Week 16 of the 2013-14 Serie A campaign had in store some interesting fixtures which could go a long way in shaping things at the top and the basement of the table come the end of the season. The undoubted highlight of the weekend though was Walter Mazzarri’s return to his former stomping ground, the San Paolo. Napoli’s clash with Inter promised to be an exciting battle between to old foes, with leverage in terms of European qualification the end result for the winner. Rudi Garcia’s men traveled to Lombardy to take on an AC Milan who are slowly revitalizing themselves after the nightmare start to the season. Elsewhere, Juventus hosted Sassuolo and the Viola were at home to Bologna.
All and more in the weekly Serie A round-up to follow.
Internazionale fall further behind in the race for Champions League qualification
After three back to back draws, one could say that Walter Mazzarri’s return to the San Paolo came just at the wrongest of times for the Italian tactician. Playing Napoli in their own backyard is a daunting task at any given point of time and with the Partenopei coming off a bitersweet dominance of Arsenal, the mood around the San Paolo was largely up-beat given the style in which Benitez’ men saw off the current leaders of the English Premier League. Of-course, given that the hosts were undefeated in nine of the last nine meetings with the Nerazzurri, there was even more belief of coming out of the marquee fixture with three crucial points.
An expected high scoring game proved to be no less than an absolute enthralling 90 minutes as Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring within the ninth minute sending an almost full San Paolo into raptures. The inexplicable miss from a bang in form just four minutes before came to haunt the forward and his team. The atmosphere was filled with chores of Higuain from the Partenopei faithful but the intimidating environment was silenced as skipper Esteban Cambiasso leveled matters ten minutes before the break. A frantic spell in the last six minutes saw three goals being scored as Dries Mertens restored advantage for the hosts before Blerim Dzemaili doubled the advantage. At the stroke of half-time, Japenese full-back Yuto Nagatomo narrowed the gap to a solitary goal, scoring Inter’s second via a far post tap in.
It was all set-up for a grand 45 minutes. The Nerazzurri took the initiative to level things up and had the lion’s share of possession, testing the Napoli rear-guard who stood to firm to the challenges thrown at them. Freddy Guarin came close on a couple of occasions but Rafae, the deputy to Pepe Reina was equal to the test. Inter’s chances to salvage a fourth consecutive point from as many games vanished into thin air with the dismissal of play-maker Ricardo Alvarez who was shown a second yellow for an arguable hand-ball. Jose Callejon wrapped up the points for the Partenopei in the 81st minute, leaving the visitors seven points in their wake.
AC Milan hold Roma to a draw
Rudi Garcia had to contend with their fourth draw in the last five fixtures as they were pegged back to a draw after leading twice to a gritty AC Milan. Max Allegri’s men have been on the up since their 3-0 drubbing of Celtic in Scotland and insuring qualification to the last of 16 of the Champions League in midweek only upped the positiveity meters around the red half of the San Siro. However, it was Mattia Destro who played spoilsport to optimism by scoring the opener for the Giallorossi 13 minutes into the game.
The visitors took the game by the scruff and Cristian Zapata’s equalizer came against the run of play. Half time could have only come at a better time for the visitors whereas the hosts had the chance to rethink their strategy and with the scores leveled at one a piece, Allegri could afford to hurt Roma. However, an injury to Cristian Abbiati meant that Gabriel, in-experienced Brazilian had to be thrown into the thick of things and the youngster’s nerve probably got the better of him as he pulled down Gervinho after the Ivorian had bursted clear of the Milan rearguard. Kevin Strootman made no mistakes from the spot to slot in his fourth of the season. Advantage Roma once again.
Milan were not expected to go down without putting up a fight and the Rossoneri did not disappoint. Constantly harrying and hassling for the all important second goal, the Rossoneri were finally rewarded for their determination in the 77th minute as he rose unmarked into slot in home at the front post. The result means Roma now lie five points adrift the leaders Juventus whereas AC Milan find themselves in the top half of the table after a prolonged spell in the din of lower midtable.
Table toppers Juventus had a comfortable evening at the office as they saw off Sassuolo in a comfortable 4-0 victory to gain even more levrage at the top. Carlos Tevez grabbed the headlines as he scored his first hat-trick for the Old Lady on a merry evening for the Bianconeri fatihful. The reigning Serie A champions went into the fixture on the back of being knocked out in rather controversial circumstances against Galatasaray but there was no topping Conte’s men who grabbed their eighth domestic victory on the bounce. Udinese continued their rut for another week as they were defeated two goals to nil by a Alessio Cerci driven Torino. Alexander Farnerud and Ciro Immobile were on the scoresheet for the visitors who now lie one spot behind the European Places. Catania and Hallas Verona played out a grim 0-0 draw in which neither team could not find a clear cut chance on goal. Chievo were beaten at home by Sampdoria courtesy of an Eder goal to move clear of the relegation scrape.