Late goals were the order of the Week 23, with three teams the beneficiaries. However, we could well have witnessed the week in Calcio whereby any remaining hope of a Scudetto race was crushed. The enduring sense of inevitability about Serie A has finally come to the fore, with Inter seemingly cruising to a fourth straight title (or third for those who choose to pretend Calciopoli did not happen).
The Nerazzurri coasted to an impressive 3-0 victory over Lecce, hardly having to break from second gear to secure three points. The performance was by no means faultless, even if the result suggests that may have been the case. The same problems that have dogged Inter for the majority of this campaign still lingered (the lack of quality in their forward play, uneasy moments at the back), but Mario Beretta’s side did not trouble them enough to ensure these problems came into effect.
In what may seem a wave of negativity from this column regarding Beneamata performances in recent weeks, there has been one stand out positive in the shape of young Italian defender Davide Santon. Since making his debut in the Coppa Italia victory against Roma, he has started all three subsequent Serie A games, all out of position at left-back (he is usually a right-back). The criticism that José Mourinho’s side receive for their lack of home grown players is particularly strong at times, especially when it comes to representing Italy on the Champions League stage. It therefore makes the emergence of another talented young Italian player from their Primavera side (Mario Balotelli being the other) all the more satisfying. His composure and distribution on the ball is what you would expect from an Italian defender and with the current lack of centre-backs that are of the required quality for the Azzurri, you would have to wonder whether his future may lie in the middle. The 18-year-old has certainly caught the attention of Marcello Lippi, who stated last week he believes he has a future at international level. For now, he must concentrate on breaking through permanently at Inter. On Saturday evening, he kept Maxwell, a natural left-back, on the bench. It will be interesting to see if the Portuguese tactician sticks with the youngster for their Champions League home leg against Manchester Utd, or more pressingly the derby against Milan this Sunday.
Unfortunately, that match may now have lost any sense of meaning with regards to the Scudetto thanks to yet more dropped points at home to Reggina. Carlo Ancelotti’s men had the majority of the possession, but it means nothing when clear cut chances are not created. The Tactician decided to change a winning team, and place an integral part of it, Clarence Seedorf, on the bench in favour of Ronaldinho. The result was an inefficient attacking display, not the first we have seen from il Diavolo this season. This could be put down to the absence of Andrea Pirlo, but having coped so well without him before Christmas, when the playmaker was injured, logic leads you to the inclusion of the former Barcelona man. His presence seems to unbalance the team, his inclination to dribble and run with the ball contrasts with that of Seedorf, who while is more than capable, tends to keep the ball moving by passing it more frequently. The Dutchman is also equally adept dropping deep – an aspect that was missing from a member of Milan’s attacking trident until his introduction on Saturday, and the Brazilian’s removal.
The incompetence of the Rossoneri was nearly combined with that of Juventus, who managed to rob Catania of three points they scarcely deserved. Thanks to the stupidity of Vincenzo Iaquinta, who managed to obtain two yellow cards in the space of a couple of minutes, la Vecchia Signora were left to play the majority of the match with 10-men. Their Coach Claudio Ranieri signalled his intentions with the introduction of Christian Poulsen for Tiago, undoubtedly a defensive change, yet one which worked out very well for the Tinkerman as the Dane netted the 91st-minute winner. The three points could yet prove decisive, but with a seven point gap between the Old Lady and Inter it is difficult to envisage any other outcome other than that of a 17th Scudetto for Mourinho’s side. The Bianconeri are relying on them losing three more games this year, which is highly unlikely to occur, whilst dropping practically no points themselves.
Milan and Juventus should perhaps switch their attention to those below them, who are fast gaining on the giants. Fiorentina are the current occupiers of the coveted 4th spot, having secured victory over Lazio courtesy of another 90th minute goal from this weekend’s action, from Alberto Gilardino. Injuries to Stevan Jovetic and Mario Santana, who is out for the season, meant Riccardo Montolivo was deployed further forward in the trequartista position behind Adrian Mutu and Gilardino. It was a short lived experiment as Franco Semioli was introduced shortly after half-time, moving the 24-year-old back into his familiar deeper role. This may well have interested Azzurri boss Marcello Lippi, who attempted a similar move with the Bergamo player in their friendly against Greece in November – that too ended in disappointment. Despite what appears to be a natural ability to play further up the field, la Viola’s playmaker seems somewhat lost when taken out of his normal habitat. At Fiorentina, this may not harm him too much, as captain of the side he is more or less guaranteed his place. If he has international ambitions, however, he may have to learn to cope in a different role. With the competition for central midfield spots fierce, he must demonstrate something that allows him to stand out.
Coach Cesare Prandelli will certainly require a top performance from him next week, when they take on Genoa, rivals for the European spots. They may have come across a good moment to play il Grifone after their sound beating at the hands of Roma. One point now separates Prandelli’s men in 4th and Roma in 6th. Jekyll and Hyde outfit Palermo’s 2-1 win over Napoli means a larger gap now exists between the aforementioned trio and the rest, led by the Rosanero, and as such it does look like being one from three clubs taking the final spot at the top table of European football.
An international programme in midweek means club managers across Europe will be hoping their players come back unscathed from their exertions. The Derby della Madonnina is the highlight of next week’s fixtures, with BBC 3 deciding to show the match live. It is amazing what one player can do to the media in England – let us hope this kick starts a new wave of Calcio coverage on these shores.