Built as the “Battle for the Scudetto”, the biggest game in Italy featured two of the peninsula’s strongest teams. Napoli hosted Juventus in what turned out to be an enthralling encounter that certainly did not disappoint, given the magnitude of the fixture. The visitors weren’t left at peace since their arrival in Naples as fire-crackers exploded right outside their hotel. Juventus had their team bus targeted too as Napoli fans hurled objects in their direction in a bid to ruffle the feathers of the Juventus squad.
On the pitch, in front of a loud and hostile San Paolo crowd, Giorgio Chiellini netted in his first full start this year as he powered the ball home from close range and showed just what Juventus have missed in his absence – his aerial prowess. Chiellini possesses remarkable ability in the air and with his return to the side, Juventus are far more assured defensively.
Of course, the game did have its fair share of controversy, what’s a Juventus game without one? Edinson Cavani, the league’s top goal-getter and tormenter of Serie A defenses had his own personal tussle going on with Chiellini. The duo clashed time and again from set-pieces, hair-pulling was on show (by Chiellini, of course) while Cavani elbowed the Juventus man in an off-the ball incident. The rather unkind gesture warranted a sending off but it was baffling to see referee Orsato, not brandish a red card, even more so after he consulted with his assistant who clearly was fully aware of the situation.
Gokhan Inler got the home side back on level terms with a vicious drive from outside the box. An unlucky deflection off of Leo Bonucci gave the outstanding Buffon no chance of saving this one. Inler’s ability from range has really come to the fore this season and is a powerful weapon in Napoli’s armory should they fail to break-down defenses. Referee Orsato blew his whistle bringing the game to an end and with it Juventus have the advantage as the business end of the season approaches. The Bianconeri maintain their six-point lead at the top of the table but should the unlikely situation of both the sides finishing the season level on points arise, Juventus will retain the Championship owing to Serie A’s head-to-head policy.
In what was a refreshing sight, Chiellini and Cavani honored their battle with each other by exchanging jerseys and sharing a hug at the end of the game. “We spoke afterwards and it’s only right that for 90 minutes we knock each other about, but at the final whistle it’s all over. It stays on the pitch and is a great challenge to be taking on champions.” Chiellini commented. In the end a draw seemed a fitting conclusion to an exhilarating ride.
With their astounding home win over Lazio, Milan consolidated the third spot and look stronger to hold on to there with every game passing. Giampaolo Pazzini, who replaced an injured Balotelli for a starting spot, made a strong statement of intent scoring two goals before being replaced in the second half. Stephan El Shaarawy was brilliant as usual with his pace, movement and intelligent passing but was not on the scoresheet for the night. Boateng too played one of his best games in the season. The Ghanaian also tapped one in to double the first half lead for the home side.
The entire complexion of the game was changed in the first half when Candreva was, rather harshly sent off for his challenge on El Shaarawy from behind. From then on, it was a one-sided affair and all Lazio could do was delay the inevitable.
The best game of the weekend though saw Inter travel to Sicily to take on high-flying Catania. But prior to the game, news broke out of Inter manager Stramaccioni getting into a brawl with front-man Antonio Cassano. The latter is a child of controversy and was yet again under the spotlight. Strama dropped Cassano for their trip to Catania and it didn’t back-fire as many people expected it to.
Now formbook would suggest Catania would come away with three points as two sides largely populated with Argentines took the field. Catania had strung together an impressive set of results and surprisingly were in contention for a spot in Europe next season. This was uncharted territory for the Elefeanti as they kept on pushing to reach for the dizzy heights in the league table. Inter were struggling on the road and with the omission of Cassano, weren’t expected to grind out a positive result.
And it certainly looked that way at half-time as Catania dominated and put two past keeper Handanovic. Strama brought on Rodrigo Palacio who inspired an unforgettable Inter comeback. The Argentine was instrumental as he set-up Alvarez for Inter’s first goal and then bagged a brace as the Nerazzurri turned the game around. This victory could be just the push Inter need to secure a place in next season’s Champions League. With an in-form Milan, an unpredictable Lazio and a probably rejuvenated Inter, the race for a spot in the crème-de-la-crème of Europe is certainly heating up.
While on Sunday night, Francesco Totti scored from the spot and level on goals with Milan legend Gunnar Nordahl with 225 Serie A goals. The Roma skipper is now joint second and sits 49 goals behind Silvio Piola. Whether Totti still has mileage left in his legs to catch up to Piola only time will tell but even at 36 years of age, he remains an integral part of Roma.
We leave you with our pick for the best goal of the weekend. Alessandro Diamanti with a bit of magic.