It felt like spotting a fleck of gold in a muddy stream or finding caviar on the menu at a greasy spoon cafe. In a rough and tumble Milanese derby, Rodrigo Palacio produced an exquisite finish to win the game. It looked as out of place as a Shakespearean actor in your child’s school show.
His delicious back-heel had been preceded by 85 minutes of car-crash Calcio. It was tense and tetchy and, in its own way, hard to take your eyes off. A red card looked more likely than a beautiful match-winning goal but, in the end, we got both with Sulley Muntari sent off for shoving Zdravko Kuzmanovic in the dying minutes.
Milan started off surprisingly well for the team sitting so much further down the table. Inter looked disjointed and were forced to surrender the initiative to the Rossoneri. But Max Allegri’s men could not make their territorial advantage count and then they paid the price as they tired late in the match. Their League position now looks even more precarious than the chief executive alliance between Adriano Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi.
Of course, it was all smiles on the other half of the city for new Inter chief Erick Thohir attending his first derby since taking over the club. His side felt aggrieved at not being given a penalty for a Cristian Zapata foul on Palacio and maybe that fuelled their better second half. Walter Mazzarri described it as a “slap” which provoked a reaction in his team. “They don’t give us penalties anyway,” he commented with a wry smile.
“It’s the most important goal of my career in the biggest derby in the world,” beamed a delighted Palacio in post-match interviews. “These games are always very important - now we can go on our holidays and be happy.” Inter sit five points off the Champions League places but, as their Coach would admit, they remain a work in progress.
Although it took one gem to decide the Madonnina, they were throwing out goals like confetti at a wedding in the rest of the Serie A. No fewer than four sides managed a poker of goals with one of them, almost inevitably, being this suffocating Juve side. The Bianconeri have dropped just five points so far this campaign - three of them in that incredible blackout in Florence.
Sunday’s sacrificial lambs were Atalanta who did their best to make a game of it after slipping behind early to Carlos Tevez’s 11th League goal of the season. The Argentinian is already the highest Serie A scorer for the Bianconeri in the Antonio Conte era. He looks good for at least 20 this term – with the best will in the world, that’s a contribution Alessandro Matri was never going to provide.
The Bergamo side did draw level and, in the process, thwart Gigi Buffon’s dreams of moving up to third place in the all-time list of time without conceding a goal in Italy’s top Division. Maxi Moralez ended that run at 745 minutes – enough to take him to sixth spot. Not a bad answer to anyone who thought he was finished.
The reigning champs powered on after his personal setback, however. Paul Pogba, Fernando Llorente and Arturo Vidal all struck in the second half for an emphatic victory. The winter champion’s crown is close at hand. Only Roma - who visit the Juventus Stadium when hostilities resume in January - can deny them the lead of Serie A at its halfway stage.
The Giallorossi were dishing out a thrashing of their own at home to ever-more-doomed Catania. With Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman missing there were those who thought Rudi Garcia’s side might struggle. They had not figured on defender turned goal-grabber Mehdi Benatia. He bagged a double which makes him his team’s joint top scorer in the League, with Gervinho and Mattia Destro completing the rout. The young striker’s goal came courtesy of a contender for howler of the week from the Sicilian’s goalkeeper, Alberto Frison.
The other four-goal teams were this term’s surprise packages, Verona and Torino. At the Stadio Bentegodi, Luca Toni rolled back the years yet again with a double to complete a demolition of Lazio. A Lucas Biglia strike had cancelled out the big striker’s opener but Hellas would not be denied as Juan Iturbe and Romulo restored the lead before their veteran bomber put the game beyond doubt. That’s seven for the season and only Ebeneezer Scrooge himself could suppress a smile every time he wheels away with his trademark celebration. Maybe Vlad Petkovic would not share that sentiment.
In Turin it was the Alessio Cerci show once again as he inspired a come-from-behind triumph after Cyril Thereau had put Chievo ahead. Ciro Immobile got two goals but the floppy-fringed winger was at the heart of almost everything the Granata did. He crowned his performance with a pinpoint finish that felt like a reminder bleep on Cesare Prandelli’s mobile phone.
It was harder work for Fiorentina, looking to take advantage of Napoli’s Saturday night draw in Sardinia to narrow the gap on third place. The Viola missed the zest, drive and fancy footwork worthy of Strictly Come Dancing they usually get from Juan Cuadrado. Instead, it took a sweet, low drive from Giuseppe Rossi late in the game to see off Sassuolo. His celebration roar summed up the relief felt among about 4,000 Florentine fans who travelled to the game.
The most significant result at the bottom end of the table was probably Bologna’s oxygen-supplying success over Genoa thanks to an Alessandro Diamanti strike. It catapulted Stefano Pioli’s side out of the bottom three and perhaps put plans of replacing him with Roberto Baggio on hold. Rodrigo Palacio’s place as Serie A’s most important ponytail is safe for the time being.
Udinese saw off Livorno on Saturday evening while Samp and Parma shared the spoils on Sunday to complete the weekend’s scorelines. Italian football takes its winter break after another round of matches without a single goalless draw. Hopefully that entertaining streak is something to build on in 2014.
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