Serie A Recap, Week 31: Advantage Milan

Following the long international break, Serie A action was set for a cracking restart.  Heading into Week 31, Milan and Inter were separated by just two points at the top of the table, and Napoli was lurking close behind, just three points off the pace.  The tight scudetto race added greater significance to the Derby della Madonnina showdown at the San Siro on Saturday between Milan and Inter.  While the result would not be determinative, both clubs knew that three points would go a long way towards ultimately securing the scudetto.  Napoli, however, was hoping that the two Milan clubs would play out to a draw, and that it would take care of its own business against Lazio on Sunday.

Milan 3 – 0 Inter

The San Siro was an inferno Saturday evening as the two Milanese giants faced off in a direct battle for the top spot.  The stadium was completely sold out, with 80,000 plus fans creating a colorful and raucous atmosphere.  Milan struggled through its Week 29 and Week 30 fixtures, taking just a single point from both matches, while Inter’s form has been superb as of late.  Leonardo fielded a strong, attack-focused starting eleven against his former club, with Goran Pandev, Giampaolo Pazzini, Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder leading the Inter front line.  While Inter’s four-headed monster of an attack looked formidable on paper, it was Milan’s offense that proved to be the most effective.  Massimiliano Allegri was without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and opted to go with an all-Brazilian attack, with Pato and Robinho leading the charge for the Rossoneri.  Immediately after the opening whistle, in a flash, the derby was turned on its head and the San Siro crowd sent into a frenzy as Milan took possession, and then the lead.  Within 45 seconds of the opening whistle, Milan charged forward, and Pato, Robinho and the ever-lively Gennaro Gattuso combined to put Pato through on goal.  The Brazilian gathered a failed clearance in the box, and before a minute had passed, fired past Julio Cesar to give Milan a 1-0 lead, and Milan never looked back.  The Nerazzurri were on the back foot for the entire match, as they were completely overrun in midfield, and their defense overworked throughout the match.  Milan, through Clarence Seedorf’s constant control, dictated the pace.  Milan created a number of chances in the first half, but failed to find a second before the halftime whistle, leaving Inter some semblance of hope.

Leonardo opted not to make any changes immediately upon the restart.  His strategy, however, failed miserably in the first half, and ultimately proved no more suitable for the second half.  Milan continued to pressure the Inter defense and created chances.  Again, Inter’s non-existent midfield provided no protection to a weary backline that was being run ragged by the interplay of Pato, Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Seedorf.  The death knell for Inter was sounded in the 54th minute when Seedorf’s delicate through ball found Pato streaking past the Inter defense.  Chivu, the last man, tripped Pato just outside the box, earning himself a red card and effectively handing Milan the derby.  Milan thereafter carefully probed and finally exploited the man advantage when another perfect cross found Ignazio Abate standing all alone on the right side of the Inter box.  Abate, seemingly misfiring, crossed to Pato, who headed home from three yards out in the 62nd minute.  Milan maintained possession for the rest of the match, and in the 80th minute, Antonio Cassano substituted Robinho.  His ten-minute appearance proved quite eventful.  After perfectly controlling a searching cross with his chest, Cassano was pulled down in the box by Javier Zanetti.  He stepped up to take the penalty himself and scored Milan’s third.  He was then yellow-carded for removing his shirt during the ensuing celebration, and just two minutes later was shown a second yellow card and sent off.  Classic Cassano.

Milan dominated from the opening whistle and marched to a 3-0 win, creating a bit of breathing room for themselves at the top of the table.  It was an inspired performance and a well deserved victory for Allegri’s men, and it may well prove decisive in settling the scudetto race.

Brescia 3 – 1 Bologna

 

Brescia played host to Bologna in the early game on Saturday.  The home club was in desperate need of points, as it sits deep in the relegation zone, while Bologna, by contrast, was hovering comfortably mid-table.  Brescia came out strong and took the lead almost immediately, as Perparim Hetemaj’s header beat Emiliano Viviano just three minutes into the match.  The home side then doubled its lead just five minutes later with another header, this time from Davide Zoboli.  Marco Di Vaio pulled one back for Bologna in the 30th minute, giving the visitors some hope before the halftime whistle.  But following the restart, it was all Brescia.  Andrea Caracciolo put the game beyond doubt when he scored Brescia’s third from the penalty spot in the 65th minute, following a Miguel Britos foul on Pietro Accardi in the box.  The 3-1 win gave Brescia a much needed three points as it continues to fight for salvation.

Napoli 4 – 3 Lazio

Following Milan’s thrilling derby win on Saturday, Napoli needed all three points to stay in the scudetto hunt.  Led by an inspired Edinson Cavani, Napoli clawed back from two goals down to beat a stunned Lazio.  Lazio opened the scoring in the 29th minute through a Stefano Mauri strike, taking a 1-0 lead into the half.  Early in the second half Andre Dias found the back of the net to double the visitors’ lead in the 54th minute, as Lazio looked to be cruising to an away win.  But shortly after Dias’ goal, Napoli showed why it should be feared as a true scudetto contender.  Andrea Dossena got one back for the home side in the 60th minute, and two minutes later capocannoniere-contender Edinson Cavani leveled the score at 2-2.  Napoli had a minor setback in the 68th minute when a Salvatore Aronica own goal briefly restored Lazio’s lead.  But it was all Cavani for the rest of the match.  With ten minutes to go, a desperate Giuseppe Biava brought down Cavani in the box, earning himself a red card and sending Cavani to the spot.  The Uruguayan coolly converted to equalize.  Then, in the 88th minute, Cavani completed the comeback, and his own hat trick, with an audacious chip that left the Stadio San Paolo crowd in absolute ecstasy.  With the win, Napoli leapfrog Inter to take second place, and remain just three points behind leaders Milan.

