Keep a close eye on your chimney this Christmas. With the Scudetto in the summer, a comfortable lead in their title defence, a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and a record-breaking 94 points over 12 months, it has been a stunning year for Juventus. So don’t be too surprised if you catch Santa Claus in black and white stripes when he delivers your presents in a couple of days’ time.
Not that there was much goodwill in the Bianconeri’s Friday night triumph over Cagliari in a tie controversially played at the Stadio Ennio Tardini in Parma. A few dozen “home” fans were easily drowned out by both Juventini from the environs of Emilia Romagna and the bellowed instructions of Antonio Conte. The final outcome was harder for the Sardinians to digest than a hefty festive dinner.
“I’m disgusted by this football, I don’t want anything more to do with it,” lamented Rossoblu President Massimo Cellino. “We played a team that has not acted in a sporting manner. Last year they asked us to move the game to the evening because they were fighting for the title, this time they refused to come to Cagliari.”
“The league took the decision not us,” responded Beppe Marotta for the Bianconeri. “If we had to play this game elsewhere it wasn’t our fault but Cagliari’s, as they don’t have a ground up to the standard of holding this kind of match.” In other words, not much festive cheer in evidence.
The result put Conte’s men streets ahead of their rivals. With Juve’s “special agent” Ciro Immobile helping Genoa to secure a 1-1 draw with Inter in Saturday’s lunchtime match, their lead became even more consolidated at eight points. The Nerazzurri’s creative problems without Wesley Sneijder were there for all to see - although Marko Livaja contrived to miss a match-winning chance that will give him nightmares into the New Year.
“This break has come at the right moment, we’re having a tough time,” said Andrea Stramaccioni. “But now we’ll switch off and come back stronger than before. Everything is in place for us to have a great 2013.”
That draw allowed Lazio to leapfrog the Milanese giants into second place on their own, but still eight points adrift of the league leaders. The “slap” provided by Delio Rossi’s arrival at Sampdoria was not enough to see them deny the capital club. A single Hernanes strike, with a celebratory somersault, gave the Romans three precious points.
“We’ve worked hard for this and the last month or so we’ve started to believe we can achieve something special,” said Vlad Petkovic. “This Lazio side has done well - but not well enough to compete with Juve. We need to improve in every part of our play. This break will allow us to recharge the batteries and try to get better day by day.”
Fiorentina, too, moved up the table to join Inter in third. The constant chopping and changing in Palermo appears to have taken its toll on a side which seems to be about as appealing to its own fans as a giant bowl of Brussels sprouts. With Stevan Jovetic starting to return to form - he struck a double - the Viola sparkled too much for the Sicilians, who apologised to their own support at the final whistle of a 3-0 defeat.
“I don’t think there are many teams in Italy with a better midfield than ours,” said Florentine hitman Luca Toni. “We used to miss the chances they created, now we are taking them.”
There was a morale-boosting win for Napoli, too, as Siena - like Sampdoria - found that a new manager is no panacea. There was a lot of pent-up frustration in Christian Maggio’s celebrations when he broke the deadlock before Edinson Cavani guaranteed the points. It was the perfect present after their two-point deduction and loss of Paolo Cannavaro and Gianluca Grava due to match-betting sentences.
“This was a very important win,” admitted midfield motor Marek Hamsik. “We have always had great team spirit, but today we put our heart into the game and fought hard and took three points.”
All the teams giving distant chase to Juve will be looking over their shoulders, however, after Roma ripped up the Milan revival in Saturday’s night game. A couple of late consolation strikes should not mask the Rossoneri’s deficiencies, nor the qualities of this Giallorosso side. Zdenek Zeman’s men are a crazy bunch, but their 4-2 triumph underlined that they are capable of going on a tear which could see them rocket up the table.
When they are on-song, there is simply no more spectacular side to watch than Francesco Totti and company. As pundit Giancarlo Marocchi put it, “Roma are made to score goals, sometimes they concede goals - but they always entertain.” If they can get their focus right, they can easily sweep into second place.
“We’ve made up a lot of points from where we were 10 games ago,” insisted Max Allegri, trying to give Milan’s performance a positive spin. “We will try to finish the first half of the season on 30 points and then have a great second half of the campaign.”
“I am pleased with the way the team played - especially in the first half,” responded Zeman. “In the second half, maybe we tried to take it easier - and we can’t do that.” The subtext was that he expects his team to take the initiative and impose its style of play for the entirety of a game.
The most significant moves in the lower reaches came from Pescara and Torino with vital wins over Catania and Chievo respectively to help them enjoy their Christmas dinners a little more. But with plenty of teams still within touching distance of the drop zone, nobody should despair just yet. Maybe Santa will bring them a year like the one Juventus have just enjoyed.
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