Ciaran Murphy is here with this week’s fill of Serie A action. It was a bad week for AC Milan, while Napoli continued their excellent form.
1. Shock defeat for Milan.
There was some change at AC over the winter break but they resumed the inconsistent form that dogged them throughout 2014. Alessia Cerci made his debut but he could not help Milan from falling to a 2-1 home defeat to Sassuolo, their first New Year’s loss in 17 years.
Phillipe Mexes, Nigel De Jong and Pablo Armero were all banned while Daniele Bonera, Marco Van Ginkel and Keisuke Honda were not fit enough to make the squad. Sassuolo arrived to the San Siro full of confidence having taken points off Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina and Sampdoria earlier in the season but were without Gainluco Pegolo, Saphir Taider and Sime Vrsaljko.
Milan started the faster and created a few early half chances before former Sassuolo midfielder Andrea Poli stabbed the ball home from close range. Milan continued to attack the Sassuolo defence as it looked like a second goal was there for the taking.
While dominating possession Milan struggled to create clear cut opportunities and in the 27th minute Alex was caught out in defence. Dominico Berardi played a ball over the top and Alex was too slow to step up and played Nicola Sasone onside. Sesone controlled the ball well before applying the finish to make it all square.
Sassuolo finished the first half stronger and continued the second in the same vein. Milan never recovered from the equaliser and even the introduction of new signing Cerci could not change the flow of the match. Sassuolo grabbed a well deserved winner when Simone Zaza volleyed home from a corner. As has been the case this season the Milan defence have some questions to answer.
Milan 1 – 2 Sassuolo
2. Roma grind out a win.
Roma started the new year three points behind leaders Juventus so were hoping to lay down a marker away to Udinese. Notable absenties were Gervinho and Seydou Keita who are at the Africa Cup of Nations but Kevin Strootman started in the midfield. Udinese had a clean bill of health other than Thomas Heurtaux and Gianpiero Pinzi who were suspended.
After a slow start to the game Roma broke the dead lock with a goal that was surrounded in controversy. Davide Astori headed the ball off the under side of the bar from a Totti free kick and after long deliberation the referee decided the ball had crossed the line. Even from the TV replays it was hard to make a decision and it is just another example for the need of goal line technology.
All credit to Udinese they picked themselves up and fought hard to get back into the game. Antonio Di Natale was causing the Roma defence constant problems and had numerous shots blocked through last ditch tackles. Udinese pushed hard but couldn’t convert any of the opportunities they created.
In the second half Totti and Pjanic missed chances for Roma to seal the three points but they kept Udinese out and secured a vital three points. Roma will be left sweating on the fitness of Pjanic as he was structured off late with that looked like a nasty knee injury.
Udinese 0 – 1 Roma
3. Parma show fighting spirit.
The surprise result of week 17 came from the Stadio Ennio Tardini were bottom of the table Parma condemned Fioretnina to a surprise loss.
Both teams came into the game with depleted squads due to injuries. Fiorentina were without the suspended Borja Valero while Khouma Babacar, Milan Badelj, Juan Vargas and Giuseppe Rossi were all injured. Parma had to do without Afriyie Acquah, Ishak Belfodil, Abdel Ghezzal, Massimo Coda, Cristobal Jorquera.
Parma started quickly and grabbed an early lead before the Fiorentina defence looked to have woken up. Alessandro Lucarelli got a flick onto a well delivered corner and Andrea Costa applied the finishing touch. Fiorentina sprang into action after going behind and when Mario Gomez broke clear he looked destined to score before a weak finish was easily saved. The big German was again guilty of wasting a brilliant chance when he got a free header inside the box.
Unfortunately things went from bad to worse for Gomez. Guillermo Cuadrado broke into the Parma box and was brought down by a rash challnege, penelty Fiorentina. Gomez stepped up and hit an unconvincing shot which was easily stopped, a big opportunity missed.
