Criticism of the level of officiating in Italy has been rife in recent weeks, with claims that the standard has dropped backed up by some dreadful decisions from referees and linesmen. It is only right then, that we should praise the same group when they manage to get it right, especially when the calls they make prove so vital to the outlook of the league table.
Not for the first time this year, Juventus were fortunate to sneak victory. For the unlucky victims Napoli it was their 9th away loss of the season, just behind Siena who have the most in the league at 10. The Campania outfit may have come away with a point had Ezequiel Lavezzi’s late equaliser not been ruled out, probably correctly, due to a very marginal offside. Coach Edy Reja begrudgingly admitted post-match that the official had made the correct decision, but bemoaned the fact that it was actually spotted. In fairness, if the game was at the San Paolo, in front of 70,000 Neapolitans, it would be safe to bet the decision would not have been given. It was nevertheless, the correct one on this occasion.
At some point, you would think the Bianconeri’s luck will run out, and when it does a run of adverse results may be heading their way. Missing Pavel Nedved on Saturday, who announced his intention to retire at the end of the season, chances were hard to come by. Whilst the Czech has hardly been in sparkling form so far, his presence and creativity is more than missed when he is unavailable. The fact he is rarely, if ever, rested shows that Coach Claudio Ranieri recognises this. If their game on Saturday evening was a glimpse into the future without the left-sided wizard, then Chairman Giovanni Cobolli Gigli is going to be a busy man this summer frantically searching for somebody to offset the loss. Relying on an ageing Alessandro Del Piero to carry the can will not cut it in a 38-game league campaign. One could point to Sebastian Giovinco, but he seems to be the heir to il Pinturicchio himself, rather than their departing No.11. If a positive is to be found in the scenario, it is that you can be assured this summer’s transfer budget will be heading towards creative players, something the squad is crying out for, rather than a fresh army of defensive midfielders.
Another side crying out for creativity this week was Milan, devoid of Kaká and Ronaldinho (although quite what the latter would have added if he had played is debatable) they lost at Marassi to Antonio Cassano’s Sampdoria. They have played 4-4-1-1 for the past couple of weeks now, enforced due to the growing injury list, and we can safely say it is not a system Carlo Ancelotti will be turning to through choice. The team looks sluggish, tired and on occasions disjointed. Samp were fully deserving of their win, and could have scored more if the right option was taken in key areas of the final third. Credit must also go to the linesman, who despite protests from Christian Abbiati, gave the correct decision in awarding the Blucerchiati their first goal as all of the ball had indeed crossed the whole of the line.
A mention must be made to their central midfield of Paolo Sammarco, Angelo Palombo and Daniele Franceschini, who are proving to be a match for any in the country, and this was their 6th game unbeaten. Palombo in particular, will want to regain his Azzurri place that he has lost through injury this year. Their good form will be important if the club is to continue the current run. With only tough trips to Genoa and Fiorentina left, they have a favourable set of fixtures to push themselves further up the table.
As for Milan, if Vice-President Adriano Galliani thought his comments about becoming more hands-on with his role were going to galvanise the players, then he was in the stands to see they did in fact have the opposite effect. Quite what he thinks he is going to do by turning up to training sessions is anyone’s guess. His remarks regarding checking players efforts in training do not scream confidence in the backroom staff. He should be more concerned about what is looking like being a key summer in the transfer market for the Rossoneri, and instead concentrate on bringing in players that the Coach actually needs, and that have a long-term value to the club. Carletto, for his part, could perhaps help himself by admitting there are problems with his current squad. He chose to call the trough they find themselves in a “phase that will pass,” and once again reminded us that this is the same group of players that won the Champions League in 2007. Yes Carlo and the majority are also the same group who won the Champions League in 2003, and that is the problem. At this rate, he will be sat there in 2012 telling us that these are the players that won the Champions League in 2007. There simply has to come a point where you have to demonstrate a ruthless streak and accept that some of the players can no longer play to the level that they could in 2007. Unfortunately, there seems to be no sign from anybody at the club that this reality has kicked in.
An approach like the one on show at Roma, who are buying young, fresh, motivated players could do with being employed at Via Turati. In one of the most exciting games to be played this year, they drew 3-3 with runaway leaders Inter, although Romanisti everywhere will be disappointed not to have inflicted a first home defeat on José Mourinho for seven years. In the space of six days, both Manchester Utd and the Giallorossi have provided all the answers needed to the question of beating this Nerazzurri side. In short, pace is required, a quick body as well as a quick mind. La Beneamata are a slow and ponderous side and that is only highlighted with the way they are playing at the moment.
Luciano Spalletti once again sent out his troops in the 4-2-3-1, with Mirko Vucinic on the left, Júlio Baptista as the lone striker and, rather surprisingly, Matteo Brighi in behind him. As strange as this initially seemed, it worked very well indeed. The young Italian is no Francesco Totti, but he demonstrated clarity of thought and vision in and around the penalty area, popping up for the third goal, along with providing quick movement of the ball. Roma’s speed and willingness to ensure quick transition of the football unsettled Inter from start to finish. Man Utd played exactly the same way last Tuesday, the only thing they failed to do was score. On Sunday evening, i Lupi found the back of the net three times at San Siro and still failed to win.
This was primarily down to two factors – Mourinho’s changes at half-time, and the inability of the visitors to defend properly. As well as Roma played the game, as much as they unsettled the Nerazzurri defence and created chances, the ease with which they concede goals is costing them. The three that flew past ‘keeper Doni on Sunday ensured the total for the campaign rose to 34, that is one less than Chievo, and nine more than Genoa and Fiorentina – their closest rivals for the Champions League places. It is the difference between them being a very good Scudetto challenging team capable of some good results in Europe, and a great Scudetto winning team with the ability to conquer Europe’s top competition for the first time in their history. Going forward, they have so much variety that they will score against anyone, the fact that only the top three teams in Serie A have scored more is testament to that. Yet this is pointless if they cannot keep clean sheets.
Both of the Inter goals scored from open play were from players that were left unmarked. Promising right-back Marco Motta was caught watching a player (Dejan Stankovic) that should have been handed on to Christian Panucci, and as such he failed to notice Mario Balotelli wander into the penalty box. For the equaliser, an unmarked Hernán Crespo strolled in between two defenders, neither of whom picked him up, and headed home from six yards. It does make you wonder where the traditional Italian method of man-marking has got to, as there’s no doubt it would have prevented at least one, if not both, of the goals. The Nerazzurri Tactician must be given credit for his half-time changes, switching from 4-3-1-2 to 4-2-3-1 and bringing on Luis Figo and Patrick Vieira. The addition of two wide players prevented full-backs Motta and John Arne Riise raiding down their respective flanks, as well as giving his own side more options when in possession.
The point gained ensures second-placed Juventus are still more than two victories away from catching the leaders. La Vecchia Signora still has to beat Inter at the Olimpico di Torino, and hope they then draw a further three games for them to overtake them on points. It is an unlikely scenario, but thankfully while there is still a possibility, there is still a Scudetto race.