Read along as Juventus and Napoli pull further away from the rest of the league, the Milanese sides continue to struggle, Lazio’s trialed new formation worked well, and nine potential teams continue to fight for the European competition spots; all this and more summed up Matchday 17 of Serie A TIM action.
Lazio 3-1 Cagliari
Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi may have just unlocked the door to his team’s success this season. He used both Joaquin Correa & Luis Alberto from the start of the match behind striker Ciro Immobile and it worked to a tee. It was, however, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who probably needed a goal more than anyone else in the home team, that opened the scoring. Following a shot that was parried into his path by Cagliari keeper Alessio Cragno, the Serbian star scored and the emotions flowed. He went away with tears in his eyes, joined soon by his teammates, who knew exactly how important that goal was for the much maligned player.
Marathon man Francesco Acerbi was denied a goal by all of just 2 mm against Atalanta last Monday, but would not be denied at Saturday lunch-time, as from a corner he guided the ball into the net and the Romans doubled their lead; going into the half-time interval in control. After the break, the Sardinians tried to push forward a bit more but were caught on the break and Lazio tripled their advantage. Immobile threaded the ball to captain Senad Lulic and he made no mistake placing the ball into the left-hand corner of the net. The away side got a consolation goal from the penalty spot through Joao Pedro after the use of the VAR spotted a foul by Angolan defender Bastos.
Lazio are all alone in the 4th and final Champions League spot in Serie A, while Cagliari are just four points above the drop.
Napoli 1-0 Spal
A single goal from Spanish defender Raul Albiol in first-half stoppage time gave the Partenopei the win; at least giving them some hope of a title race with Juventus. The home team, as usual, dominated the play but a combination of lack of a clinical instinct and Spal goalkeeper Gomis being in good form kept them at bay. That was until Dries Mertens swung a cross in and Albiol left to glance a header into the net. The Naples-based side kept pushing to get the extra advantage but just could not convert their chances and almost gave up their slim lead late on. From a corner, Mohammed Fares hit a bullet header which looked like it was heading towards goal, only for 21-year old Alex Meret to get down quickly to parry it away, away from the goal. He certainly just paid back some of the 30M Euros that the club spent on him.
Napoli remains within eight points of Juve, while Spal have shown enough bite to stay in Serie A for another year.
Empoli 2-4 Sampdoria
A thrilling back-and-forth game was decided by two late Gianluca Caprari goals in Tuscany. In just the 11th minute, the home team took the lead through a penalty from Manuel Pasqual, however, Sampdoria equalized just before the end of the half with a stunner from attacking midfielder Gaston Ramirez. The Uruguayan collected the ball just outside the Empoli box went past his covering defender and he blasted an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net, leaving the home team’s goalkeeper with no chance.
At the 69th minute mark, the Blucherciati took the lead for the first time in the match, and no surprise it was Fabio Quagliarella. He met a Nicola Murru cross and, with a defender on him, the evergreen striker met the ball and it went on into the net. Empoli’s own star striker Francesco Caputo tied the game up less than 10 minutes later, after meeting a cross from Traore to guide the ball into the net. It was now 2-2, with 15 minutes left and we were still in store for more!
Caprari came on for Gregoire Defrel in the 85th minute and he turned the game on its head. The Roman-born player collected a flick on from Ricardo Saponara and, faced with four defenders, had a shot, the Empoli keeper making a hash of the save as he allowed it to go under him and into the goal. Caprari’s second was also somewhat the fault of the keeper, as he had a shot that, although being hit hard, was at the keeper’s near post even if it was in the upper part of the net.
Samp continues their hunt for Europe, while Empoli are just three points above the Serie A relegation zone.
Sassuolo 1-1 Torino
Two second half goals meant the points were shared between these two Europe-chasing teams. Andrea Belotti gave the Granata the lead after he collected a pass from strike partner Simone Zaza, barrelling down on goal and placing his shot into the far corner of the net. However, in the second minute of stoppage time, summer signing Enrico Brignola tied the game up. A cross came over from Paolo Lirola and the former Benevento creator leaped high over the defender to head the ball into the net! He is not known for his heading ability, but he surprised us all with this finish.
The Neroverdi kept a two point advantage over the Turin club in the tight European race in Serie A.
Genoa 3-1 Atalanta
La Dea had a chance to take an early lead through a penalty after the referee used the VAR to adjudge that one of the home team’s defenders had handled the ball, however, Ionata Radu pulled off a stunning save from Josip Ilicic to deny the away side. The Grifone took the lead just before the break through an own goal, after Krzysztof Piatek’s header took a deflection; a very harsh decision on the Polish player not to give him the goal though. The Bergamo club tied the game up, after being awarded a second penalty after Remo Frueler was fouled in the box, and this time the in-form Duvan Zapata took it and scored.
