A Boxing Day round of fixtures in Calcio for the first time since 1971 brewed up some interesting stories lines: pressure mounts on Gennaro Gattuso at Milan, Juventus dropped points against Atalanta, while both Roman clubs and Inter triumphed.
Frosinone 0-0 Milan
Whatever Milan’s manager Gennaro Gattuso had for his Christmas meals would not have been digested well after this match. Within 20 minutes, both teams could have scored, but a combination of poor finishing and VAR meant we remained scoreless. Patrick Cutrone and Samu Castillejo both came close, but it was the home side that had a goal ruled out controversially that was the main talking point. Hakan Calhanoglu lost the ball in the attacking half, Raffaele Maiello picked it up and carried it forward, he found Camillo Ciano all alone, threaded it through and the Napoli product did the rest.
However, the Rossoneri were let off, after the referee used the VAR to adjudge that Calhanoglu was fouled before losing the ball! The away side made most of the running in the remainder of the match and had to thank goalkeeper Gigio Donnarumma who pulled off some smart saves to deny the Lazio based club. Milan’s best chances fell to Gonzalo Higuain, but the Argentine continued his poor form this season as he missed two guilt edge opportunities. Milan are now three points off a UEFA Champions League spot, while after this spirited display, the Frosinone may still see hope in their Serie A survival.
Fiorentina 0-1 Parma
A horror show from Vitor Hugo for La Viola brought them back down to earth after their win over Milan over the weekend. The home side dominated the early exchanges, but it was the Crociati who took the lead completely against the run of the play. A seemingly innocuous ball was played to Roberto Inglese, the Brazilian defender missed it, and the man on loan from Napoli calmly slotted the ball into the home team’s net. To make matters worse, Hugo was sent off just after the hour mark for a last ditched barge into Jonathan Biabany, that prevented the Frenchman from moving towards the goal. Both teams are now tied on 25 points.
Cagliari 1-0 Genoa
A Diego Farias goal in first-half stoppage time gave the Sardinians their first win in two months. Krzysztof Piatek and Nicolo Barella both came close to opening the scoring for their respective teams early on but were denied. It was the Brazilian Farias, who was fortunate that a Dario Srna cross went right across the Grifone penalty area, and he volleyed home to give the 1969 Scudetto winners the win. Cagliari moves one point above Genoa with the victory.
Bologna 0-2 Lazio
The “Inzaghi Bowl” was won by younger brother Simone, as the Biancocelesti continued their revival. Surprisingly, Lazio started with Ciro Immobile on the bench and it was Felipe Calceido, Joaquin Correa, and Luis Alberto up front. Lazio took the lead from a corner through Luiz Felipe, who rose high to head home with a well-placed header into the corner of the home team’s net. The away side dominated this match and made their advantage count, again from a corner later on, as Senad Lulic volleyed home after the ball found its way to him all alone in the six yard box. Lazio are firmly in 4th place while Pippo is under more pressure as we head towards 2019.
Atalanta 2-2 Juventus :
A highly entertaining match from start to finish ended with a share of the spoils in Bergamo. Within 90 seconds the Bianconeri had taken the lead through an own goal from Berat Djimsiti, whos sliced clearance found it’s way into the net. The away side had a couple of chances to double their lead, but it was La Dea and their in-form man Duvan Zapata that got the next goal. The Colombian collected the ball with facing away from his own goal and being held by Leonardo Bonucci, but managed to wiggle free, turned and hit an unstoppable shot into the goal, and the game was tied at 1-1, with plenty more incidents to come!
There was a slew of yellow cards after including Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur and it cost the Uruguayan early on in the second half, as he was promptly shown a second yellow for a mistimed tackle. Two minutes later and the Bergamaschi took the lead, and it was Zapata again. A corner that Juve uncharacteristically allowed to go right across their penalty box, found its way to the former Napoli man and he headed home. Juve’s manager Max Allegri started Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench for this encounter but summoned the Portuguese at the 65th-minute mark. He saved the result for The Old Lady with a header of his own after Mario Mandzukic had won the ball in the air from a corner. After that, the home side sat back deep and Juve nearly won it after Bonucci scored from a free-kick, but his effort was ruled out for offside and the match ended as a draw. Despite the dropped points, Juve extends their lead at the top of the league, while Atalanta are one of the few teams that can actually give the top sides a run for their money
Sampdoria 2-0 Chievo
Two second-half goals from the in-form duo Fabio Quagliarella and Gaston Ramirez gave Samp a well-deserved win at home. Quagliarella continued to amaze as his first goal was a thing of invention. A free-kick came in and the Neapolitan flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot and into the goal! For us mere mortals, a worldly strike, for “Quags”, just a normal day at the office. Just at the hour mark, they doubled their lead with a well-worked move down the left. It would be a Nicolo Murru cross that found its way to Ramirez and his neat near-post finish gave the Veronese goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino no chance. Samp are now just a couple of points off 4th place, while the Flying Donkeys remained rooted to the bottom of the table.
