Week 32: Serie A , finally a three-way race!

The troubles at Inter have been stayed for now as all the Scudetto challengers in Inter, Roma and Milan registered victories in week 32 and the Scudetto race looks set for a thrilling finale. Mourinho might have pulled a coup in Stamford Bridge, an absolutely vital victory for him to have kept his post in Moratti land but the rapid loss of a 10 point cushion will mean that the Scudetto, something that the Nerazzurri might have taken for granted, is now a realistic competition. This is something unworthy of Inter’s immense strength and squad depth. They are easily among the top- 4 in Europe and losing to an old Milan and a Europa League Roma might not be the best advertisement for Serie A. This is a cold fact I reluctantly concede despite being a hardcore Juve supporter, perhaps the Old Lady being out of the race helped me rid myself of my Bianconeri bigotry.

Juventus sheds away.

With such bigotry come exceeding expectations and when the lowest of your anticipations aren’t achieved come some of the biggest heartbreaks. Having soundly lost to immediate rivals Sampdoria (1-0) and Napoli (3-1) in the recent travails away from home, Juve have been showing their suspect away form, but after winning at home against Atalanta (2-1), surely another relegation struggler wouldn’t pose much problem. Right? Kaboom! Udinese 3 vs. Juve ZERO!

Hosting Zaccheroni’s stuttering team at the Stadio Friuli, Udinese’s three strikers Alexis Sanchez, Simone Pepe and Antonio Di Natalie were all on target for the dominant hosts, who move four points clear of the bottom three and leave Juve three points behind the top four in seventh place and in danger of missing out on European qualification. Pitting top-scorer Di Natalie (22 goals with a relegation threatened team, how amazing is that!?!!) against a leaky defence always made an Udinese goal likely but the resounding manner in which the dam broke open and the toothless attack in response provides a real worry for such a quality squad.

The lack of a few key players seems to make all the difference. Camoranesi and Cannavaro seem to be mere squad depth at this point and Legro and De Ceglie have only had their purple form mistaken for permanent class. Chiellini’s absence made all the difference and how Zebina continues to ply his trade in Turin I’d never know. The lack of choices means players like Zebina and Legro get continued playing time. Manninger has been quite impressive whenever filling in for Buffon and considering the costliest keeper in the world and his tepid recent form, Manninger might as well have been a better choice. Camoranesi too has failed to provide creative inspiration as he so often does. Perhaps the constant injuries and low recovery put his footballing mind in disarray. Diego was injured and Candreva was on the bench meaning Sissoko and Melo provided the steel and Marchisio the attack.  Del Piero seemed to be Juve’s best shot in the game which saw them control the midfield but without really threatening the goal. A typical free kick was scrambled away by Handanovic in the first half while Juve were still just one goal behind. But a second goal by Pepe in the 62nd dampened the visitor’s fire and Udinese helped their chances of survival a great deal with a luxurious 3-0 win.

Meanwhile the management in Turin continues to feel the pressure, Blanc and Secco increasingly seeming the first casualties. Cannavaro is being mooted for a management role while Trezeguet is flirting with the MLS league. Melo and Amauri might be cleared away while many hi-profile names are being linked with the club. Ribery is someone the Bianconeri yearn for but will the Frenchman really consider going to a struggling former-great instead of Barca or Madrid? Benitez is constantly linked for the gaffer role and I wonder if his tactical prowess will make up for his transfer failures considering that the management too don’t seem to have an eye for the right hires…

It’s been their 12th defeat this season and even Europe League seems to be a real fight now. There’s going to be no silverware this year so 4th place is all that’s there to play for. But there are quite a few interesting fixtures up ahead so predictions are games only for the clairvoyant. Inter- Juve looming in the fixtures.

Roma charges forward!!

Will this be the year that Ranieri sheds his no.2 tagline? Will the Rome based squad finally win its first Scudetto since 2001 when Capello led them to glory? Well, the odds are against the soft-spoken Italian and his team even if Inter don’t seem to have that invincible air around them.  Ranieri and Roma serve to be the perfect counter to Mourinho and Inter. The former is has a team which plays some of the most beautiful football in Serie A unlike the mechanized ruthlessness of the current champions while have a tactically inconsistent coach who has not a single ounce of arrogance unlike the brash but brilliant nature of Mourinho. Roma is in financial shambles too, not the same with Inter.

Mourinho had his typical backdoor outbursts once again hinting at refereeing conspiracies against a Nerazzurri something which Ranieri dismissed as a very biased view considering such errors have hurt clubs like Roma more than anyone else. Their 2-1 win against Inter at the Olimpico last week split the race wide open and Totti’s men piled the pressure in fine fashion with a comfy 0-1 win against Bari.

Luca Toni and Totti started the game for the first time in the Giallorossi jersey but it was Mirko Vucinic‘s lone strike in the 19th minute that got the needful 3 points. Dominating possession, it was a solid game by the team which put them within a point of Inter.

Meanwhile a Christian Vieri outburst seems to bring about a faint chance of Roma being awarded the 2006 Scudetto instead of Inter. It was revealed that Moratti has quite a reputation of having his players spied upon, tracking their movements and action. This is not news anymore in the peninsula but it also brings to light illegal activity by the club towards its players, something which could make them ineligible for the Scudetto. After Juve’s disqualification and Milan’s points deduction, fourth placed Roma could get its hands on the trophy. I’m sure such a win will bring a sour taste to victory itself but it looks like Calcipoli has got no innocent side at all.

Rossoneri hang on against Cagliari

They no longer seem main contenders in the race and have been very inconsistent in the recent games but managed to win away at Cagliari with a crazy 2-3. All the 5 goals came in the first half where Milan surrendered their lead twice and found the winner in an Astori own goal.

Milan started in fine fashion when Borriello was assisted by Seedorf in the 7th minute to put the Rossoneri ahead but 18 year old Ragatsu levelled capitalizing on a Giuseppe Favalli error. The goal flurry continued when Huntelaar made a 30 yard wonder strike just 30 seconds after the equalizer and make it 1-2 Milan but the 31st minute saw Matri score against the run of play over a rushing forward Dida. Astori would soon bring the final core in just 37 minutes clumsily defending an Antonini cross and instead doing the needful for his opponents. Milan dominated possession in the game and saw fewer but quality chances from their side in a game where Huntelaar grabbed headlines with his wonder strike and Dida saved Milan with a wonder save against Matri late into the second half.

Inter 3-0 Bologna

The loss to Roma was devastating for Inter as they saw themselves coming off a comfortable points cushion and having to deliver every game considering Roma’s great run. But facing Bologna at home was hardly a worry and the Nerazzurri defeated them 3-0 quite comfortably. Thiago Motta had a goal on either side of the halftime whistle to cap off a great game. Balotelli, who enjoys a terse relationship with his coach made a rare start and proved his prowess with a cool slotting in the 52nd minute in a counter play. Inter had the perfect reply to Roma’s challenge and will look forward to separating off field controversies from the pitch. Mourinho’s contentious relationship with Italy could see him run off to Real Madrid this summer but success in the Champion’s League could be the ultimate farewell for the association. Considering Italy’s precarious position in the club rankings and the danger of losing the 4th spot in the champion’s league, an Inter win in the final could go a long way in fending off the Bundesliga’s challenge.

BTW, just 3 points spate Palermo, Sampdoria, Napoli and Juventus in their fight for fourth place. Looks like Serie A has two exciting races to look forward to!

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