It was the Paul Pogba show in Turin as leaders Juventus overcame the absence of key figures to handsomely record their first win of the year in Serie A. Udinese were in hot form going into the game and with a depleted Juventus squad which was devoid of the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chiellini, Kwadwo Asamoah and Fabio Quagliarella, the home side fashioned up a dominating victory.
Paul Pogba stepped up to the plate and had big shoes to fill in the ‘Andrea Pirlo role’. Of course, the two are as alike as chalk and cheese in terms of playing style yet for the impact Pogba had, you would be forgiven if you mistook him for the Italian maestro. Pogba was everywhere, showing maturity far beyond his tender age of 19. But the highlight of his performance, apart from his rather ridiculous hairstyle, was the two belters he unleashed from distance. The first one was clocked in at an incredible 101 km/h while the second was of grave importance considering the fact that it gave Juventus a two goal cushion allowing them to calm their nerves having already thrown away leads and consequently points in their previous two encounters.
The Frenchman, who joined Juventus from Manchester United, proved just why Sir Alex Ferguson was livid with the loss of the midfielder who has been likened to Patrick Vieira. “Am I more like Frank Rijkaard or Patrick Vieira? Neither. I am Paul and I just want to get better”, he said after the game. Indeed if his rapid growth remains constant, he might be well on his way to writing his name in Juventus’ history books alongside French greats such as Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane and David Trezeguet.
At 19, Pogba remains alongside Marquinhos of Roma, as one of the brightest teenage prospects in Serie A. Antonio Conte faces a dilemma that any manager would be content to have. With the imminent return of Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo, Conte has quite the quandary on his hands with regards to handing out starting roles. Pogba has more than made a claim for a spot in the first eleven and while he might get the odd look in during the Coppa Italia and against the provincial teams in the league, his performances have proven that he is more than a capable understudy to have and once again underlined the strength in depth of the Champions.
Elsewhere, the chasing pack that were hot on the heels of the Old Lady have all stuttered. Napoli, Lazio, Inter, Roma recorded stalemates leaving Juventus to runaway with a 5 point lead in what they will surely consider as the perfect weekend. Napoli, away at Fiorentina, managed to come away with the share of the spoils. Facundo Roncaglia gave Fiorentina the lead after his floater from the half-line found its way in the back of the net. Morgan De Sanctis, though, did not crown himself in glory as his eagerness to punch the ball away got the better of him. The former Udinese man came way off his line and found himself in no man’s land in what will surely go down as one of the biggest howlers this season. Edinson Cavani was Napoli’s savior as his glancing header restored parity for the Azzurri. This was Cavani’s 100th league goal and with the form he is in, it’s hard to think of a better striker in the peninsula.
AC Milan got back to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Bologna at the San Siro. Giampaolo Pazzini bagged a brace for the home side with a late Philippe Mexes own goal the only consolation for Bologna. Milan held the ball better but could do little with it going forward in the first half. Stephan El Shaarawy was much more focused on providing service to Pazzini than being in goal-scoring positions himself. Niang was effective with his crossing from the right but the lack of co-ordination in attack meant those balls never met the intended target. In the end, much as expected Milan did just about enough. The goals may have come but the one they conceded was perfect advertisement of the general levels of indiscipline in defence that has plagued the entire season. Milan will need to sort things out fast should they be realistically aiming at the Champions League spot come the summer.
Kaka looks almost certain to be in Rossoneri colours once again come the end of this mercato. But is it a wise move given that there are much more glaring deficiencies in this Milan squad. The arrival of Kaka will no doubt offer inspiration to the Milan players but will it be a happy homecoming for the Brazilian or will he go down the Shevchenko road? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Roma and Inter played out an interesting 1-1 draw at the Olimpico. The Romans took the lead through none other than captain Francesco Totti as his piledriver of a spot kick was blasted to the top left corner giving Handanovic absolutely no chance. Inter though, would comeback through Rodrigo Palacio. Fredy Guarin was excellent yet again for the Nerazzurri and his low driven cross fell kindly to Palacio who slotted home from close range. With the end of the tiresome Wesley Sneijder saga, who joined Galatasary, Inter may not have to look too far for his replacement. Guarin, who has been converted into the an attacking midfielder has taken to the ‘Sneijder role’ like white on rice. His powerful running and physical ability make him a handy player in behind the strikers, a role that Sneijder had a made a name for himself in.
And what would a Serie A weekend be without a manager getting the sack? Gigi Del Neri can find no luck as he was the latest one to bite the dust. Trigger happy Genoa President Enrico Preziosi fired Del Neri after his side succumbed to yet another loss thus placing them in the unenviable and dreaded drop zone. Del Neri, who was hired in October has been replaced by Davide Ballardini who did have a stint at the Marrasi from November 2010 to May 2011. It doesn’t get any easy for them though as they make the trip to Juventus next weekend.