With joint-second placed teams Roma and Milan squaring off on Monday night, we thought we’d hold the main part of the Serie A blog for Tuesday morning. But there was some pretty significant action over the weekend, too, so here’s an extended edition of talking points to keep you going until then.
• Torino v Juventus is known to fans as the Derby della Mole – a nickname referencing the Mole Antonelliana which dominates the city’s skyline. But in the buildup to Sunday’s showdown, one or two journalists suggested a subtle re-ordering of that phrase. The word ‘Mole’ translates to ‘massive’, or ‘mountain’. This was like to be “una mole di derby” – an absolute whopper of a derby.
Although Torino had beaten their neighbours only once in the past 21 years, this year’s team was different. With 31 goals in 15 games, they were scoring at a rate not seen since Valentino Mazzola and Guglielmo Gabetto led the line back in the mid-1940s.
If the fans wanted to believe victory was possible then Sinisa Mihajlovic played to their emotions by inviting an Ultra, together with a club shopkeeper and Amos Ferrini – son of the late club captain, Giorgio – to sit with him at his pre-match press conference. “Juve will not just be playing against 11 players,” he said, “but all of Toro’s people.”
It was not sentiment that gave his team an early lead, but Andrea Belotti – who glanced a header past Gigi Buffon. This was the striker’s 11th goal of this season (amazingly, he has four with his left foot, three with his right and four with his head), and further justification for the club’s decision to write a €100m release clause into the new contract he signed at the start of this month.
Juventus, though, already coughed up €90m for a striker this summer, and Gonzalo Higuaín took a little step towards repaying it with a brace to turn this game on its head. His second goal, in the 83rd minute, was superb – the striker using his strength to hold off Antonio Barreca, and his technique to turn and drill the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
Miralem Pjanic later added a third, as Juventus sealed a 3-1 win. Mihajlovic was culpable in his team’s collapse – he made an ambitious triple-substitution in the moments before Higuaín’s second – but the result was hardly unjust. Torino played well, but Juventus possess the greater quality, and it told.
The sight, indeed, of Paulo Dybala returning from injury and playing a decisive role in Juventus’s final goal, ought to send a shiver down the spines of Juve’s would-be title rivals. They are seven points clear, pending the Roma-Milan game, and still have significant margins for improvement.
• Among the many subplots to the derby was Joe Hart’s duel at a distance with Buffon. Each keeper has been public in their admiration of the other, and their embrace in the tunnel before kickoff was rather lovely. The Italian caught the eye with his new Magnum moustache, but it was the Englishman who had the more impressive game – despite conceding three times. Hart made a sharp reflex stop to keep out a close-range shot from Mario Mandzukic at 0-0, before producing a brilliant double save in the buildup to Juve’s third goal. Tuttosport were effusive in their praise, labelling him as: “Robin Hood against destiny. The miracle man. A sensational last bastion.”
• One man missing from Sunday’s derby was Leonardo Bonucci, sidelined by a hamstring injury. Instead he stole the show on social media with a picture of himself and his two sons. Lorenzo, the eldest, was wearing a Torino shirt, while Matteo was copying dad in Bianconero. As a person who grew up as the lone Juve fan in a household full of Inter supporters, we should not be surprised that Bonucci would be happy for his kids to make up their own minds. “Each to his own,” he wrote, “for respect and love.”
• There was a huge clash at the bottom of the table, too, Crotone beating fellow promoted side Pescara 2-1 despite missing a penalty, conceding an 81st-minute equaliser and holding just 28.1% of possession. I’m not sure that ultimately it’s a recipe for survival, but there was something grimly admirable in the commitment to breaking play rather than making it.
• Sergio Pellissier scored his 100th Serie A goal as Chievo sank Palermo – a feat rendered all the more impressive by the fact that he has grabbed all of them for the Flying Donkeys. He played for a few other clubs early in his career but, in his 15th season at Chievo, he deserves to be celebrated as one of Italy’s few remaining bandiere. This was hardly the trickiest goal of his century – laid on generously by Palermo’s Edoardo Goldaniga – but Pellissier is a man who recognises his own limitations. “I don’t have the quality to dribble past everyone,” he said. “I live off of opportunities and the mistakes of defenders. But I have been waiting for this goal for many years, and I have suffered a lot to get it … I think I’ve achieved a little something in my career and I am so happy.”
• Napoli made light work of Cagliari – thrashing the Sardinians 5-0 – and seem to have found their feet again after wobbling in October and November. Dries Mertens was electric on his way to a hat-trick and, for all the worry about replacing Higuaín and then Arkadiusz Milik, this team has now scored four more goals than it had at the corresponding point last season.
• Lazio bounced back from defeat in the derby with an impressive win away at Sampdoria, but Atalanta could not do the same following their own loss to Juventus. In fairness, there was not a lot you can do about goals as good as the one that Seko Fofana scored to give Udinese their second-half lead in Bergamo.
• This week in ludicrous kit nonsense: nobody thought to consider that Udinese’s black and white stripes might be hard to discern from Atalanta’s blue-and-black stripes during a match (and especially when a large part of the back of the shirt has been blocked out around the number). As a makeshift solution, the Zebrette were obliged to cover up some stripes with white tape.
Results: Atalanta 1-3 Udinese, Bologna 0-0 Empoli, Cagliari 0-5 Napoli, Crotone 2-1 Pescara, Inter 2-0 Genoa, Palermo 0-2 Chievo, Sampdoria 1-2 Lazio, Torino 1-3 Juventus
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