Juventus

Time For Some Introspection?

Juventus have hardly put a foot wrong in the Antonio Conte era. It’s midway in the second season for the club’s former star in charge and that the team has lost only as many as three games in these 18 months speaks so highly of the professionalism and spirit that Conte has successfully instilled in this unit. During November last year, when Juventus faced their first defeat in a long time at the hands of bitter rivals Inter, there were speculations of the loss triggering a sudden downfall but as the results suggest, Juventus only emerged stronger. Later during November, Inter’s city rivals Milan managed three points over Juventus at San Siro but the Bianconeri barely looked concerned – and quite rightly so since they were far too ahead of the rest of the pack and no team showed the quality to topple them off the perch.

That very comfort, it seems might start to come down for Juventus during the next few weeks considering the results during the last two rounds and their consequences on the points table. Juventus’ supremacy in the league that looked pretty unquestionable only a few weeks ago, might not seem as incontestable anymore. After a rather shocking home loss to Sampdoria, Juventus once again dropped points as Parma managed to hold them for a tight, hard fought 1-1 draw. The game was never expected to be an easy ride for Juventus as Parma are the only team in the league yet to be beaten at home.

After the two sides managed to cancel each other out during the first 45 minutes of the play, it was time for Andrea Pirlo to once again rise when it mattered. A blistering free kick that took a deflection off Jonathan Biabiany left Mirante, who was already committed towards the far post, helpless and Juventus grabbed an all important lead. But it was never going to be enough against a side that has played at home this season like few others have. A misplaced pass from Mirko Vucinic proved too costly as it immediately allowed Parma to counter attack and a very well weighted pass from Gabriel Paletta caught Caceres out of position and substitute Nicola Sansone outran the Juventus defence and earned his side the equalizer with a wonderful finish past Gianluigi Buffon.

The result must have pleased the home fans as their side maintained the impeccable record at Ennio Tardini against the most balanced side in the league. The same may not be the case in the Juventus camp who have now earned only a point out of their last two games and their lead at the top has been considerably cut down to a mere three points. Though Juventus still remain to be the best side in Serie A with great depth in their squad, the competency that each team is showing with every round passing must not let them breathe easy from here on.

The biggest gainer out of the result at Parma from the weekend has been Lazio. The less hyped but more solid side from the capital city has truly been a revelation under Vladimir Petkovic this season and their current standing which sees them only three points away from the top is a testimony to their hard-work and an extremely systematic approach showed by the coach with the limited options he’s got with his squad – truly a remarkable feat.

Lazio are now within touching distance to claim the Serie A summit and while they may fall short of quality to realistically challenge for the title, the Champions League spot from here is theirs to lose. The more flamboyant sides like Napoli and Roma have been comprehensively put behind by Lazio in the race and things do not look like changing dramatically for the Biancocelesti. Their 2-0 win over Atalanta on Sunday was just another simple and unspectacular display of football that wins you nothing more than three points – something that matters the most at the end of the day.

But with every stride forward taken by Lazio, their local rivals AS Roma continue to make life difficult for themselves. With an objective view of their squad strength, you won’t find any explanation for Zdenek Zeman’s team not contesting for the title by now but as things stand, they are stuck to the sixth position on the table – 8 points far from a Champions League spot having lost their second game on the run. On their Sicilian visit, Roma were handed over a narrow 1-0 defeat by Catania courtesy a second half goal from Alejandro Gomez. Roma had Francesco Totti unavailable for the game while the exclusion of Daniele De Rossi is as baffling as it may get. His relationship with Zeman is believed to be not the healthiest and should it lead him away from the Giallorossi in the summer, the fans’ anguish will be something very hard to deal with for Zeman.

Roma’s loss had presented Milan with an opportunity to leapfrog them to enter the Europa League zone but a listless performance against Sampdoria that ended in a stalemate sees them stay put on seventh place. Milan had put in a youngest possible attacking trident in Bojan, Niang and El Shaarawy but the formation didn’t seem to work as there was lack of clarity in the assignment of roles and responsibilities. In fact, Milan should thank their captain Christian Abbiati for pulling off some magnificent saves that kept the home side at bay and avoided any potential damage. Milan’s lack of intent and penetration has been a perennial problem for them throughout the season and it is pretty clear that Milan need to invest in their midfield soon enough to address these issues. A creative spark is very essential for any side that aims for European football and in the current setup, Montolivo is loaded with too much of responsibility to focus on attack.

The other half of the city of Milan was pretty happy as they secured their first league win in more than a month and especially after their humiliating loss in Udine during the previous week. Facing lowly Pescara, Inter were never touted to be troubled to sail through and the team did not disappoint the not-so-heartening looking San Siro. Palacio and Guarin scored apiece on each side of the half time to take the game completely out of the visitors’ reach. The win keeps Inter pretty much in the hunt for Champions League football next season. However, the sooner they are able to settle with the Wesley Sneijder transfer saga, the better off they would be  for the remainder of the season.

NapoliNapoli are another side in the hunt for that elusive spot after their title aspirations were slowly curbed due to events both on and off the field. What has otherwise been pretty sinusoidal, their season for the time being seems to have stabilized as they registered their third straight win in the league thrashing Palermo 3-0 at San Paolo. Goals from Maggio, Inler and Insigne sealed the deal for the home side. It was one of those days Napoli did not need Edinson Cavani to unleash his magical self to grab the three points. But then, stranger things have happened in Serie A.

Like Udinese’s revival and Fiorentina’s sudden fall for instance. After a disastrous start to the season, Udinese have surely found the right momentum at the midway and their results pretty much show this. Their talisman Antonio Di Natale has once again brought back his A-game to take Serie A by storm and his stellar performance on Sunday against Fiorentina where he scored two won his team the tie with a handsome looking 3-1 scoreline. Fiorentina, after their horrendous home loss against relegation contenders Pescara seems to have a taken some toll on their psyche and they need some quick measures to maintain their position in the top bracket where things are moving far too quickly for anyone’s comfort.

In other results Bologna humbled Chievo 4-0 as goals flowed from all corners. Cagliari came from behind to win 2-1 over Genoa who are finding it very difficult to step out of the bottom three. Torino have not lost a game in Serie A since their defeat to Milan early in December and they continued with the good form beating bottom struck Siena 3-1. From the current view of the table, it looks impossible for Siena to survive in the top flight next season, which is somewhat unfortunate as they have been better than what the standings suggest.