Fiorentina pushed hard in the second half for an equaliser and the best chance fell to Cuadrado but he couldn’t finish. It was to end up a forgettable day for the Viola as they finished the game with nine men after late red cards for both Antonio Mirante and Stefan Savic. Parma held on for a surprise result which they will hope kick starts their chances of avoiding relegation.
Parma 1 – 0 Fiorentina
4. Napoli stay in touch.
Napoli started the year in flying form coasting to a 4-1 win away to Cesena at the Stadio Dinno Manuzzi. They had every right to be confident as their last game they lifted the Italian Super Cup after beating Juventus in Doha.
Napoli’s new signing Manolo Gabbiadini was suspended and Faouzi Ghoulam is on African Cup of Nations duty. Also missing were Michu, Lorenzo Insigne and Juan Camilo Zuniga who were all still injured. The hosts were missing top scorer Gregoire Defrel who was serving a ban.
Before this encounter Cesena had never beaten Napoli at home in 12 attempts but they started the brighter of the two teams and Franco Brienza missed a good opportunity with his head early on. Cesena continued their good start and put pressure on the Napoli back four but they could not find a breakthrough.
Napoli then broke the deadlock against the run of play. Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain combined well before the ball broke to Jose Callejon and he drove the ball home. Napoli’s general play improved after the goal and just before the break they doubled their lead. Hamsik played what looked like a hopeful through ball but Higuain made the most of it before rounding the keeper for a easy tap-in.
Cesena started the second half as they did the first and put immediate pressure on Napoli. Alejandro Rodriguez got his head onto a cross and tested the reflexes of Rafael in the Napoli goal but he was equal to it. For a second time Napoli scored against the run of play when they broke quickly which allowed Hamsik time to get a shot away which struck the unfortunate Capelli in the Cesena defence and left the keeper no chance.
Higuain grabbed a second for himself before Breinza scored a consolation for Cesena. Napoli look in top form and could yet put pressure on Roma and Juventus at the top of the table.
Cesena 1 – 4 Napoli
5. Juventus and Inter all square.
Inter will be the happier of the two teams after a fast-paced game at the Juventus stadium in the Derby d’Italia. This result means Roma are now only one point behind the defending champions.
New Inter signing Lukas Podolski started on the bench while Yuto Nagatomo was away on international duty and Rodrigo Palacio was absent due to illness. Juventus started the game looking like they wanted to get over their Super Cup loss straight away. Inter couldn’t live with the Juve front men and Carlos Tevez opened the scoring after five minutes.
Arturo Vidal made the goal with a sublime touch to control a through ball before sliding the ball for Tevez to finish off. Tevez is now showing the best form he ever has in a Juventus shirt having also netted twice in the Super Cup final.
Juve kept up the pressure with Vidal and Andrea Pirlo testing Samir Hnadanovic in the Inter goal. He reacted well to a shot bouncing right in front of him and dealt with a trademark Prilo free kick confidently.
Lukas Podolski came on for the second half and looked lively. Inter were beginning to cause Juve more problems than they had in the first half. Their patience paid off when Mauro Icardi latched onto a Freddy Guarin through ball and finished strongly passed the on-coming Gigi Buffon.
Juventus responded well to the equaliser and continued to pressure Handanovic. Pogba, Pirlo and Tevez all had good chances saved. Amongst the chances there were penalty claims from both sides in a game which was full of tension.
It all boiled over when Daniel Osvaldo lost his head with a number of Juventus players before insulting his own coach Roberto Mancini. Osvaldo did himself no favours in his attempt to nail down a regular starting place. A few minutes later Inter did loose a player to a red card when Kovacic caught Lichtinsteiner late with his studs up. Kovacic could have no arguments about the decision as it was a badly timed tackle.
Surprisingly Inter were the team who put sustained late pressure on Juventus and they needed a moment of heroics from Buffon to deny Podolski a debut goal. Juventus managed to keep Inter at bay and hung on for a draw meaning they remain top of the Serie A table.
Juventus 1 – 1 Inter
Ciaran Murphy, Pundit Arena.