Cambia Rota - Just as we were beginning to think that the Serie A season was beginning to pan out, we have recently seen a number of decisive changes around the league.
Internazionale have won all of their games since the appointment of Leonardo. Former Azzurri coach, Roberto Donadoni, has turned Cagliari’s sickly first-half of the season around. Udinese’s miserable run of form at the outset of their campaign was swiftly reversed and they are now developing a reputation as the league’s entertainers.
The Zebrette were in action against Genoa on Sunday afternoon and, following the disappointment of failing to secure three points from a remarkable game at the San Siro last weekend, appeared eager to go one better against the Rossoblu. The cavalier approach of the Udinese attack, with patriarch Antonio Di Natale leading the line, is proving to be nearly unstoppable at the moment.
It was a similar story today. The Friulian club dazzled in attack against Genoa on their way to a 4-2 win. Di Natale, Alexis Sánchez, Germán Denis and Pablo Armero were all on the scoresheet as they capitalised on slack Genoese defending. Genoa’s failings are not fully culpable for Udinese’s success. Many have fallen victim to the scintillating quickness of Udinese’s counterattacks. It is perhaps no surprise to learn that no one has scored more goals away from home than the Zebrette his season.
Alexis Sánchez has long been recognised as one of the most prominent attacking talents in the league, but his growing maturity and decision making have added a touch of shrewdness to his natural gifts.
The decision not to name Antonio Floro Flores amongst the substitutes may ring as the clearest sign yet that he is on the verge of a move to Juventus. His impending departure will be a disappointment to the Udine faithful, but it is by no means a catastrophe.
The Bianconeri themselves faced Bari on Sunday in what was Gianluigi Buffon’s first Serie A game of the season. He enjoyed a winning return, Alessandro Del Piero opened the scoring with a trademark freekick before Bari levelled through Rudolf. Juventus stuggled to overcome the visitors but ultimately prevailed courtesy of a sweetly struck volley from the foot of Alberto Aquilani.
The win propels Juventus back into a very compact chasing pack, with seven teams within 10 points of Milan.
Also in that chasing pack are the two Roman clubs, both of whom left it late on Sunday. Lazio needed a controversial late goal from Libor Kozák to break the tie against Sampdoria. The 21-year-old appeared to be marginally offside when he headed home the winner. Samp had named loan signing and former Lazio youth player, Federico Macheda, amongst their substitutes. He made his Stadio Olimpico debut against his boyhood club but failed to impress.
In what appears to be a significant moment of player power, Francesco Totti not only started for Roma against Cesena, but played the full 90 minutes. This was despite another poor performance from the Giallorossi captain; Mirko Vucinic and Jeremy Menez made their displeasure at being substituted heard while Totti languished on the field. Roma’s winner came in the dying minutes and was more than a little lucky. Marco Borriello struck the crossbar before Adriano somehow failed to hammer home the rebound, the ball then rolled to Fabio Simplicio. The Brazilian’s shot bobbled off Cesena’s Maximiliano Pellegrino and across the line.
Milan were under pressure for a result following the successes of their rivals. A goalless first half was followed by an early second half strike, and what a strike it was. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a YouTube darling for his catalogue of wonderful goals, added to his collection with one of the goals of the season. Ibra latched onto a bouncing long ball 30-yards from goal and hooked an outrageous lobbed volley into the top corner.
The goal looked to be the deciding factor on the way to another Milan win, but the Lecce did the Serie A title race a favour by Ruben Olivera. The Uruguayan netted an equaliser with just ten minutes to go, in the process securing a massive lift to his side as they struggle to stay in Serie A.
The result added to the importance of Inter’s win on Saturday night. Leonardo’s 100% record was kept alive after his side thrashed Bologna 4-1 at the San Siro. Samuel Eto’o returned to his early season form with two very well taken goals. The first, with Inter leading 2-0, came after receiving a lovely backheeled pass from Diego Milito. The interplay exuded confidence,and Eto’o finished the move with an exquisite curled shot.
The delicacy with which he dispatched the freekick which finished the rout was exceptional and a fitting finish to what appears to be the rebirth of the European champions. Leonardo’s early days have received the seal of approval from none other than Jose Mourinho, who has applauded the Brazilian for bringing happiness to his old club once again.
Inter now find themselves nine points behind their city rivals with two games in hand and the second Madonnina yet to be played. A duel between the Milans for the title now looks like an exciting possibility.