Serie A Recap, Week 30: What a difference a week makes. Milan slips-up, Inter cuts the distance, Napoli reopens scudetto race.

Following its breathtaking come from behind victory against Bayern Munich in Germany earlier this week, Inter returned home to the San Siro to face Lecce.  Inter was looking to continue its excellent run of form in domestic play, while league leaders Milan was away to Palermo.  With only a five-point lead at the top of the table, a slip-up in Week 30 would mean that the Milan Derby, scheduled for the next round, would be a direct battle for the scudetto.

Udinese was hoping to keep hold of fourth place and a Champions League spot, with both Lazio and Roma nipping at its heels.  The action kicked off on Saturday with Lazio hosting Cesena at the Stadio Olimpico.

Lazio 1 – 0 Cesena

Having lost both the Rome Derby, and its hold on fourth place last weekend, Lazio was hoping to rebound against Cesena and perhaps jump back into the hunt for a Champions League spot.  Cesena, just a point clear of the drop zone heading into this weekend, was confident following its 2-2 draw with Juventus that, it could continue its climb up the table.  It took Lazio less than 2 minutes, however, to jump into the lead.  Giuseppe Sculli’s simple cross from the by-line just seconds after the opening whistle found Mauro Zarate, who poked it in to give Lazio a 1-0 lead after just 88 seconds.  It was Zarate’s first goal in 2011, and it was enough to see Lazio take all three points.

Milan 0 – 1 Palermo

Palermo was desperate for points following five straight losses, a period during which it was outscored 15 to 2 by the opposition.  Milan would need to find goals from someone other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who began serving his three-game suspension for punching Marco Rossi in the ribs last weekend.  Palermo came out strong as it looked to impress the home crowd, and Milan was immediately forced to defend.  After just 9 minutes, Dorin Goian fired the home side into the lead, as the Milan defense was caught sleeping.  Milan nearly equalized seconds later, following a corner, but Alessandro Nesta failed to connect with the cross as it rolled along the goal line and out of play.  Palermo went into the half with a 1-0 lead, and following the restart, both teams pressed for a goal.  Milan settled and began to apply serious pressure on the home side.  The Sicilians withstood wave after wave of the Milan attack, and were able to frighten the visitors on a number of occasions with swift counterattacks.  Milan nearly equalized off a corner in the 65th minute when Robinho centered to Mathieu Flamini, whose shot was saved by a fully outstretched Salvatore Sirigu.  Sirigu was again the hero in the 78th minute, as Rino Gattuso’s sharp header from four yards out was turned away by the Sicilian netminder.  Palermo held on against the league leaders for a 1-0 victory.  It was Serse Cosmi’s first win since taking over on the Palermo bench, and it was also Milan’s first defeat in 2011.  The loss could not have come at a worse time for the Rossoneri, with the Milan derby up next in Week 31.

Fiorentina 2 – 2 AS Roma

The Giallorossi hoped to continue their slow climb up the table following a Week 29 derby victory as they traveled to Florence to face a Fiorentina team riding a two game winning streak.  The match was a battle of the two youngest coaches in Serie A – Vincenzo Montella and Sinisa Mihajlovic.  Mihajlovic, a former Lazio player, stoked the fires a bit in his pre-match comments by equating the match with a derby, and making clear his team would fight for all three points.  He fielded a strong, attack-minded starting 11 with Adrian Mutu, Juan Vargas, Mario Santana and a bleery-eyed Alberto Gilardino (who had just welcomed his daughter Gemma into the world earlier that morning) starting up front.  Montella countered with Jeremy Menez and Francesco Totti, supported by Simone Perotta and Rodrigo Taddei.  Mirko Vucinic was suspended for Roma, and Marco Borriello was again left on the bench.

