The top three winning with difficulty, the race for the final UEFA Champions League place tightens, and Chievo obtaining their first win of the season rounds up Matchday 19 of calcio.
Juventus 2-1 Sampdoria
More VAR controversy! The Bianconeri took the lead within two minutes as Cristiano Ronaldo continued his fantastic form of 2018. A curling shot from the top right of the Samp box went past the away side’s goalkeeper Emil Audero. Disappointing for the home team’s fans, they as per usual sat back, and allowed the visitors to attack them and the 1991 Scudetto winners were duly rewarded. With the use of VAR, the referee adjudged that Emre Can had raised his arm towards the ball in the penalty box, and Fabio Quagliarella stepped up to score in his 9th consecutive match. Both teams created a few chances there after, but the teams went into the break tied.
Audero continued to show his improvements this season, with a string of superb saves, including from Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi. However, the defending champions eventually re-established their lead through a penalty of their own. VAR was called in again, and referee Paolo Valeri used it to give the home team a spot-kick for a handball; Ronaldo made no mistake. Then, the real main controversy took place in stoppage time! A lovely finish from Ricardo Saponara tied the game up at 2-2, however, the replays showed he was in an offside position in the build up to the goal, after initially receiving the ball from Gregoire Defrel, although it looked like a somewhat harsh call. The Old Lady held on and were very fortunate again. Juve extends their lead at the top of the table, while Samp lost for the first time in eight games.
Lazio 1-1 Torino
Another controversial match, this time though, both teams were handled evenly. The Biancocelesti made most of the running in the first half, but it was the side from the Piedmont region that took the lead. A cross came into the box and with only Andrea Belotti in the box, Adam Marusic put his hands on the Granata captain, and the referee pointed to the spot. A slightly harsh call, but anytime a defender puts his hands on an attacker, he will always risk being called, and il Galo got up and scored the penalty on the stroke of half-time.
The above photo is of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – the Serbian star has been under an enormous amount of pressure this season, from all and sundry, with even his own fans turning on him with jeers, banners, and much more. Well, he answered those critics to tie the game up and what a strike it was! He collected the ball from Lucas Leiva around 25 yards from goal and unleashed an unstoppable right footed shot into the top right hand corner of the net. His celebration was a combination of joy and relief. Both teams went down to 10 men within the space of four minutes near the end of the match, as Lazio lost Marusic and Toro lost Soualiho Meite for second bookable offenses. Lazio tried to get the go ahead goal to no avail, but they still are alone in the last Champions League spot, while Torino are five points back.
Chievo 1-0 Frosinone
A brilliant free-kick from Emanuele Giaccherini with just 15 minutes to go gave the Flying Donkeys their first win of the season and they continued their revival under Domenico Di Carlo and they are now just five points off safety. The Canarini who had earlier also had their own good form must be concerned that the Veronese club are breeding down their neck.
Sassuolo 2-6 Atalanta
An entertaining encounter where La Dea showed their capabilities. It can be argued that Atalanta’s best players of this season all got on the score-sheet. Duvan Zapata, Papu Gomez, Gianluca Mancini, and Josip Ilicic all registered goals as the Bergamo based club hit the Neroverdi for six. It was the South American duo that got the Bergamaschi’s goals in the first half, Colombian Zapata with a header and Argentine Gomez with a right-footed effort. In the space of just six minutes, the match changed back and forth.
Firstly, the home team’s own star this season Alfred Duncan scored with left-footed efforts in the 51st and 57th minutes, however, Mancini got one in between for his team and it was 3-2 in favor of the Lombardians with 30 minutes still to play. Atalanta’s form had not been great early on this campaign, but it all changed when Ilicic returned to the line-up in mid-October. The Slovenian grabbed a hat-trick in the last 15 minutes of the match, to kill off any hopes the Emilia-Romagna team had of a comeback. Both teams were tied heading into Matchday 19, but with the win, Atalanta moves ahead of their hosts.
Genoa 0-0 Fiorentina
La Viola completely dominated this match and in the first half came close three times through Giovanni Simeone who missed a header from two yards out, Kevin Mirallas who hit the post with a right footed shot, and Edimilson Fernandes who was put through by Federico Chiesa, but whose shot was stopped by the Grifone goalkeeper Ionut Radu. It was more of the same in the second, as Chiesa this time was on the end of a Cristiano Biraghi cross, and he hit the post on a running volley. There was more VAR controversy, as Genoa’s Miguel Veloso appeared to have handled the ball in the penalty box, however, despite the referee employing the use of the video technology, he ruled it was not intentional. Fiorentina are only six points off a Champions League place while Genoa are seven from the relegation zone.
