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Although Sampdoria played well for much of the match, it's Inter Milan who leave the Stadio Luigi Ferraris with three points thanks mostly to an excellent second half free kick courtesy of Wesley Sneijder. The home side will feel hugely unlucky not to have scored, especially in the first half where they have numerous chances to turn the ball home, hitting the post on one occasion. Inter neither defended nor attacked particularly well, but once they grabbed their lead they did a brilliant job of drawing their hosts into the attack and stinging them on the counter.
In the last three minutes of the game, Eto'o had no less than three clear chances to put another goal past Gianluca Curci, and after a pair of fine saves from Sampdoria's goalkeeper finally snatched Inter's second goal, putting the team 2-0 up in the 94th minute. The home side had no chance to reply.
The win pumps Inter Milan to second place, leapfrogging Napoli and closing to within two points of leaders AC Milan. With Milan hosting Napoli at the San Siro on Monday, getting a strong result was crucial to Leonardo's side. Meanwhile, Sampdoria remain in 14th place in the Serie A table.
My word, that's a free kick and a half by Wesley Sneijder. With Inter tied 0-0 at Sampdoria with just a little under 20 minutes to play, Daniele Gastaldello turned a fairly quiet situation into a major threat by hauling down Giampaolo Pazzini 25 yards in from of the Sampdoria goal. It was a clear foul, but Gastaldello was rather at odds with the decision, screaming and shouting at the referee for some time before the poor man had no choice but to show the centre half a yellow card. Of course, while Sampdoria were arguing about the free kick, Inter were planning their strike, and with Sneijder over the ball a moment of magic is never far away.
Gianluca Curci was still setting up his wall when the whistle blew, so Sneijder simply clipped it over the startled defenders and into the back of the net, possibly grazing the post on its way past the scrambling goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Curci complained about the quick free-kick, but it was totally legal and probably would have gone in anyway. Just minutes later, Sneijder made friends with the goalpost from a second free kick. All Inter Milan right now as they chase the Serie A leaders.
You know the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words"? Well, in this case, a video is worth a thousand words, so watch the highlights of Udinese's 7-0 win at Palermo as soon as they're available. Alexis Sánchez scored four within 50 minutes, Antonio Di Natale grabbed a hat-trick to put him on 21 goals in Serie A, and somewhere in all the fun, two Palermo players were sent off. Oddly enough, save for the penalty conversion that gave Udinese their seventh, no goals were scored after Palermo went down to nine men. Perhaps at that point Udinese were simply feeling sorry for their hosts.
The match got off to a cracking start when Captain Toto scored his first in the ninth minute. Palermo left Di Natale completely unmarked in front of goal, a theme they'd embrace for the rest of the match. Toto's header met Pablo Armero's cross for Udinese's first. Within ten minutes, Alexis Sánchez had doubled the lead, this time due to the mistake of Palermo goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, another weakness that would crop up again and again throughout the match.
Udinese had played less than thirty minutes when they had their third, again at the feet of Alexis Sánchez. With seven goals in this match, you'd think it would be tough to choose the best, but this one easily grabs the gold. Udinese scored their third with a brilliant piece of counterattacking football. Sánchez got free on the right hand side and sped off down the pitch, with none of the rose shirts able to catch him. Sirigu could do nothing except sit down when Sánchez got close. A bit of fancy footwork and the ball was in the back of the net.
Then in the 40th minute, Palermo midfielder Armin Bačinovič was shown his second yellow. Almost before he'd left the pitch, Udinese had scored again. Sirigu had a blinder of a game, this time dropping Kwadwo Asamoah's long-range shot at the foot of Sánchez. The keeper managed to bat away Sánchez's shot, but it went about a foot, right to where Toto was standing, and Udinese had their fourth.
But four wasn't enough for Udinese. Alexis Sánchez wanted his hat-trick before the break, and a minute later, Siniša Anđelković made sure to hand it to him. The Palermo player stumbled and let Sánchez free in front of goal, leaving Alexi with little option but to score. The halftime whistle blew a few minutes later and Palermo cried tears of relief.
Fifteen minutes was not enough for Palermo to regain their composure, however. Less than three minutes after the restart, Sánchez had scored again, making four for the man who, prior to this match, had never scored more than one in a Serie A game. That was six for Udinese and, in a moment of mercy, Sánchez made way for Germán Denis, possibly due to the fact that Lega Calcio had no way of recording five goals for a single individual.
