 victory may prove crucial to the Rossoneri’s hopes of securing one of those coveted places in Europe’s top club competition. Alexandre Pato scored for the fifth consecutive game to give the Via Turati club three points that were just about deserved. The former Internacional striker was substituted in the 77th minute having waned somewhat in the second half, a recurring issue that the 19-year-old would do well to address. He has started 15 games for the club in all competitions this season, and has scored 10 goals from those starts, none of which have arrived after the 75th minute of a match. In fact, only one has been scored after the 70th, in the 2-1 victory away to Reggina earlier in the year. The youngster has immense talent, of that there is no doubt, but he must learn a match lasts for 90 minutes, and not 70.
The victory also resulted in a closing of the nine point gap to leaders Inter, who suffered a surprising 3-1 reverse at the hands of Atalanta. In what was possibly the worst Nerazzurri performance of the season, José Mourinho’s men found themselves 3-0 down after just 33 minutes. In truth, this sort of defeat has been coming for a very long time. The team has not played well since the 4-0 thrashing of Roma, who provided assistance in their own downfall with a dreadful display, with only the 3-0 triumph over Rome’s other club Lazio reaching a level of performance that could be deemed acceptable. It would be all too easy to claim that the players were all over the place – they were – but poor performances have been on show for some time now, suggesting other problems are at fault.
Their lack of creativity and guile has been spoken of on many occasions, as has their reliance on star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. On Sunday a further conundrum reared itself in that the players looked incredibly confused tactically. They have utilised a number of different systems this campaign and the players don’t seem to be able to grasp what Mourinho wants from them. From 4-3-3 with wingers, to a more centralised 4-3-1-2 with two strikers, to 4-4-2 with wingers and only two central midfielders. The lack of consistency is not aiding the Nerazzurri cause. The Special One made his first change just 28 minutes into weekends match, sending on Victor Obinna for Cristian Chivu, who was yet again being played as a central midfielder. The Nigerian was deployed on the left, so you would have thought Javier Zanetti would have moved to the right hand side to complete the transition to 4-4-2. However, for whatever reason, Inter’s captain continually wandered back into the centre of midfield, leaving right-back Maicon rather exposed. It was then, no surprise at all that the third Orobici goal came from a cross down Beneamata right flank. As loyal a servant as Argentina’s record cap holder has been to the club, it is now surely time to remove him from the midfield area. The trend started under Roberto Mancini’s tenure, but with the options now available to the Portuguese Tactician in the centre of the park, the moment may have come to place Zanetti back into his familiar full-back role, as he did at half-time when the former Porto boss made a further two substitutions.
The defeat had meant a second consecutive window of opportunity for Juventus, who had the chance to close the gap even further to a single point. No doubt Coach Claudio Ranieri would have liked an easier game than a Stadio Olimpico showdown against Lazio to do so. With several players once again missing for La Vecchia Signora, they could only manage a 1-1 draw. Undoubted disappointment all round for the Juve tifosi, who have had to watch their side fail to inflict maximum punishment on Inter’s two losses this campaign, having drawn in Week 5 when the Nerazzurri lost their only other game to local rivals Milan. It is difficult to envisage the current Scudetto holders playing as badly as they did on Sunday and as such any further opportunities are going to be hard to come by from a Bianconeri point of view. Continually letting Mourinho and his team off the hook may come back to haunt them when the run-in really starts to take shape.
Before the winter break, I spoke about Chievo, and made the prediction that they would be taking one of the spots back down to Serie B at the end of the season. Since returning from the three week rest, they have naturally gone unbeaten, having added a 2-1 victory over Napoli on Sunday to the 1-1 draw they achieved last weekend at Bologna. The common belief is that teams at the bottom do not get the rub of the green when it comes to refereeing decisions, but say that to Napoli Coach Edy Reja and the comment would be greeted with an incredulous look and quite possibly a face that looks like Vesuvius about to erupt. The Flying Donkey’s second penalty of the afternoon was decidedly suspicious to say the least with Simone Bentivoglio, who perhaps after watching a bit too much of Robert Pirès, ensured he was caught by Leandro Rinaudo by sticking his leg between those of the Napoli defender.
The win, thoroughly deserved, has lifted them off the foot of the table, albeit on goal difference and gives the club hope they can indeed beat the drop. They are still effectively five points away from escaping the relegation zone, but with two games against fellow strugglers Reggina and Lecce coming up, there is every chance I could well be eating a rather large slice of humble pie come the season’s end in May.
With Napoli and Lazio both dropping points, Genoa stole a march on both and hoisted their name to fourth in the table, holding the treasured last Champions League spot, by beating Lecce 2-0. Indeed, results this weekend now mean that six points separate fourth from ninth place Palermo.
The final thought will go towards naming and shaming Week 19’s villain, Mariano Izco of Catania, sent off for a disgusting tackle on Bologna’s Davide Bombardini, who somehow emerged uninjured from the challenge and managed to complete the entire match. Think Martin Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo, except far more deliberate and with the potential to cause even more damage. Better still, go and watch it on the highlights page on this site. You too can then laugh at Walter Zenga’s defence of the tackle: “It seemed a rushed decision to me…….it was a normal coming together in midfield.” Of course it was, Walter. The FIGC have a chance here to once again lead the way on the big issues that stain calcio and football in general. Having already introduced retrospective punishments for diving, cracking down on career threatening tackles such as these with increased game bans would be so beneficial for the game, and would highlight the FIGC as one of the better bodies governing football in Europe.