Juventus had visited the San Siro earlier this year in February to play AC Milan when the season was at a very interesting stage. The game carried the potential to decide the title in favour of one of the two teams participating in the contest. A deflected effort from Antonio Nocerino had put the hosts in front. Milan were in a commanding position and the troubles were aggravated for Juventus when Sulley Muntari headed in a second from close range.
However, much to the bewilderment of everyone on the pitch and to the millions having tuned in to their television sets, the goal was disallowed as the linesman adjudged the ball had not crossed the line. The decision was more baffling than the removal of Reto Ziegler from the Juventus squad even without playing him for a single minute since signing him. However, Milan paid heavily for the wrong call and though it will be unfair to suggest the decision gifted Juventus the title, it did strongly affect the title race nonetheless.
That was the previous season. The dynamics of the league have greatly changed since and as things stand today, Juventus are a mile above every other team in Serie A. But for something literally miraculous, nothing should stop Juventus from defending their title from the looks of it – such is the strength and depth of their squad. However, watching them beat Catania in Sicily over the weekend, you might as well have wondered whether the new amendments in the offside rule went unnoticed to you. Blasphemy will be an understatement for what transpired at the Stadio Angelo Massimino as Catania were finagled in front of the home fans when a goal scored by Gonzalo Bergessio in front of an open net was disallowed despite meeting every single criterion of a perfectly legitimate goal in the rulebooks.
That was not where it ended though. An equally dubious call in the second half allowed Juventus to take the lead over their hosts through an Arturo Vidal tap-in where the replays clearly showed Niklas Bendtner standing in an offside position in the build-up for the goal. Both the decisions have invited stark criticism from every possible corner and have naturally left the Catania camp fuming. Club President Antonino Pulvirenti was extremely vocal in expressing his anguish at Juventus players Simone Pepe and Emanuele Giaccherini who influenced the linesman from sidelines to revert the call after the goal was allowed first. Pulvirenti even went on to suggest that linesman Luca Maggiani is a fan of Juventus and hinted there was something more to the decision than meets the eye. What was appalling to see however was the audacious claim of Juventus Director General Beppe Marotta who asserted that the Catania goal would anyway have not been of any great consequence.
At the end of the day though, the Vidal goal separated the two sides and no matter how much the officials are criticized, the table is hardly bothered about it, which reads Juventus are comfortably placed on the top having won 8 of the 9 games played so far. With the loss Catania have gone down with their standing and are now 9th on the table.
The refereeing controversies though were not restricted only to Juventus over the weekend. AC Milan too were benefited from a favourable call during their home win over Genoa on Saturday. With their finishing being dodgy throughout the game despite dominating possession, it looked like Milan will settle for a draw but a goal late in the second half from Stephan El Shaarawy was enough to seal all the three points and only the third win from what has been a disastrous season for the Rossoneri so far. On the darker side though, Ignazio Abate who assisted El Shaarawy was about half a yard offside when the pass was played to him. It looks like the big teams were destined to be lucky over the weekend – that is if Milan still are a big team. The win has considerably improved the position for Milan on the league table and Allegri’s men now find themselves at the respectable 11th spot.
While so far Napoli have been touted as the only real competition for Juventus in the title race, few have noticed Inter are slowly, steadily but surely on the rise. With their seventh win of the season, the Nerazzurri are now third on the table and their fixture next weekend against Juventus could heat up the title race between the arch rivals. Playing Bologna on Sunday, Inter delivered yet another professional performance away from home with a 1-3 win. Goals from Ranocchia, Milito and Cambiasso made it a perfect evening for Stramaccioni’s men who are the only team now with a hundred percent away record in the season. Inter have not played a fantastic brand of football this season but it appears this team does have the knack to grind out the positive results. The experience has been blended with youth in optimum proportion this time and they can get only better from here once Sneijder returns to the party.
The game of the weekend once again included Zdenek Zeman led AS Roma. During the incredible comeback the Giallorossi upstaged against Genoa last weekend, their attacking flair was on display in abundance but Roma always walk on thin ice and could very well have been on the receiving side of such a result and boy all it took was one week! Playing Udinese at home, Roma netted two goals courtesy a fantastic display of skills by Eric Lamela. The Argentine’s brace put Roma on top but only for their defensive frailties to show one more time. Roma assured the world they never learnt from their mistakes and not only did they squander the lead, they even conceded a third in the dying minutes although the penalty that was awarded was far from a fair call. Antonio Di Natale once again came to the rescue of his team as two fantastic goals scored by the captain helped his struggling side gain very important three points from their visit to Stadio Olimpico. As far as Roma are concerned, given Zeman’s adamance for his coaching methodology, nothing seems to change anytime soon.
Walter Mazzarri may regard the Europa League with only as much seriousness as Juventus regard the FIGC with. But he’s a hard taskmaster when it comes to the league and it has clearly shown in the performances of Napoli in this season. After a little slump in form last week against Juventus, Napoli bounced their way back to winning ways. Although unconvincing and patchy at times, the Naples based outfit emerged victorious at the end of the day against Chievo courtesy a single goal scored by Marek Hamsik in the second half. Napoli continue to trail Juventus by three points and maintain their one point advantage over Inter which might be toppled any moment if they fail to hit the top gear sooner rather than later.
Another game that was surrounded by questionable refereeing decisions left Lazio bedeviled as they lost 2-0 to Fiorentina after goals from Ljacic and Toni struck the deal for Viola. Lazio however were denied an absolutely clear goal scored by Stefano Mauri which was ruled offside. The game also saw Christian Ledesma and Hernanes being sent off but the coach Petkovic was – although upset – pretty graceful in defeat and credited Fiorentina for their comprehensive performance. Lazio have just slipped down the table with the loss and now trail Inter by three points.
In the other results, Palermo are still finding themselves in the relegation zone after yet another unimpressive performance in the stalemate against Siena who are still stuck rock bottom. Surprisingly, Chievo too are in the bottom three now after their loss to Napoli. Pescara too played a goalless draw as they hosted Atalanta and both teams continue to struggle to stay afloat outside the relegation zone. Sampdoria and Torino suffered home losses to Cagliari and Parma respectively. The two winning sides are very well positioned on the table right now and may continue to surprise some of the bigger teams too.
Serie A resumes during the midweek as Milan travel to Sicily to face Palermo while Juventus and Inter host Bologna and Sampdoria respectively. It will be one very important matchday for Napoli, Roma and Lazio too and should Bologna be able to hold on to Juventus, the Derby d’Italia will be extremely interesting next weekend, provided Inter win their game against Sampdoria.