Spirited draws for Milan, Inter, and Napoli, a shock for Juventus at home, and both Roman sides winning on an intriguing European week for Serie A clubs. Below, I provide the review of the Champions and Europa League for the Italian sides.
Inter 1-1 Barcelona
How should we sum up this encounter? Should we say that the Nerazzurri were fortunate to get a point against the Blaugrana or that they are developing a “never say die” attitude and spirit that has not been seen since 2010? From the very first minute, the stalls were set out.
The away side were quick with their passing, incessant with their pressing and created chances aplenty, as Inter just could not handle their play. From a ferocious Ousmane Dembele shot in the second minute to Luis Suarez effort that just went wide at the 30th-minute mark, to former Inter player Phillipe Coutinho’s rasping effort – Samir Handanovic was always under pressure in the Inter goal, to pull off saves. They ended the half scoreless, and it would have been interesting to be in each team’s dressing room to hear their manager’s team talks.
It was more of the same in the second as Ivan Rakitic made Handanovic use his entire frame to save from the Croatian international. The goal did eventually come for Barca, and it was from a surprising source. Brazilian Malcolm, who had seemed all set to join Roma before a last-minute bid from Barca, got the game’s first goal to put the visitors ahead. A first time pass from Coutinho was controlled by the former Bordeaux man, and with Inter back-tracking, he placed a lovely inside out shot between two defenders past an unsighted Handanovic. He was visibly emotional, as he covered his face with his hands as the tears ran down, as he celebrated his first goal for the club. However, this is a different Inter and they don’t cave in easily. With their very next attack, they got their equalizer and no points for guessing who it was either… A deflected shot found his way to captain Mauro Icardi, he fended off the defender, swiveled and hit a low right footed shot into the goal from six yards out. He quickly picked up the ball, not satisfied with just a point, he wanted his team to go for a win.
There would be no winner in the match-up between two clubs who have eight European Cups between them though, as Barca’s passage to the next round was confirmed and Inter grabbed a valuable point.
Napoli 1-1 PSG
Another match between the twinned fans of the Partenopei and the Parisians ended all square at the San Paolo. While the fans are in a partnership with each other, both managers and players are not, and both griped at the referee during and after this one.
The first meeting in Paris was dominated by the Campanians, and PSG was very fortunate to get a draw. Here though, Napoli still played their free flowing football, but PSG were much better and scored the go ahead goal on the stroke of half time. Kylian Mbappe picked up the ball, dribbled into Napoli’s box, and he crossed along the deck ended up on the somehow unmarked Juan Bernat, who still manage to score while falling over. Napoli were not happy, as the goal came a full two minutes into stoppage time after there was only supposed to be one at the end of the first half.
The home side came out all guns blazing in the second and were rewarded soon after with an equalizer from the penalty spot. Jose Callejon was brought down by a combination of former Serie A men, Thiago Silva, and Gigi Buffon. Lorenzo Insigne converted it perfectly after a failed attempt by Buffon to psyche out his former Italian international teammate. PSG complained that the play came from an offside position, and replays appeared to confirm as such. Both teams pressed forward trying to get that vital game winning goal, but it was not to be, and the twinned teams ended all square again. It leaves the group of death very tight with Napoli and Liverpool (who were shocked by Red Star in the other game) on six points, PSG on five and the 1991 European champions from Belgrade on four.
Who wants to bet on this group?
CSKA Moscow 1-2 Roma
The Giallorossi came away from Moscow with a crucial win to virtually seal a place in the second round.
It started early for last year’s semi-finalists, as Kostas Manolas scored with a header from a corner to put the Romans 1-0 up within four minutes of the start. The home side had a few great chances to score, but some desperate Roman defending, to say the least, meant that the visitors still led at the break.
Just after the resumption though, the Moscovites did tie the game up through Arnor Sigurrosson, with a lovely collect and finish inside the Roma penalty box. However, less than 10 minutes later Roma got the go ahead goal, as Lorenzo Pellegrini continued his find form, as he scored with a left footed strike after a scuffed Bryan Cristante shot found him all alone.
The Wolves now have nine points and just need another point to confirm qualification.
Juventus 1-2 Manchester United
I wrote a full piece on this match here, so I will just give a brief summary:
- Juve dominated this match, but once again showed their failings in Europe and why they have gone almost a quarter of a century without a trophy on the continent.
- Manchester United kept hanging around and did what some of their past great teams are known for: never giving up.
- Ronaldo’s goal! What else to say but Mamma Mia!
- I have said it before and will say it again: Max Allegri is not the man to lead Juve to European glory, as he is too negative, cowardly and still has that old time Italian mentality that 1-0 is enough.
- Jose Mourinho had all rights to take pleasure in his team defeating of Juve, after all the insults he received from their fans.
Lazio 2-1 Marseille
The Biancoceleste became the first Italian team to qualify for the second round, with an efficient win over Olympique de Marseille in Rome.
Ciro Immobile usually is the one scoring the goals for the Romans but he played the provider in chief, as he set up both of the goals for his team. The away side did put some pressure on the Laziale goal and the goalkeeper Strakosha who pulled off a few terrific saves; Immobile set up Marco Parolo for the first in the dying seconds of the first half, as a first time cross was met by the midfielder and his looping header went over the Marseille goalkeeper into the net. Lazio could not have picked a better time to score!
Less than 10 minutes into the second, the 1999 Cup Winners Cup champions doubled their lead, and it was that man, Immobile, again with the assist. He combined superbly with Joaquin Correa with a one-two, and it was the Argentine that finished off the move with an inside-out right footed shot. Lazio’s concentration dropped off soon after and they were punished by the French side, as Florian Thauvin scored just five minutes later to give them some hope of a comeback. The game became very open after that, and both teams had scoring opportunities. Former Roma midfielder, Kevin Strootman, who as expected was roundly jeered throughout the match missed from just outside the box, while Immobile and Sergey Milinkovic-Savic could have extended the hosts lead.
It was not needed though, with Lazio securing victory and progression to the Round of 16. They can now plan ahead for European football in 2019.
Real Betis 1-1 Milan
Another meeting between these two, that the Spanish side dominated and Milan would be grateful for a share of the spoils.
The home side played all over the Rossoneri early on and duly got the goal their play deserved, as on-loan Giovanni Lo Celso, finished off a brilliant move with a left-footed finish. Their dominance continued and they missed several chances to double their lead, but a combination of last-ditch Milan defending and finishing sent the teams in with Betis leading by that solitary goal.
The seven-time European champions were much improved after the break and got an equalizer just after the hour mark. Spanish international Suso seems to be the only one able to create anything consistently for Milan this season, and he did so again. He hit his typical cut inside shot, to which the Lobos goalkeeper pulled off a miraculous save, but then soon after, a floated free-kick from Suso evaded all the home team’s defenders and it fell into the bottom left corner of the net. There was a scary moment later on as Milan defender Matteo Musacchio was clattered into by teammate Frank Kessie while both were going for the same ball. It was a concern that the Argentine was unconscious, but thankfully that was not the case; he did have to be stretched off, however.
The game ended at one a piece and after four games, it is Betis on eight, while Milan and Olympiacos are on seven each. Milan still has to go to Athens to face the Greeks, and that will be the ‘winner takes it all’ place in all likelihood.
Another round of European play has ended, and the Italians teams had a record of two wins, three draws, and one defeat. Not bad at all, and the good thing is all those who are still to qualify control their own destiny.