What a weekend it was in Italy’s top flight as Serie A matchday 19 delivered plenty of enthralling fixtures demanding of our undivided attention. Let’s review the weekend that was in the wonderful world of calcio, starting things off in Sardinia as Cagliari played host to AC Milan.
After a 4-0 thumping from Juventus, the Rossoblu sought out to recover quickly and keep chase for 4th with a positive result against a Rossoneri side desperate for a victory themselves. Manager Stefano Pioli ran out a 442, with young Portuguese talent Rafael Leão supported up front by Zlatan Ibrahimović who would assert himself and dazzle as the center of attention in his first start since returning to the club this month.
At the 46th minute, Samu Castillejo swung in a ball to Leão who managed to connect and put the ball past Robin Olsen for the go-ahead goal. Nearly 20 minutes later, Theo Hernandez played a pass into the box for the Swede who quickly struck with his left foot and slotted into the far post to double the advantage. Three points had been secured by Milan who, as a collective, enjoyed superb outings all over the park. Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessie demonstrated complementary play in the midfield four, while the harmony shared between Castillejo, Leão and Ibrahimović certainly has Pioli now seriously considering a full switch to this new shape.
Lazio and Napoli would soon follow at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Through 80 minutes, it appeared the two sides may have to split the points, but it was that man again for the Biancocelesti Ciro Immobile who converted his 20th goal of the season to ensure Simone Inzaghi’s men picked up another crucial victory late in the title chase - their 10th straight in the league. The Italian’s strike was the club’s 11th goal after the 80th minute this season, showing their knack for digging deep within and pulling out victories in dramatic fashion.
Inter and Atalanta capped off Saturday’s trifecta of clashes, playing out to a 1-1 result which could have gone either way as officiating controversy and missed chances made for arguably the most exciting matchup this weekend. Lautaro Martinez scored his 10th Serie A goal minutes after the opening whistle sounded, while Robin Gosens leveled terms with a quarter hour left to play at San Siro.
Samir Handanović’s penalty save on Luis Muriel in the dying embers of the bout helped the Nerazzurri salvage a point in what was a pretty commanding performance by Gian Piero Gasperini and Atalanta overall. This was just the latest example of the functionality, free-flowing and effectiveness of Gasperini’s system and the results it can generate against the best the league has to offer.
Udinese and Sassuolo squared off in the first of six fixtures on tap for Sunday, with the Friulani putting the visitors to the sword with a 3-0 beating. Stefano Okaka opened the scoring in the 14th minute, with Ken Sema and star man Rodrigo De Paul capping off the easy victory in Udine. Seko Fofana’s two assists and standout performance in the midfield alongside the Argentine gives Luca Gotti an interesting duo that surely will look to cause problems for Milan next Sunday.
Desperate for positive results that will enable them to climb up the table out of the relegation area, Fiorentina were lifted to a big win over SPAL 1-0 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi thanks to Germán Pezzella’s 82nd minute tally. Newcomer and former Milan bomber Patrick Cutrone also came on in the 75th minute to replace Federico Chiesa. Viola fans are hopeful the 22 year old can reclaim the form from 2017/18 season where he won the hearts of all Milan fans and deliver for a side currently bereft of production up front.
Sampdoria hosted Mario Balotelli and Brescia at the Marassi, delivering the striker’s side a lopsided defeat 5-1. Karol Linetty (1 goal, 1 assist), Jakub Jankto (1 goal, 2 assists) and Fabio Quagliarella (2 goals) led the assault for Claudio Ranieri’s men who are now five points clear of the drop and heading in a more positive direction since the former Leicester City boss relieved Eusebio Di Francesco.
Sunday’s main event took place between Roma and Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico, a match marred by major injury blows to key youngsters. Turkish international Merih Demiral, who got the start ahead of high-priced Dutch export Matthijs de Ligt next to Leonardo Bonucci, put the visiting ‘Old Lady’ ahead after four minutes with a side footed shot past Pau Lopez. Seven minutes later, Jordan Veretout was called for a penalty after a collision with Paulo Dybala in the box. Cristiano Ronaldo would subsequently tuck away his penalty attempt, making no mistake from the spot to double Juventus’ lead with a goal in six consecutive matches.
Moments later following the Portuguese star’s 14th on the campaign, Demiral would be the first of two to depart with significant knee injuries as the 21-year old tore his ACL. Then, before the halftime break, after Roma’s Nicolò Zaniolo went on an impressive slaloming run from one end of the pitch to the other, the young Italian phenom hit the ground in agony as he too ruptured his ACL. Diego Perotti sliced the deficit in half with his own conversion from the spot at the 68th minute, but it was not enough as the Giallorossi comeback fell just short in a 2-1 defeat.
With the result for Maurizio Sarri, his Bianconeri became winter champions as they pulled ahead of Inter for first in the table. Yet, there is no denying this match was a defeat for all with the losses of both Demiral and Zaniolo for the remainder of the club season, as well as the Euro 2020 where the two were expected to play prominent roles for their respective nations.
We are wishing Merih and Nicolo speedy recoveries.
Cagliari 0-2 Milan
Lazio 1-0 Napoli
Inter 1-1 Atalanta
Udinese 3-0 Sassuolo
Fiorentina 1-0 SPAL
Sampdoria 5-1 Brescia
Torino 1-0 Bologna
Verona 2-1 Genoa
Roma 1-2 Juventus