Torino 3-0 Empoli
Two early chances by Toro skipper Andrea Belotti nearly gave the home side the lead, but a brilliant save from the Tuscan goalkeeper and the post denied the former Palermo man. On the stroke of half-time though they would not be denied as Nicolas Nkoulou scored with a bullet header from a corner to give the nine-time Scudetto winners the lead. Just after the break, the Granata doubled their advantage with a fantastic left-footed effort from Lorenzo De Silvestri! He picked up the ball near the Empoli box and hit an unstoppable effort into the right side of the goal, leaving the goalkeeper with zero chance. The win and the points were confirmed with another left-footed effort from outside the box, this time from Iago Falque. The Spaniard danced around past a couple of the Azzurri defenders and hit a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal, for his third strike of the campaign. Torino continued their hunt for Europe, while Empoli have now lost three straight matches.
Roma 3-1 Sassuolo
Patrick Schick’s recent good form continued as he was involved in all that was good about the home team. He was fouled while heading towards goal in the penalty box and from the resulting penalty, then the returning Diego Perotti calmly dispatched the spot kick. Then a moment of some controversy! The Czech player deflected the ball towards his own goal from a corner, the ball looked to have crossed the line, however, with the use of the goal-line technology, it was shown there was still 1mm of the ball passing the goal-line. It could not have been any closer for the Neroverdi to score in Rome! The Giallorossi doubled their lead as Schick broke away past the away team’s defense, rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home. Then a moment of pure class from one of the three-time Scudetto winners recruits. Nicolo Zaniolo raced down the right flank, cut inside, faked the Sassuolo defender and goalkeeper and chipped the ball into the net to give his team a three-goal lead. A lovely finish by the former Inter youth product. The away side got a consolation late on from Khouma Babacar, but Roma jumps ahead of Sassuolo in the standings with this win.
Spal 0-0 Udinese
Not a great game by any means with a few chances for each side here and there, as both teams who could have pulled fairly clear of the relegation zone settled for just a share of the spoils.
Inter 1-0 Napoli
A controversial match at the Guiseppe Meazza! From the kick-off, Nerazzurri captain Mauro Icardi went for goal, but Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret was alert to the situation and saved the ball off the line. It was then the away side from Campania that raised their game a bit and created a few decent efforts, particularly through Jose Callejon but there would be no goal at the break. Throughout the first half, Napoli’s Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly was subject to racist abuse from the home fans, to which the announcer made a public address for it to stop, however, it did not!
In the second half, more of the same continued and to make matters worse Koulibaly was harshly sent off! He and Matteo Politano were involved in a duel on the flank, the Napoli defender held back Politano, and he was given a yellow card. The man who recently signed a contract extension appeared to clap “sarcastically” towards referee Paolo Mazzoleni, who did not take the gesture too kindly and gave the former Genk player a second yellow and he was off! Despite being down a man the Azzurri nearly opened the scoring with a double chance. First Lorenzo Insigne was stopped by Samir Handanovic and then from the rebound, Piotr Zielinski’s shot was cleared off the line by Kwadwo Asamoah. Just a minute later and il Biscione took the lead. Keita Balde’s cross somehow went right across the Napoli goal and found its way to Lautaro Martinez and the Argentine guided the ball into the net and Inter were in front. The away side lost control after and saw Insigne shown a straight red after an argument with the referee and Balde. Inter pull within five points of Napoli, but we have not heard the last of this match!
There is now just one more round of fixtures on Saturday the 29th of December before the winter break and it may very well be the last match for a manager or two before we enter 2019.