Palermo continued to display the collective intelligence of an earthworm, however. Pablo Armero got loose in the area and instead of letting him take a shot -- considering Palermo were down a man and down by six, a comeback was likely not on the cards, so what was one more goal? -- Matteo Darmian grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him down. Darmian was shown a red and the referee pointed to the spot. Toto stepped up to the spot and converted the penalty with a shot low and to the right, completing his hat-trick and giving him 21 goals on the season.
After the seventh in the 60th, however, Udinese decided to play nice. Scoring three more against a nine-man Palermo would have just looked mean, after all. Instead, the zebretteare were content to conserve their energy for a European fight: Udinese are now in fifth, just one point behind Lazio, who dropped all three points against Cagliari this weekend.
Ok, now this is just silly. This is the sort of match they show on comedy channels, or perhaps create in an attempt to refute the accusations that football is a boring, low-scoring game. Udinese have now scored seven against Palermo, with Antonio Di Natale completing his hat-trick with a penalty conversion.
Palermo are now down to nine men. Matteo Darmian made the interesting decision to stop Pablo Armero by hanging on to the back of his shirt while the Udinese man was charging into the area. That's a no-no, and Darmian was handed his marching orders. Captain Toto stepped up to the spot and, with Salvatore Sirigu guessing wrong, drove the ball hard and low into the right hand corner.
Toto is clearly attempting to challenge Alexis Sánchez for the title of supreme commander of the universe, while at the same time showing Napoli forward and young upstart Edinson Cavani who's truly king of Serie A. That hat-trick gave Di Natale 21 goals on the season, putting him in front of Cavani for the most goals in the league.
Just two minutes after the whistle blew for the restart, Alexis Sánchez has grabbed his fourth against Palermo, proving that he is the supreme commander and ruler of the universe, or at least that he's taken total control of the Rosanero defense and has Salvatore Sirigu completely under his thumb. For some reason, Palermo elected to let Sánchez loose on his own inside their area, which by this point you'd think they'd have figured out is probably the stupidest choice they could have made. Mauricio Isla sent the cross over to Sánchez, who took a shot at goal. Sirigu managed to save, but again couldn't control the ball, instead sending it straight to the feet of Sánchez. Who, of course, could do nothing but put the ball in the far corner.
To spare Palermo further humiliation, Germán Denis came on in the 53rd minute to replace Sánchez. The Palermo crowd gave the Udinese man a standing ovation as he left the field. Because really, what else can you do when faced with the captain of the galaxy?
If Palermo don't come out of the tunnel when the whistle blows for play to resume, everyone would likely understand. Just after Antonio Di Natale grabbed his second to put Udinese up 4-0, Alexis Sánchez completed his hat-trick, before the first half was even completed. Sánchez again beat two defenders, with Siniša Anđelković failing once again to stop the Chilean, instead stumbling over his own two feet. Sánchez was let free in front of goal where, what else, he scored. This match marks the first time Sánchez has scored more than once in a Serie A game.
With four minutes until the halftime whistle, Palermo is doing nothing but praying that the piercing note will come as soon as possible. But down 5-0 with another half to play, there's not much that a halftime cappuccino break and pep talk will help. Unless, of course, the sight of Delio Rossi packing his bags gives Palermo incentive to score six in response.
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse for Palermo, midfielder Armin Bačinovič was sent off in the 40th minute for a second yellow, after resorting to unsporting conduct in an attempt to stop Gökhan Inler from running away with the ball. Then, in the next play, Antonio Di Natale made the score 4-0, with Toto pulling even with Edinson Cavani at 20 goals in Serie A.
Palermo goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu is having a shocker of a match, with his second serious mistake leading to the visitors' fourth goal. Kwadwo Asamoah sent in a brilliant long range effort, which Sirigu once again failed to contain. It dropped to the feet of Alexis Sánchez, which would be enough to terrify any human. Sirigu managed to bat away Sánchez's attempt, but only toward Toto, who seized upon the ball and drove it in the back of the net.
That's four in forty minutes -- Udinese are on track for nine in this one.
What. A. Goal. After what was Palermo's best attempt in front of goal, with a scramble of attempts coming off a corner by Armin Bacinovic, Udinese took advantage and set up a brilliant counter attack. Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sánchez played a one-two ball back at the halfway line before Sánchez broke away, speeding toward goal with no rose shirts able to come close to catching him. Salvatore Sirigu, the Palermo goalkeeper, could do nothing in the face of El Niño Maravilla -- except sit down. Sánchez merely ran around him to put the ball directly in the back of the net, while Palermo's nearest defender, Siniša Anđelković, could do nothing but watch from behind.