The game started at a blistering pace, and continued that way straight through to the half-time whistle.  Both teams probed early, but it was the home side that created the best chances.  La Viola finally found the breakthrough in the 21st minute when Mutu took advantage of Philippe Mexes’ missed tackle to storm into the Roma box.  He fired past Alexander Doni to give the home side a 1-0 lead.  Just three minutes later, Fiorentina nearly doubled its tally, but Gilardino could only sky his shot over the bar.  Roma found its footing and eventually equalized in the 26th minute, following a perfect ball by Daniele De Rossi to John Arne Riise, who charged onto it and into the box.  Gianluca Comotto could not handle Riise and was forced to pull him down in the box for an obvious penalty.  Francesco Totti stepped up to the spot and blasted it home to equalize.  It was Totti’s 200th goal in Serie A, his first ever in Florence, and with it he joins an elite club of just five others that have scored 200 in the Italian League.  The game really opened up after that as both teams looked to take the lead.  Fiorentina began to dominate play and again took the lead in the 34th minute.  Again Roma’s leaky defense was to blame as a Fiorentina corner fell to an unlikely Alessandro Gamberini who tapped it in at the far post, making it 2-1 at the halftime whistle.  The fast pace continued after the restart, and Fiorentina looked to be dominating when, seemingly out of nothing, the ball fell to Totti in the box, who again fired past Artur Boruc leveling the score at 2-2.  Totti has now scored five goals in the past four games.  There was end-to-end action right up until the final whistle, though neither team was able to break the deadlock, and each would take a point into the international break.

Bari 1 – 2 Chievo Verona

Bari spoiled Milan’s chance to open up a seven-point lead at the top last weekend by holding the leaders to a 1-1 tie at the San Siro.  They played host to Chievo this weekend.  Bari remains buried deep in last place and salvation this season looks unlikely.  Chievo, while not yet completely out of the relegation battle, needed a result following its loss to Fiorentina last week. Sergio Pellissier opened the scoring for the visitors in the 38th minute.  Chievo could not hold the lead for long though, as Gelson Fernandes gifted Bari a penalty two minutes later.  Abdelkader Ghezzal converted from the spot as the two teams headed into the half tied 1-1.  It was Chievo that started brightest in the second half, and it retook the lead in 49th minute through a Davide Moscardelli strike.  Bari pressed hard for an equalizer but despite the home crowd’s support and six minutes of added time, the match ended 2-1 with Chievo taking all three points.

Bologna 1 – 1 Genoa

Both Bologna and Genoa were coming off Week 29 victories, with a single point separating them in the table, and each saw this mid-table clash as a winnable encounter.  Bologna took the lead in the 28th minute through, who else, Marco Di Vaio.  It was Di Vaio’s 18th of the season and gave the home side real confidence.  Bologna dominated in possession for much of the first half, but Genoa found the equalizer right before the halftime whistle.  Off of a set piece, Dario Dainelli found the ball at his feet in the box and slotted it in to even the score at 1-1 going into the half.  Both teams looked content to take a point into the international break as neither created much in the second half.  The game ended, quietly, in a 1-1 tie.

Inter 1 – 0 Lecce

Inter was full of confidence following its thrilling midweek victory in the Champions League, and was looking to take full advantage of Milan’s slip-up against Palermo on Saturday.  A win against Lecce would close the gap with Milan to just two points.  With the international break this coming week, Leonardo was able to start his first choice eleven, with Giampaolo Pazzini, Samuel Eto’o, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneidjer combining to form an intimidating Inter attack.  Both teams pushed forward in the first half, but neither team was able to create a clear chance.  And despite some end-to-end action, the first half ended 0-0.  Inter did not waste much time after the restart, taking the lead in the 52nd minute.  Pazzini turned in the box and shook his marker, firing past Antonio Rosati to give Inter a 1-0 lead.  Appeals for a handball by the Lecce players were denied, and rightly so, as Pazzini appeared to control the ball with his chest, just, as he darted into the box. The goal was all that was needed to ignite the San Siro crowd, as the Nerazzurri took hold of the match and continued to press.  A second looked likely as Inter continued to exploit the right side of Lecce’s defense, creating chance after chance.  It never came, however, as Emiliano Viviano kept the visitors in the game until the end.  Lecce nearly snatched a point in the dying minutes as Julio Cesar was forced to make a save before the final whistle, but in the end, Inter hung on for the win.  The Nerazzurri sit just two points behind city rivals Milan, with the Milan derby to look forward to next.  With only eight games remaining, the derby may very well decide the scudetto race.  All eyes will be on Milan following the international break.

