After a drubbing at the hands of Udinese last weekend, Inter faced a precarious task at home against Palermo on Sunday. Although the Sicilian visitors had never won a Serie A encounter at Inter before, there was a belief that the current incarnation of the Rosaneri were more than capable of causing an upset.
Inter’s new signings Giampaolo Pazzini and Houssine Kharja were named amongst the substitutes, so they would have to wait for their debuts. Leonardo’s hand was forced after the interval.
2-0 down and with their side looking decidedly inferior, Kharja and Pazzini could have asked for a warmer welcome to the San Siro. Nevertheless, it took the duo less than ten minutes to make their mark.
Kharja, signed from Genoa, swung a ball into the penalty area for Pazzini. The former Sampdoria striker controlled the ball expertly before turning and drilling a low strike through Ezequiel Muñoz’s legs to reduce the deficit.
It got even better for Pazzini in the 73rd minute. The 26-year-old met Maicon’s inswinging freekick with a powerful downward header which beat Salvatore Sirigu at his near post.
When Pazzini was hauled down in the area, he was denied the opportunity of completing a hat-trick by Samuel Eto’o, who took responsibility for the spot kick. Had he missed, it would have been forgivable for the new man to feel slightly aggrieved. Eto’o made no mistake and Inter sealed a remarkable comeback.
It was a debut of rare quality from Giampaolo Pazzini, a player who needs a leading club to allow him to fully make use of his undoubted talents. In Pazzini, Inter fans may find they have a new hero in their quest to stop their neighbours’ march on the title.
That remains a daunting challenge. For a moment, however brief, on Saturday evening AC Milan found themselves facing the prospect of dropping points at Catania. Mark Van Bommel, football’s pantomime villain, was sent off during his Serie A bow after a second clumsy challenge. It was an over-zealous debut from Van Bommel, whose dismissal will not have pleased Massimiliano Allegri.
Despite the setback, Milan were led by a reassuring, mature presence on the field. That inspiration came from the unlikely figure of Robinho.
The Brazilian darted around the final third with vigour, passed intelligently and, most astonishingly, tracked back to defend more often than not. It was perhaps his best performance yet at a Milan side for which he has flourished.
His work rate was rewarded with a goal. The former Real Madrid starlet converted the rebound from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s free-kick. He repaid the favour in stoppage time, laying on an assist for the prolific Swede.
The manner of the victory is a huge boost to Milan’s credentials. It is very difficult indeed to see the chasing pack catch them if they can continue to claim wins in such adverse situations.
While Milan may appear indomitable, their challengers to the south show no signs of fading away just yet. Napoli took to the field at the San Paolo to face a Sampdoria side rocked by the departure of Pazzini. It was exhilarating and harrowing in equal measure to watch the Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi tear through Sampdoria in an Azzurri whirlwind.
Cavani was insatiable once again and bagged a spectacular hat-trick. The first of his treble was particularly impressive. While Cavani will undoubtedly grab the headlines for his masterclass in ruthless finishing, but the contribution of Ezequiel Lavezzi to Napoli’s success this season is impossible to overstate.
El Pocho thundered up the field through Sampdoria’s defence before laying off for Cavani, who twisted and turned into the penalty area before driving low to Gianluca Curci’s left.
Lavezzi set-up Hamsik for Napoli’s third. This time starting out wide, holding off two defenders before crossing for the Slovak who turned in with a neat finish.
The final four goal margin perhaps could have been even greater, such was Napoli’s dominance in what was a compelling show of force ahead of a reasonably straightforward match against Chievo next weekend.
Another team verging on unstoppable is Udinese. The Zebrette travelled to Turin to face Juventus, still reeling from their Coppa Italia exit in midweek.
A goalless first-half was laid to rest early in the second when Claudio Marchisio produced a phenomenal acrobatic volley to give Juventus the lead. Juve‘s lead only lasted 7 minutes. Cristián Zapata crashed home the rebound from Antonio Di Natale’s volley.
Another impressive result for Udinese was secured with five minutes remaining when El Niño Maravilla, Alexis Sánchez, slammed Mauricio Isla’s cross past Gigi Buffon from close range.
At the other end of the Serie A spectrum, two proverbial “relegation 6 pointers” were taking place. Brescia hosted The Flying Donkeys of Chievo, while Lecce welcomed Cesena to the south.
It is often said that teams get demoralised by conceding just before half-time. Imagine the anguish, then, suffered by Brescia’s players when Sergio Pellissier gave Chievo just before the interval and Davide Mandelli doubled the lead just after the restart. Brescia’s fans were stunned. A potentially crucial win for Chievo was consolidated in stoppage time when Pellissier beat the offside trap to complete a 3-0 whitewash.
Brescia marked their defeat by firing Mario Berretta just hours after the game and re-hiring the man who he had replaced just months earlier, Giuseppe Iachini. Who’d be a manager eh?
The other relegation duel was a far more interesting affair. Lecce held the advantage for over 79 minutes before Erjon Bogdani gave Cesena an equaliser which might spell disaster for Lecce’s chances of another season in Serie A.
Up north, heavy snow forced Bologna‘s clash with Roma to be called off midway through the first-half. The visitors should be thankful, Claudio Ranieri’s side brought their white jerseys to play in a blizzard.
On the bright side, the substitutes didn’t seem to mind and displayed a uniquely Italian solution to cold weather – Fashion.
Bologna P-P Roma
Brescia 0-3 Chievo
Cagliari 2-1 Bari
Catania 0-2 Milan
Genoa 3-1 Parma
Inter 3-2 Palermo
Juventus 1-2 Udinese
Lazio 2-0 Fiorentina
Lecce 1-1 Cesena
Napoli 4-0 Sampdoria