Entering the midweek treat that was Week 21 in Serie A, you would be forgiven for diverting your attention away from the top of the table, and taking an occasional glance towards the bottom. With the bottom four all playing each other for the second time in a week, and Chievo starting to make a fist of this relegation lark by picking up points, the battle at the bottom is looking equally as interesting as that at the top.
As it materialised, two draws in both games was the last thing each team would have been hoping for. Bologna and Sampdoria both picking up three points means that the quartet of Lecce, Torino, the Flying Donkey’s and bottom club Reggina are now starting to get cut adrift from the rest. Fortunately for the embattled four, Bologna’s upcoming fixtures mean that they will all get a chance at some point to drag the Rossoblu right back into trouble. They play five of the current top 10 next, including a visit to Napoli and home game with champions Inter.
Mimmo Di Carlo has instilled a new sense of resolve and fight (perhaps literally) in his Chievo troops – there must be something that is attracting red cards to their matches, this was their fourth consecutive game in which a player had been sent off during the 90 minutes. More importantly, they scored yet another late goal to secure valuable points. Lecce defender Fabiano’s sending-off undoubtedly aided them, with the change in mentality visible as soon as the number of players became level. They were duly rewarded with a goal that ensured they shared the spoils, and kept in touch with others around them.
While Di Carlo promoted the benefits of a positive approach when trailing, Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti gave everyone in Calcio a lesson in the perils of a negative approach when leading. The Rossoneri got exactly what they deserved at the San Siro. Having outplayed Genoa for the majority of the match, the initiative was handed on a plate to Gian Piero Gasperini’s men with two needless defensive substitutions, one of which that was introduced far too early. The inevitable late equaliser, from none other than Diego Milito, followed and cost il Diavolo the chance to overtake Juventus into second. The replacement of David Beckham appeared enforced, he seemed to be limping slightly as he came off, but the choice of who came on certainly was not. With Ronaldinho sitting patiently on the bench, the choice of Mathieu Flamini just after 70 minutes was bizarre. Clarence Seedorf is more than capable of dropping back into midfield, and such a move would have kept the pressure on il Grifone.
A note on David Beckham, who under the watching eyes of England manager Fabio Capello produced a sterling display. It wasn’t, as the English press will no doubt report, a superb performance by any means, but the player deserves much credit for the way he has settled into life in Italy. Having criticised his inclusion for his first match against Roma, it would be wrong of me not to point out what he is now offering this Rossoneri side. The main aspect is the creativity and passing ability. With a midfield that has been desperately in need of somebody other than Andrea Pirlo who can pass a ball, the Englishman’s addition is something of a blessing. Along with offering another outlet, he is now getting in support of his front players, as his goal against Bologna on Sunday demonstrated.
Nevertheless, it is still somewhat surprising that the club are now eyeing up a permanent deal for the former England captain. They do not need another 30-plus-year-old added to the squad, whilst there are many younger options in Europe who can perform the same role, if not arguably better.
With Juve’s reliance on Alessandro Del Piero and Amauri’s dip in form worryingly exposed by Udinese (David Trezeguet’s return was one plus point from the evening), Inter compounded the misery of their rivals by securing victory against a tricky Catania side. An incredibly harsh straight red card for Sulley Muntari could have potentially spoiled their night. Quite why referee Gianluca Rocchi saw fit to brandish the red is anyone’s guess, he was well positioned and the tackle was no worse than mistimed. The look on the Ghanaian’s face upon seeing the colour of the card told you everything you needed to know about what he thought of the tackle.
The Elefanti were not without their share of chances, and even with the full complement of players, the Nerazzurri still had issues in defence. Michele Paolucci had a goal disallowed for an apparent foul by Takayuki Morimoto on Nicolas Burdisso, yet the Japanese international’s boot was not dangerously high, only the Inter man’s dive down towards the ball in an attempt to head it out made the play dangerous. Inter rode their luck as numerous other opportunities passed Walter Zenga’s team by with a lack of quality in the final third proving to be a difference, especially when contrasted to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored his 16th goal of the season. If only he let his football do the talking, then he might be in contention for such awards like the Ballon d’Or. Instead, he continues to moan and whinge in public, making some rather ridiculous claims stating how he should have won the Golden Ball, and his latest remark about the award being nothing more than a “publicity stunt”. Scoring in the Champions League would help his case, one goal in the six games so far, in a relatively simple group, is not the sort of form prospective winners show at the top level.
One player who may yet get to play at that level again next year is Francesco Totti, whose return from what feels like his 50th career injury galvanised Roma into a 2-1 defeat of Palermo. Fellow Roman, and eternal treatment table buddy, Alberto Aquilani also cemented his return from injury with a starting place. The victory moves them to within a point of the Champions League spots. With players slowly filtering back and regaining fitness, Luciano Spalletti’s men are in prime position to strike and complete the familiar look in the top four positions of the table. While it appears to be too much to ask for a competitive title race (every opportunity that arises to bring the main challengers closer together is scuppered one way or another), the rest of the league are providing us with a thrilling second half of Serie A football. It seems our best bet is to keep those eyes fixed towards the bottom end of the table, with the occasional glances being reserved for those at the summit.