Juventus 2 – 1 Brescia

Juve was still reeling from the news that Vincenzo Iaquinta’s season was over following yet another injury.  The Bianconeri have managed just one point in their past four games, as qualification for a spot in Europe next year is becoming increasingly unlikely.  Brescia continues to battle for safety and was hoping to take full advantage of Juve’s abysmal form.  It was Juve, however, that seized control of the game early, finally giving its home fans something to cheer about.  Milos Krasic fired the home side into the lead in the 23rd minute following a clever through ball by Alessandro Matri.  Juve sought to keep possession in hopes of bringing a 1-0 lead into the second half, but again threw away the lead.  Adam Vass’s cross found Citadin Eder in the center of the box, who headed it home for the equalizer.  The teams headed into the locker room tied 1-1.  After the restart, Juve looked determined to take the lead and finally got a second in the 68th minute.  Alessandro Del Piero found the back of the net with a left footed strike from outside the box.  Juve held on to the lead and finally came away with three points, much to the relief of Gigi Del Neri and the home crowd.

Sampdoria 0 – 1 Parma

Sampdoria and Parma were each coming off Week 29 losses and seemed to be in a race to the bottom of the table.  Only two points separated these two teams, and both were desperate for a result.  Neither team looked determined to take control of the game in the first half, as they split possession evenly and went into the half tied 0-0.  In the second, it was Parma that took the lead in the 65th minute when Massimo Gobbi’s pass found Cristiano Zaccardo in the box, who headed it past Gianluca Curci.  Samp fought to get back into the match and won a penalty in the 72nd minute when Gobbi handled the ball in the area.  Massimo Maccarone stepped up to the spot for the home side and shot high, missing, and Samp failed to take advantage of its only real chance to equalize and snatch a point.  With the win, Parma leapfrogs Sampdoria in the table, as the Blucerchiati’s woes continue.

Udinese 2 – 0 Catania

Udinese and its seemingly unstoppable attacking duo – Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez – faced off against Catania at the Stadio Friuli.  Di Natale’s and Sanchez’s combined 36 goals this season is the primary reason for Udinese’s place in the table.  Following Lazio’s narrow victory on Saturday, Udinese would need a result to maintain hold of fourth place.  The Friulani again came out strong, and again scored early, though it was neither Di Natale nor Sanchez that fired them into the lead. Gokhan Inler opened the scoring with a left footed strike from outside the box that put Udinese on top 1-0 in the 22nd minute.  Catania struggled to gain any momentum and Udinese took the lead into the half.  The teams were evenly matched through much of the second half, with neither team dominating the play.  Udinese finally found a second, putting the game out of reach, when Alexis Sanchez was fouled in the box in the 73rd minute.  Di Natale coolly converted giving Udinese a 2-0 lead, and the win.  With it, Udinese maintains its hold on fourth place and a chance at Champions League qualification.

Napoli 2 – 1 Cagliari

Napoli played host to Cagliari late Sunday.  Coming off of a 3-1 defeat of Parma last weekend, Napoli were hoping to maintain pace with Inter, and to keep a red hot Udinese from catching them in the third spot.  The Sardinians were the stronger team in early play, as they sought to crack Napoli’s three-man defense, but both teams had chances to score in the first half.  Neither was able to break the deadlock as they went into the half tied 0-0.  After the restart, Napoli looked the slightly brighter side and finally found a breakthrough in the 49th minute.  Marek Hamsik’s clever backheel released Ezequiel Lavezzi who charged into the area before being brought down by Lorenzo Ariaudo.  Edinson Cavani, who had not scored since February, stepped up to the spot and converted.  The goal gave Napoli real confidence, as they seemed to take complete control of the match.  But Cagliari had some life left yet and caught Napoli on the break.  It was Paolo Cannavaro who was unable to beat Roberto Acquafresca to the ball, as Acquafresca controlled and slotted it through the legs of Morgan De Sanctis, leveling the score 1-1 and giving the visitors real hope.  But in the 61st minute it was again Cavani who restored Napoli’s advantage.  Hamsik lobbed the ball perfectly over the Cagliari defense and found Cavani.  The Uruguayan ran onto it and beat Michael Agazzi with a coolly chipped shot that gave Napoli a 2-1 advantage and all three points.  Cavani’s brace, coupled with Milan’s loss on Saturday, officially reopened the title race, as Napoli now trail the league leaders by just three points heading into the international break.

Alla prossima…


Serie A Table after Week 30:

 

Milan                  62                                   Cagliari              39

Inter                    60                                   Genoa                39

Napoli                 59                                   Chievo               35

Udinese              56                                    Parma               32

Lazio                   54                                    Catania             32

AS Roma            50                                    Sampdoria       31

Juventus             45                                    Cesena              29

Palermo              43                                    Lecce                 28

Fiorentina          41                                    Brescia              26

Bologna              40                                    Bari                    17

 

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