In a bizarre weekend of Serie A action, Juventus dropped points to a newly-promoted team, the Rome derby ended goalless, while Adel Taarabt stole the headlines (for a few minutes) with a wonderful debut goal. As Inter Milan and Napoli bounce back from their defeats, Fiorentina continue to fight for the last Champions League place. With all the action heating up as the season progresses, here are five lessons from this weekend’s matches.
1. Mazzarri’s patched-up Inter manages to win
Having not won a game since the Milan derby (which was back in December), Mazzarri’s reimagined and slightly patched up Inter Milan side were able to defeat Sassuolo by one goal. The newly promoted club had just replaced the former manager Eusebio di Francesco with the more experienced Alberto Malesani, along with a variety of January signings including many Serie A veterans and journeymen like Paolo Cannavaro, Floccari, Brighi, and Biondini. The new signings had difficulty keeping pace with the Inter’s own new player Hernanes, along with the returning Guarin, and the ever-industrious Nagatomo. It was another key returning player Walter Samuel, who headed in the only goal from Hernanes’ corner. There were plenty of missed opportunities for Inter, with Diego Milito finding himself twice in front of the goal but unable to put it past Sassuolo’s heroic keeper Pegolo. Mazzarri replaced the Argentine forward with Ruben Botta in the second half, and along with Hernanes, the substitute helped knit together the nerazzurri midfield and attack for the rest of the match. This mixture of old and new faces managed to create, score, and win, however Mazzarri will need to take a look at Milito’s role, and whether or not the 34 year-old should continue to be part of the starting lineup.
2. AC Milan suffers against Napoli as Taarabt and Essien shine
For the first ten minutes of this match, Adel Taarabt had convinced us all that he truly was the Moroccan Balotelli. His early goal curled around Reina was a miracle of brilliance for Milan (especially in these tough times) which in the 11th minute was cancelled out by Inler’s deflected shot. For the rest of the match, it was Taarabt who provided any attacking invention, and with the real Balotelli barely contributing aside from a single powerful shot for Reina to block, Seedorf’s January signings (not including Honda, unable to play due to a stomach bug) did their best in the circumstances. Essien helped De Jong in the central holding pair in front of the defence, and the Ghanaian showed that he hadn’t lost any of his tough tackling or dynamism while at the fringes of Chelsea. For Napoli it was Higuain who made the difference. His two goals topped off a strong performance which included the return of Hamsik for the Neopolitans. Seedorf tried to invigorate his side with the substitution of Kaka (still recovering from the flu), however there was little the Brazilian could do especially with the uninspiring performance by Balotelli who was substituted later. While Napoli have gained ground on Juventus and Roma with this routine win, AC Milan is rooted in 10th place in the table with only Bologna to play before Atletico Madrid visits the San Siro.
3. Immobile is a player worth taking to the World Cup
With the deep history of attacking duos in Italy, it’s about time that the current top duo of the Serie A be truly acknowledged by Prandelli. Torino’s Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile have been firing newly-promoted Torino to the top half of the table with their continuous goalscoring and assisting. Cerci’s talent and hard work was already noticed last season by Prandelli, however Immobile is still waiting to get his first call up. This weekend against Bologna he scored his twelfth goal this season thus far, and throughout his prolific campaign Immobile has shown that the traditional Italian center forward is still existent and effective. With the Italian U21s Immobile has scored 10 in 14 appearances, including a memorable goal against the Netherlands in which his dribbling and finishing skills are showcased. With the variety of attacking options available to him Prandelli’s squad for the 2014 World Cup will be difficult to pick, and the strong performances and continuous goalscoring by Immobile only add to the Italy coach’s selection troubles.
4. The Rome derby doesn’t manage to satisfy or entertain
The returning derby for Edy Reja was reined in by the characteristic pragmatism of the Lazio manager. The 0-0 draw makes for an acceptable result, as stifling Roma’s prolific forwards has only been managed twice this season (by Cagliari in a goalless draw and Juventus in their 3-0 win). However, this draw was a significant opportunity missed for both sides. If victorious, Lazio would have overtaken Parma and Torino into seventh place, inching closer to a qualifying spot for the Europa League. Roma on the other hand will be disappointed for having missed the chance to gain ground on Juventus which dropped points at the Bentegodi against Hellas Verona. Goalless and without significant gains for either side, this Rome derby keeps both sides treading water as they look to their next matches and significant cup ties coming up (Napoli in the Coppa Italia for Roma, and Bulgarian side Ludogorets for Lazio in the Europa League).
5. The scudetto race is still undecided
With the Rome derby ending in a 0-0 draw and Juventus held 2-2 against Hellas Verona: Napoli, Fiorentina, and Inter Milan were able to creep closer to the top of the table by a couple of points. Even if Juventus still retained their nine point lead ahead of second placed Roma, this weekend has shown that Conte’s feared bianconeri can be stalled. With the Turin derby approaching (before this Juve will host struggling Chievo this upcoming weekend) in the Serie A as well as the Europa League tie against Trabzonspor, followed by matches against AC Milan and Fiorentina, these upcoming weeks will be a tough test for Conte’s team. Whether or not Roma can capitalize on Juventus’ future mistakes is uncertain, however with 45 points still available in the next 15 match-days there’s still plenty of time available for the season to get more exciting.