Udinese 2-0 Cagliari
The Friulians took the lead through Ignacio Pussetto after he collected a long ball and went past Sardinian defender Dario Srna to place the ball into the net. The away side were reduced to 10 men as Luca Ceppitelli was sent off for a last-ditch tackle, and soon after Valon Behrami doubled the home team’s lead finishing off a well-worked move with a deflected right footed shot outside the box. The Bianconeri had a chance to triple their lead, but Kevin Lasagna missed a penalty after he himself had been brought down by Nicolo Barella. Ever improving recent Azzurri player Alessio Cragno made the save off his fellow Italian international. Udinese also went down a man after Rolando Mandragora was sent off, but they held on to a vital win. Udinese pulled five points clear of the drop zone and within two of the beaten visitors.
Parma 0-2 Roma
Two second-half goals from the Giallorossi meant they continued their recent good form. However, it was the Crociati who had the best chance in the first half, as Luca Siligardi barreled down on goal, only for Robert Olsen to make a point-blank save to deny him. It was the in-form Bryan Cristante that headed in from a corner to give his side the lead just before the hour mark. 15 minutes later, Cengiz Under doubled the lead, finishing off a neat move with a first time left-footed finish, after a pass across the home team’s penalty box from Lorenzo Pellegrini. I Lupi are back in the hunt for the Champions League, while Parma have fallen off form in the last month.
Empoli 0-1 Inter
Inter’s Matteo Politano was the main threat in the first half, as at the half an hour mark, his trademark left-foot shot was parried away by Ivan Provedel for a corner. Keita Balde had a goal correctly ruled out for offside early on in the second half, but 15 minutes he made the breakthrough eventually, as his scuffed shot from a Sime Vrsalijko cross found its way into the goal. Both teams had a couple of chances late on, but honestly, this was not a great game. Inter maintained their top four place, while the Tuscans have now lost four straight and are just three points ahead of the relegation zone.
Napoli 3-2 Bologna
An Arkadiusz Milik double and a late strike from Dries Mertens gave the Partenopei a hard-fought victory over a spirited Rossoblu at home. The Polish poacher opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a right-footed finish inside the box after the ball had bobbled around several players. Federico Santander tied it up with a header from a free-kick, and he seemed almost shocked at himself at scoring. Milik completed his brace with a powerful header after having to fight off a Bologna defender holding onto him from a Kevin Malcuit cross.
The Emilians came to Campania to play and duly tied it up again with just 10 minutes to go through Danilo with another header from yet another free-kick. Napoli’s defending from set-plays was poor all game and they were clearly missing the presence of Kalidou Koulibaly, who was disgracefully sent off versus Inter on Boxing Day. The two-time Scudetto winners would not be denied, however, and it was Mertens who scored with a ferocious low shot just a few minutes from the end. The Neapolitans stay within eight points of Juve, while Bologna are still in the last relegation spot.
Milan 2-1 Spal
The above photo is of Milan’s manager Gennaro Gattuso and Gonzalo Higuain hugging, and if there were two people in Italian football that needed a good end to 2018, it was these two. It did not start well for the Rossoneri though, as former player Andrea Petagna gave the away side the lead with a shot that took a spinning deflection off Alessio Romagnoli and into the Milan goal. However, the home side responded soon after with a rasping shot from Spanish attacker Samu Castillejo. The seven-time European champions made most of the running as Spal surprising sat back deep in their own half.
Just after the hour mark, Higuain got his goal to end his two-month scoring drought. A cross into the box was flicked into his path by Hakan Calhanoglu, the Argentine went past a Spal defender and smashed the ball into the upper part of the net. He went off and celebrated, soon to be joined by his teammates as the relief was clear to see, similar to Milinkovic-Savic’s goal in Rome earlier. The referee then made some atrocious decisions, including booking Cristian Zapata when he clearly got the ball and Milan had to thank Gigio Donarumma for a pulling off a sprawling save to deny Mohamed Salim Fares deep into stoppage time. Milan are one point off forth, while Spal should have enough to stay in Serie A.
So we are at the halfway point of the Serie A season: Juve are the Winter champions, Napoli and Inter look to join them in the Champions League, the race for fourth could be between as many as nine teams, while the relegation fight could go down to the final day. The league takes a three week break, but the Coppa Italia Round of 16 kicks-off on the 12th of January.