“We are a team of devils. Our colours are red as fire and black to invoke fear in our opponents.”
Herbert Kilpin was pretty expressive with his words there in his description of the identity he wanted to portray of the beloved club he himself was the founder, the first coach and the very first star player of. However, despite all his confidence and belief, he’d have hardly imagined Milan would go on to remain functional for more than a hundred years, let alone emerging as one of the biggest names in European football during all these years.
On the 113th anniversary of its existence, the club could not have celebrated the occasion any better. The much criticized start to the season has been left far behind and with the fourth successive league win, Milan have certainly swung the momentum their way. Against Pescara at San Siro, celebrating the big occasion, Milan did not disappoint the fans at all, albeit the erroneous defensive work from their guests, that included two own goals, did play its role. Milan were put into front by Antonio Nocerino in the very first minute and the consequent gesture that might well go down as one of the more notable moments from the season, the former Palermo midfielder dedicated the goal to the victims of the tragic events in America as he spoke to the press.
Pescara looked like creating troubles for a slightly patchy looking Milan defence but they did themselves more damage than they could to their opponents by scoring two past their own goal. Stephan El Shaarawy capped off a brilliant performance with what has become a customary goal from him in a Milan game now. The young Italian forward continues to be the top scorer in the league taking the count to 14. The kind of form Milan find themselves in, you might wonder whether they could have actually been competing with Juventus for the top spot by now if not for the horrendous start they had to their season.
Speaking of Juventus, the old lady were in full swing on Sunday and with another astounding performance at home, not only did they register a 3-0 win over Atalanta but also confirmed their status as the winter champions. An early goal from Vucinic, a delightful free kick from Pirlo and another equally wonderful goal from Marchisio sealed the deal for the home side and since the other results too went in their favour, they’ve now opened up a huge seven point gap at the top. From the looks of it, they might run out of every other team’s reach even before many realize it.
The win, apart from its sheer audacity, was very important for entirely different reasons. Juventus boss Antonio Conte, coming back after serving his ban was taking charge of the first home game in Serie A and the reception from the crowd was thoroughly heart-warming. The victory was also dedicated to the former primavera players Alessio Ferramosca and Riccardo Neri who lost their lives in an accidental event six years back on December 15.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte however was not the only one making a comeback having served the forbiddance issued his way. Bologna defender Daniele Portanova too was returning to his duties this weekend after he was handed a four month suspension for failing to report an alleged match fixing incident. Upon his return, he was up against his former club Napoli who were in a commanding position and by all means heading to a crucial win post their last week’s defeat against Inter. But then, a moment of sheer magnificence from Panagiotis Kone restored parity to the game and as fate would have it, three minutes later Portanova sealed the winner for the visitors. The defeat was the first at San Paolo for Napoli which now leaves their third place standing in some serious danger. Coach Walter Mazzarri’s post match remarks where he nearly concedes the title to favourites Juventus should not help the morale of the players much either.
The loss of Napoli must have come as a breather for Inter who themselves tasted defeat after a while as Lazio got the better of them on Saturday courtesy a vintage Miroslav Klose goal that marked the difference between the two sides. Inter might consider themselves a tad unfortunate for having come excruciatingly close to scoring twice but were denied by the post on both occasions. There was little to choose between the two sides in the game but this is where it is so important to have a striker of Klose’s abilities in your ranks. They are not born every day. The win now places Lazio level on points with Napoli while Inter find themselves trailing the leaders Juventus by a good seven points and are slowly but surely being left a little too far behind in the title race, one might feel.
However, the win might have turned all the more sweet the next day for Lazio as they saw arch rivals Roma lose to Chievo on their trip to Verona. It is too much to expect consistency from a Zeman team but the three back to back wins might just have gotten you into believing they were finding some real form. That was not to be the case as Chievo got the better of Roma through a solitary goal from Sergio Pellesier that came pretty late in the second half. Roma had a very strong penalty appeal dismissed and in hindsight it seems they were hard done by the decision. The defeat now brings them down on the table at sixth place.
Moving up the table in contrast, was the beautiful looking team from Florence. A lot has been talked and written about the mini revolution of Fiorentina under Montella and another splendid performance only added testimonials to the same. After the disappointing loss to Roma last weekend, it took Fiorentina no time to reclaim themselves and deliver an authoritative performance at home in the form of a 4-1 mauling of Siena. After Luca Toni opened the scoring, David Pizarro doubled the lead for the hosts from the spot and the entire set of players along with the fans drenched into a wave of emotions. Pizarro was coming back from the tragic developments back home where he lost his sister and the return to the football field could not have been more memorable for the Chilean. He has arguably been the most vital cog in Montella’s midfield machine this season and his presence is pretty essential for this team’s success. Fiorentina now trail both Lazio and Napoli by only a single point.
Siena’s loss has cost the head coach Serse Cosmi his job as the team continues to languish at the rock bottom of the table. According to the latest reports, former Sampdoria coach Beppe Iachini has been handed over the charge.
Interestingly, Milan were not the only team in Italy celebrating the anniversary of their founding on Sunday. Parma turned 99 and their celebrations were literally identical as they went for the 4-1 demolition of Cagliari in front of the home fans. Cagliari had take a lead that was to be short lived as Parma almost instantly found the equalizer and call it the grandness of the occasion or simply the difference in application between the two teams, the home side went on to score three more in the second half to complete the routing of the Sardinian based outfit.
Genoa and Torino, two struggling sides, met at Luigi Ferraris and the 1-1 draw did not really help matters for either of the sides. Genoa’s cross-town rivals, Sampdoria, travelled to Sicily to face Catania where the hosts trounced them 3-1 after conceding a first half lead. In the latest development, much as expected, Sampdoria have announced having parted ways with the coach Ciro Ferrara and Delio Rossi is rumored to be the new coach.
The weekend was not as eventful for Catania’s neighbours Palermo as they were in Udine where a goal from Josip Ilicic could well have earned them the first away win of the season but a defensive howler towards the end let the ball kindly fall at the feet of the evergreen Toto Di Natale who ensured a point with his equaliser in the 89th minute of the game. The draw leaves Palermo only a point above the relegation zone and you might start to feel Gasperini is living on borrowed time now.
One more round of fixtures is to go before the teams head for the Christmas break and the games will be played on Friday and Saturday for the 18th round. Of many interesting battles lined up, the most awaited one is Milan locking horns with Roma. Teams would look to end the first part of the season on a high and that should make the next round of game certainly as interesting as this one was, if not more.