Cambiamento – Serie A is back.
A busy winter break brought with it a number of high profile changes. Speculation as to the final destination of Antonio Cassano came to an end. Adriano Galliani moved swiftly during the transfer window to bring in Fantantonio as a replacement for the departing Ronaldinho.
Cassano’s falling out with Sampdoria has been replicated at Fiorentina. Wayward striker Adrian Mutu stormed out of training in Florence prompting La Viola to threaten legal action. The incident has come as a shock to many, given the support offered to the Romanian international throughout his legal difficulties and drugs ban. Others have seen it as a confirmation of the volatile nature of Mutu, the waste of a gifted talent. Mutu’s exit followed the anticipated dismissal of one manager.
As expected, Rafael Benitez was removed from his position at Internazionale but his replacement was a somewhat surprising choice. A tactician of high repute, a Serie A legend and an affable personality would be an ideal choice to replace the often distant Benitez. The only problem was the origin of that mind. Leonardo, a former Rossonero as a player and more recently as a coach, was announced as the new manager of the European champions by Massimo Moratti on Christmas Eve.
It was no certainty that Inter’s fans would take to their new leader. The capacity crowd and banners unfurled at the San Siro on Thursday evening put any doubts aside. Inter’s tifosi offered pleasant thanks to Benitez but pledged allegiance to their new custodian.
They will have been pleased by what they saw against Napoli. The Nerazzurri took the lead with only two minutes gone. Thiago Motta opened his compatriot’s tenure with a sweet left footed volley low past Morgan De Sanctis.
Michele Pazienza brought the visitors level before Esteban Cambiasso returned to action at the San Siro with a tremendous header at the near post to make it 2-1 at the interval. Thiago Motta bagged his second and, as with the two previous goals, Inter’s players rushed to their new manager. After the 3-1 win, Massimo Moratti praised Leonardo’s early rapport with his squad and hailed the achievement of beating a strong Napoli side.
In his autobiography, Antonio Cassano says that he never fails to impress in debuts or derbies. He made in impact on his debut for AC Milan against Cagliari, setting up Rodney Strasser for the game’s only goal. The 20 year-old scored his first goal for the Rossoneri in the 84th minute, having been introduced just minutes earlier. Cassano’s delight at the Sierre Leonean’s strike was only too visible, as this helpful gallery illustrates.
The late win extends Milan’s lead at the top of the table after Lazio were held to a goalless draw by Genoa. Juventus didn’t quite have things so good as their Milanese rivals. The Bianconeri were humbled 4-1 by Parma in Turin.
The defeat may be the least of Luigi Del Neri’s concerns. Star striker and Serie A Update favourite Fabio Quagliarella suffered a tear to a cruciate knee ligament and is likely to miss the rest of the season.
Midfielder Felipe Melo, famous for his sending off in the World Cup Quarter Final, saw red once again for a horrifying kick to the face of Massimo Paci. The assault has earned the Brazilian a three match suspension and perhaps, more damagingly, the vitriol of Juventini across Italy.
Juventus were scarcely competitive in the game against Parma. Milos Krasic was strangely subdued and the absence of Leandro Bonucci will explain at least some of the defensive failings which allowed the lowly Ducali to capture a worthy victory.
Juventus’ capitulation was seized upon by Roma who left it late to overcome Catania at the Stadio Olimpico. Marco Borriello continued his impressive form and opened the scoring for Roma in the 4th minute. As has often been the case with Roma in recent years, the Giallorossi coasted for a period before being caught by their opponents. Matías Silvestre and Maxi Lopez both scored, giving the Elefanti a deserved halftime lead.
After the break, Roma were resurgent with Borriello heading home an equaliser. The two crucial goals came in the final minutes and both were more than slightly dubious.
John Arne Riise found himself in a typically advanced position near the byline before pulling the ball to the near post for Mirko Vucinic to convert. The ball appeared to have crossed the line for a goal-kick but the referee failed to spot it, despite the protests of Catania’s defenders.
Francesco Totti, at his creative best having failed to inspire Roma for much of the season to date, set up an offside Mirko Vucinic for Roma’s fourth. The result moves the Romans above Juventus into the Champions League positions.
Another Roma striker had reason to celebrate on Thursday. Stefano Okaka, on loan at Bari, showed his class with a fine goal away to Lecce. Okaka’s deft turn and low shot beat the goalkeeper and earned Bari their first away win of the season. His celebration was not quite as elegant. Okaka leaped over the first ring of advertising hoardings but tripped over the second. Such was his enthusiasm that he picked himself up with no shame and dashed over to the raucous fans in the away end.
Elsewhere, a spectacular Antonio Di Natale goal rounded off a 2-0 win for Udinese over Chievo. Di Natale, who leads the Capocannoniere chase this season, curled in an audacious shot from an acute angle as the Zebrette continued their recent run of good form.
The action in Serie A continues this weekend with the pick of the games coming at the San Paolo, where Napoli will host Juventus. Luca Toni completed his transfer to La Vecchia Signora on Friday and Sunday’s match may serve as his debut with both sides eager to recover from demoralising defeats on Thursday.