Sometimes it is a relief when a long-awaited match gets under way. After the skirmishes via the media and the old wounds being reopened, a game of football feels like a breath of fresh air. In the case of Juventus versus Roma, it provided a verdict which left no room for debate.
In about 20 minutes of unrelenting fury, the Bianconeri unleashed hell on Zdenek Zeman – and his Giallorossi had no answer. If the capital club harboured any hopes of being title contenders, they were knocked to the canvas in the Juventus Stadium. As for Antonio Conte’s side, they showed that their stuttering display in Florence was no cause for their rivals to get too excited any time soon.
Of course, it was impossible to watch the match without thinking of all the peripheral issues. Under Coach Conte, Juve have become expert at developing the sort of siege mentality that Jose Mourinho specialises in. They used the bad blood with the Roma boss to deliver a performance which felt full of venom and vengeance.
Zeman, for his part, was gracious in defeat, even when asked if he might feel regret about leaving Pescara who are now within touching distance of his current employers. No doubt the loss to La Vecchia Signora was a bitter one for him to take. “We need to learn a lot from this game,” he admitted. “If you let Juve play they will kill you and we were weak in the tackle and our effort was almost non-existent.”
The resounding success heaped pressure on Napoli on a tough trip to Marassi to face Ciro Ferrara’s in-form Sampdoria. When it looked like they might do no better than a 0-0 draw, Walter Mazzarri played one of his old trump cards and got himself sent to the stands. It did the trick, but only just.
One moment of inattention from an otherwise impeccably organised Samp side cost them dearly. A slick counter-attack saw Marek Hamsik tripped, Daniele Gastaldello sent off and Edinson Cavani convert the resultant penalty. It was sufficient to keep Neapolitan Scudetto dreams alive.
“Last year we would have lost a game like that,” insisted Mazzarri afterwards. “The Champions League has helped us to develop. We were inconsistent, but now we are more focused, less distracted and more aware of what we are capable of. Now we are giving the League closer attention, we want to lose less points than a year ago.”
That approach, so far, has made them the most credible rivals to Juve. The squad has a more complete look to it than it did last season and the focus is, undoubtedly, on Serie A this year. There is every reason to think that they can keep their title dreams alive for some time to come.
Another side which will think it has potential to win the League is Inter after ending the San Siro taboo and getting a home victory over Fiorentina. A penalty for handball eased their way against a feisty Viola side which then went down to 10 men. It sets up a spectacular derby with Milan, although the Rossoneri remain in grim form after losing a Stephen El Shaarawy lead against Parma.
One side which looked to have hit the rocks in the early rounds of the title fight were Lazio, but they bounced back for a morale-boosting victory over Siena. It wasn’t that pretty to look at, but it got them back on track into joint third place in the table.
“We were not 100 per cent but we were good enough to win this game without having to work too hard,” said Vladimir Petkovic afterwards. “We created a lot of chances and could have lived without them getting a goal. But it was important to get a win after two defeats, now we need to get some rest and get on with our work.”
Other big winners of the weekend were Alberto Gilardino with a couple of strikes in Bologna’s convincing triumph over Catania, Fabrizio Miccoli with a wonder goal as part of a hat-trick in Palermo’s first win for Gian Piero Gasperini and Rolando Bianchi with a double in Torino’s demolition of Atalanta. For three forwards who have been around the block a bit, it was a pleasing day’s work.
Things were not so happy, however, at the Is Arenas where Cagliari finally got to play in front of their own fans. Little Pescara were good enough to come away with three points without needing to be awarded them by the League authorities. With the jeering he received at the final whistle, Massimo Ficcadenti could have been forgiven for wishing the game had been played behind closed doors.