A very busy week for news and Calcio-related events this week has threatened to upstage what is shaping up to be the closest, and most exciting title race in years as Roma and Inter continue to battle for the lead in Serie A.
Table toppers Roma lost 1-0 after playing with 10-men at Udinese on Wednesday, but still managed to secure a place in their fifth Italian Cup final in six years. That too will be against Inter on May 5.
The day before, Inter crushed Barcelona 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League Semi-Final, and did so despite the tantrums of their young star Mario Balotelli who reacted to abuse from the crowd by throwing his shirt on the ground as he left the field. Marco Materazzi took this as you would expect and the two clashed in the tunnel. This has led to transfer rumours and one story that the whole thing has been orchestrated by Milan, who openly covet the player.
“Oi Matrix, outside!”
An ongoing criminal trial in Naples seems likely to reopen the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, with lawyers working for former Juve director Luciano Moggi implicating almost everyone ever connected with Italian football.
All of this however, has not distracted serious fans from another high-voltage Serie A weekend that sees Roma hold a one-point lead on reigning champions Inter with just four games to go. This is when games that previously looked “”easy” become tough, and anything can, and usually does, happen.
Roma are unbeaten in 24 games, but need a home win against fourth place Sampdoria late Sunday to make sure they remain above Inter, who host troubled Atalanta. That wait may prove difficult, but Ranieri’s men overcame the same nerves last weekend.
Jose Mourinho has to balance the Scudetto race against the return match with Barcelona to come on Wednesday. Saturday afternoon’s biggest question is will he field Balotelli against an Atalanta in order to rest his other forwards. The Bergamo side will be desperate to escape the drop zone and boost their chances of survival, hoping Inter minds are elsewhere.
The Saturday evening match is between Palermo and Milan, and is usually a highly entertaining fixture. The Sicilian’s lie fifth and want the fourth Champions League berth, while Milan will want to rally after slipping seven points from the top. Losing to Sampdoria last week means points are vital to retain third place and the last automatic Champions League spot.
Sunday sees Napoli host Cagliari in a southern derby, Juventus welcome Bari with their own hopes of playing in the Champions League next season all but gone, given their six-point gap to fourth place. Genoa welcome Lazio, who are just three points above the drop zone after losing to Roma. Fiorentina take on Chievo and Bologna could get in serious trouble if they lose to Parma. Bottom side Livorno host Catania who are already safe and second-last Siena visit Udinese.
Buckle up, it looks like another roller-coaster weekend in the Bel Paese!