Napoli went to the top of Serie A as Juventus and Inter dropped points. It took Milan a Mario Balotelli penalty let in the second half to grab a point against Torino whereas Sassuolo lost their third successive match. All these and more in our weekend roundup.
The biggest talking point of the weekend was the derby between reigning champions Juventus and Inter. However, the eagerly anticipated clash did not throw up any winners with both the teams sharing a point apiece. In spite of the draw, the result was an apt outcome of the effort put in by both the teams. The biggest talking point ahead of the match was surely the exclusion of Llorente from the line-up with Vucinic being chosen to start. The game started with a high tempo and after the teams found their feet, they attacked each other’s goals. Vidal and Pirlo caused all sorts of troubles for the hosts but Vucinic was strangely off-color.
The second half started on a much slower tempo and with the teams still at 0-0, Mazzarri decided to bring on Icardi. That substation paid off handsomely for the manager as the young striker found the back of the net and put Inter on top. Chiellini was at fault for that goal as he allowed Ricky Alvarez to steal the ball and feed Icardi. With the crowd egging the home team on, Juventus clawed their way back into the match through Vidal, who has come to symbolize the never-ending energy of Conte’s team. With the match at 1-1, Juventus attacked once more with Tevez being the provider this time. His cross found Vidal, whose header was blocked by Handanovic. Isla could have claimed all three points for Juventus, but he shot past the near post. Among the two teams, the result was surely of more importance to Inter than Juventus, as they blue side of Milan badly needed to make a strong statement and break free of the mid-table mentality that has been prevalent in the past few years.
The spotlight soon shifted to the match between Torino and Milan with the obvious talking point being the return of Kaka in the Milan line-up. Fans have dreamt of him returning some time in his career to Milan and their wish was granted when Galliani snapped up the Brazilian in the latest transfer market. Every visiting fan lapped up every single of Kaka’s touches from the very onset of the match. With Robinho and Balotelli playing on top, Kaka was deployed in the trequartista role. Milan did not have the lion’s share of the ball and needless to say, Torino took control of the match in the very first half itself. Immobile and Cerci were running the Milan back-line haywire in the first half with Zapata and Mexes both being at fault. In the absence of Abate, Zaccardo was deployed on the right wing and did not have a particularly good match to show for. Montolivo, playing through the center, struggled to make his mark and was replaced in the first half itself by Poli. Before leaving the field, Montolivo put the captain’s armband on Kaka – hoping that the move will trigger him to lead the team and break the deadlock.
Soon after restart, Torino were on top with Abbiati letting the ball through his near post with Zaccardo being at fault. With Milan requiring something extra to break the monotony of the match, Allegri sent in Matri in place of Robinho. Matri’s neat flick inside the box found Balotelli, who shot wide. It was a rare off night for Super Mario and it clearly affected Milan. Kaka was soon withdrawn in favor of Birsa and minutes after he went off, he watched in horror as Cerci put the second goal in, chipping delightfully over Abbiati. Milan were able to claw their way back through a Muntari goal which eluded everyone and minutes later parity was restored via a penalty from Balotelli. Allegri was so frustrated that he could not even look while Balotelli scored the penalty and walked off minutes later with the players from both teams descending into a fist-fight. Allegri had this to say after the match –
The performance is no surprise as the team needs to be tweaked, we have to find the balance that we lost as we’ve changed the way we play. From the point of view of the commitment of the payers, it was a good match. Kakà needs to get match fitness and to get to know his team mates better. Matri gave us more depth. Torino won’t be happy with how the game finished but we did what we had to do. It was along the lines of the match we played with them back in the spring. We didn’t concede then but tonight we went two down and came back.
Elsewhere, Napoli chalked up an easy victory over Atalanta with goals from Higuain and Callejon sealing all three points for the Neapolitan side. Napoli’s third win in as many matches took them to the top of the league for the first time with Rafa Benitez obviously delighted with the run of events so far. Fiorentina, on the other hand, had the worst run in their match against Cagliari. At first, they lost Cuadrado to injury within the opening 30 minutes of the match. Then, in the second half, their new signing, Gomez scooped a shot over the crossbar and in the process, hurt his knee. His facial expression was showing enough sings of his troubles as he was substituted immediately. It looks like a long time on the sidelines for the German – something that will not make Montella happy.
With Gomez’s departure, the onus fell on Rossi to lead the Viola attack. Ambrosini’s cross found Rossi, whose header found Valero. 1-0 up, Fiorentina were looking set for all three points, when Pinilla equalized for the visitors. Fiorentina’s misery was further compounded when Pizarro was shown his second yellow for protesting. Pizarro protested vehemently when a penalty was not given to Rossi. Montella was furious at the outcome – losing three key players for a considerable amount of time as well as dropping two points at home. A victory would’ve taken them to the top of the table.
Meanwhile in Luigi Ferraris, Antonini scored his first goal in a Genoa shirt as his team came away with all three points against Sampdoria. New boys Sassuolo found out the hard way why surviving in the top tier of Italian football is a tall ask when they lost to Hellas Verona. Among the three promoted teams, Sassuolo look far less settled and only time will tell whether they will survive the drop come the end of the season. In the three rounds of matches so far, the teams without a single win are Bologna, Parma, Chievo, Sampdoria, Catania and Sassuolo, with the last two teams losing all of their matches so far.