However, the Ligurians were back in the lead just over 10 minutes later through Darko Lazovic. From a cross, the Serb miss-hit his shot the first time but, the second time around, he hit a rasping volley into the net. The Bergamaschi were reduced to 10-men when Jose Palomino pulled back Davide Bessa when he was through on goal. Piatek was denied in the first, but not in the second late-on, as he collected a pass from Bessa and hit a brilliant curling effort into the top left-hand corner of the Atalanta net and the points were sealed.
Genoa pulled away from the relegation zone, while Atalanta’s two game winning streak was halted.
Milan 0-1 Fiorentina
A brilliant finish from La Viola starlet Federico Chiesa condemned the Rossoneri to yet another defeat. The home team created a few great chances in the first half, but yet more poor finishing and an inspired Albon Lafont in the Fiorentina goal kept them at bay. Ricardo Rodriguez hit a ferocious shot, which the French goalkeeper flew to parry away for a corner. When he was beaten, he had his defense to back him up, as Hakan Calhanoglu hit a slide rule shot past him, but Nikola Milenkovic was there to clear the ball off the line.
It was more of the same in the second half from the seven-time European champions, as Suso and Gonzalo Higuain were again denied by Lafont as he is proving what a find he was for the Tuscans. Completely against the run of play, it was the away side that took the lead, the win, and all three points. Chiesa took on and beat Davide Calabria and hit a long range shot that beat his fellow Italian international Gigio Donnarumma! Rodriguez had another chance to score for Milan with a header but again Lafont proved unbeatable and the two-time Scudetto winners held on for the win.
More pressure mounts on Rino Gattuso on the Milan bench and Fiorentina move to just two points behind the Milanese side.
Udinese 1-1 Frosinone
A share of the spoils for two teams badly in need of all three points. in their push for Serie A survival. The Fruilians opened the scoring with a scorcher from Rolando Mandragora; a ferocious left-footed effort just after the half-hour mark. Both teams more or less played within themselves, and it was the visitors that scored the next and final goal from the penalty spot, Camillo Ciano finding the net in the 60th minute.
Chievo 1-1 Inter
Like their city cousins Milan, the Nerazzurri continue to struggle; with the Flying Donkeys grabbing a last-gasp draw. This game was not pretty on the eye, as it was overly physical and devoid of any real quality but the home side won’t have cared. Il Biscione took the lead through Ivan Perisic after scoring from inside the box, meeting a cross from Danilo D’Ambrosio after nice combination play with Mauro Icardi. The Argentine had earlier been denied by Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino. The 40-year stopped Inter’s captain again in the second half after diving to his left to prevent Icardi from beating him at his near post.
The match became quite scrappy as it drew on, with both teams picking up yellow cards and committing fouls needlessly. When it seemed that the three-time European champions would take the points back home, the Veronese scored through another Serie A veteran having a superb season. A long clearance from Chievo’s keeper was flicked on to the onrushing Sergio Pellissier and the 39-year chipped it over Samir Handanovic and, despite Slovakian defender Milan Skriniar’s best efforts, the ball went into the net and the game was tied in the 91st minute!
Chievo have now taken points off of Napoli, Lazio, and Inter since Domenico Di Carlo took over, while Luciano Spalletti, just like Gattuso is under more and more pressure.
Parma 0-0 Bologna
One of the worst games of the Serie A season ended without very little action as the teams shared the points. The Crociati have dropped off in the last month, while Bologna occupies the final relegation spot.
Juventus 1-0 Roma
Another big game, another Mario Mandzukic goal, another routine win for the Bianconeri. This is a tape that just needs to be rewinded over and over again.
Early on in this match, it seemed to be a straight duel between Alex Sandro and Robert Olsen, as Juve’s Brazilian left back and Roma’s Swedish goalkeeper were in constant direct opposition to one another. In the 10th & 20th minutes, the former Porto man shot from long range and close up respectively but, both times, Olsen denied him. However, the one man nobody seems to be able to deny in 2018 is Mario Mandzukic and the Croatian gave the home side the lead. A cross from the much-improved Mattia Di Sciglio was met at the far post by “Super Mario”, as he beat Davide Santon to the ball and fired home.
In typical Old Lady fashion, the home team were fully prepared to just sit back and soak up the pressure from Roma. Despite having most of the ball, the Giallorossi could not break down the home side’s defense, even if Wojciech Szczesny had a couple of saves to make. It was the defending champions that still had the better chances, as first Cristiano Ronaldo with a header and a couple of disallowed goals from Giorgio Chiellini & Douglas Costa kept the score at just one-nil.
Juve kept their eight-point advantage ahead of Napoli, while Roma are four points behind arch-rivals Lazio in the race for Champions League football, as Serie A nears its midway point.
We are now entering the Christmas period with two more rounds to go, on Boxing Day and the following Saturday and, except for the top two, there could be plenty of change in Serie A as there are only 11 points separating third place Inter and 12th place Parma.
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