Lecce 2 – 0 Udinese

Udinese’s march towards Champions League qualification was finally halted on Sunday by Lecce.  Andrea Bertolacci’s second half brace, coupled with Antonio Rosati’s clean sheet, secured all three points for Lecce.  Udinese dominated possession for the entire match, but was unable to crack the Lecce defense, as Antonio Di Natale and Udinese’s typically dangerous attack were shutout 2-0.  Despite the loss, in light of Lazio’s earlier defeat, Udinese managed to maintain its hold on fourth place, at least for one more week.  With the win, Lecce took a giant leap towards salvation, as it finally crept out of the relegation zone, overtaking Cesena in the table.

Catania 4 – 0 Palermo

Palermo’s defense was again picked to pieces as Catania dominated the Sicilian derby from start to finish.  A Federico Balzaretti own goal gave Catania the lead early in the second half.  Each of Gonzalo Bergessio, Pablo Martin Ledesma and Simone Pesce added goals to Catania’s tally, as the home side crushed the Rosaneri 4-0.

Cesena 2 – 2 Fiorentina

Cesena picked up a valuable point against Fiorentina, but it was not enough to stop it from slipping into the relegation zone.  Luis Jimenez and Fabio Caserta were both on target for the home side, and Alberto Gilardino and Ricardo Montolivo both scored for La Viola.

 

Chievo 0 – 0 Sampdoria

Chievo and Sampdoria played out to a 0-0 draw in Verona in a completely uneventful match.  Each team snatched a point from the encounter, but Samp needs to be extremely concerned about the prospect of relegation, as it currently sits dangerously close to the drop zone, just two points ahead of Cesena.

 

Genoa 0 – 1 Cagliari

Roberto Acquafresca’s 16th minute header effectively crushed any lingering hope Genoa may have had of playing in Europe next season.  Genoa had been nearly invincible at home this year, and had not lost at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris since January.

 

Parma 1 – 2 Bari

Bari secured a rare three points on the road, though it will likely not be enough to save its otherwise doomed season.  Alessandro Parisi opened the scoring for the visitors in the 64th minute.  Amauri equalized for the home side in the 80th minute, and it took Edgar Alvarez’s stoppage time strike to ensure the victory for Bari who, despite the win, remains buried at the bottom of the table.

 

AS Roma 0 – 2 Juventus

 

Roma was looking to take advantage of Lazio’s and Udinese’s respective defeats earlier in the day to make up some ground in the battle for Champions League qualification.  A packed Stadio Olimpico looked on as Francesco Totti once again led the charge for the Giallorossi, supported by French-phenom, Jeremy Menez and Mirko Vucinic.  Luigi Del Neri fielded a simple 4-3-3 with Alessandro Matri, fresh off scoring his first goal for La Nazionale mid-week, supported by Milos Krasic and Simone Pepe.  Gigi Buffon was a late scratch for the Bianconeri, and Marco Storari got the call in his place.

The game started at an absolutely furious pace, with both teams pushing to take an early lead.  It was Roma, however, that really seized the game and began to dictate the pace.  Roma’s first clear chance came in the 8th minute when Totti flicked to Vucinic, who split the Juve defense and let a left-footed shot rip from the top of the box, forcing a miraculous fingertip save from Storari.  It was the first of a series of wonder saves from Storari, whose first half heroics single-handedly kept Juve in the game.  He also denied each of Totti and De Rossi what appeared to be certain goals in the 34th and 45th minutes, ensuring that the two sides headed into the half tied 0-0.

Storari’s heroics seemed to completely deflate the Roma squad.  After the restart, Roma looked to be an entirely different team, and it was Juve that seized the initiative in the second half.  In the 59th minute, Fabio Grosso went on a spectacular run down the left flank, carrying the ball to the byline and then chipping a delicate cross to Milos Krasic, who volleyed past Doni to give Juve a 1-0 lead.  Roma lost all confidence after the goal, and in the 74th minute Juve doubled its lead.  Matri sprung the offside trap and beat Doni through the legs.  It was Juve’s first road victory since February, and Vincenzo Montella’s first league loss since taking the helm.

Alla prossima…

 

 

Serie A Table after Week 31:

Milan                  65                                   Bologna            40

Napoli                62                                   Genoa                39

Inter                   60                                   Chievo               36

Udinese              56                                   Catania             35

Lazio                   54                                   Parma               32

AS Roma            50                                  Sampdoria        32

Juventus            48                                   Lecce                 31

Palermo             43                                   Cesena               30

Fiorentina         42                                   Brescia               29

Cagliari              42                                   Bari                    20


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