That's three goals by the 27th minute. Will Udinese be able to maintain their average, and score four by the halftime whistle? With both Sirigu and Anđelković struggling to contain the Udinese offense, anything seems possible.
Alexis Sánchez has doubled Udinese's lead before the clock reached twenty minutes, with Palermo caught out in their ability to defend a set piece. A shot from Maurizio Domizzi was blocked for a corner kick for Udinese.The resulting ball met an absolute scramble in front of the Palermo goal. Keeper Salvatore Sirigu came out in an attempt to clear the ball, but could not keep hold of it, instead dumping it at the foot of one of his defenders. Unfortunately for the Palermo defense, Sánchez was lurking just behind. He swiped possession and sent in a sharp shot through to the back of the net.
So that's two from the visitors, coming at an average of every ten minutes. Could we really be lucky enough to see nine goals in this match? It seems that Palermo will have to find its footing and its defense at some point during this match, but it's going to take more than simple wishful thinking from the home side.
Antonio Di Natale has scored his 19th goal of the season to give Udinese a 1-0 lead at Palermo. Pablo Armero sent in a wonderful cross from the left side of the pitch to where Toto, somehow unmarked by any of the Palermo defense, was lurking in front of goal. His leaping header put the ball into the bottom right corner.
With just ten minutes played, the visitors have already had two shots on goal, both of them on target. With Palermo losing their last two matches in Serie A, it might be time for the club to start contemplating its defensive abilities. With Javier Pastore and Josip Iličić, the Rosanero certainly don't have a problem in the attack. But with their last clean sheet coming against lowly Brescia, it's no wonder some are criticizing the tactics of Delio Rossi. After all, in order to use their impressive attacking abilities, Palermo are going to need to keep possession for more than just a few seconds at a time.
The difference between Milan and Napoli: one goal, scored in the 2-1 win the Rossoneri got in Naples earlier this year. Then, Robinho scored early, Michele Pazienza saw red before Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi swapped goals. Now, those three points are all that separate the two clubs at the top of Italy's Serie A. If you want to parse the result even further (and disregard the laws of causality along the way), only a 11-on-10, 72nd minute score from The Zlatan keeps Milan in front.
On Monday, the teams meet at the San Siro. (Usually we don't include the Monday matches in our weekend previews, but I can't resist.) A win from the partenopei moves them even on points with Milan, but it also opens the door for Inter Milan. The holders are at a sinking Sampdoria, Domenico di Carlo's team predictably struggling after the departures of Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano. Should Napoli and Inter both win, three teams will be within two points atop the league.
A draw at the San Siro, and Inter can move within three. However, if Milan is able to replicate the result they got at the San Paolo, they'll assume a stranglehold on the scudetto race.
Since the sides met in late October, Milan has made some changes. Most notably, they've added Cassano and Mark van Bommel, though they're pretty much the same team. They've sat atop the league for most of the season, have the stingiest defense in the league, and player a 4-3-3 built around the league's best player. Everything depends on Ibra. Half playmaker, half sniper, the tunnel-visioned maestro leads an attack that's already seen three players (Ibra, Robinho, Alexandre Pato) reach double digit league goals.
But if there's one other man in the league who has a claim to being this season's best player, it's Zlatan's Napoli complement: Edinson Cavani. The 24-year-old Uruguayan has a league-leading 20 goals and, like his teammates, has only see his confidence grow as the season's progressed. While in personnel and tactics Napoli is pretty much the same team that lost to Milan earlier this year, in experience and belief, the Azzurri have progressed. A strong start that saw them and Lazio as surprise contenders has faded into the widely held suspicion that Napoli is in this race for good.
And while players like Cavani and Marek Hamsik possess the individual talents to reverse October's result, Napoli's most important players against Milan may be Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena. The wide players in Mazzarri's 3-4-2-1 will get a free run at Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini, possibly forcing Massimiliano Allergi's aging and slow three man midfield to play wider, more stretched-out, than they want.
If they can stress the van Bommels and Gattusos of Milan, Napoli has a chance to snap a Rossoneri unbeaten streak (in league) that extends back to late December. And should they do so, Napoli will set-up one of the best title races of recent memory, certainly the most entertaining in Europe's major leagues, this season.
The Actual Weekend Action
Sampdoria versus Inter Milan, Sunday, 2:45 p.m. ET - Inter 's dropped four points in 2011. Sampdoria's dropped four places in the standings, falling from the edge of Europe to the table's bottom half. With the two clubs Inter's chasing playing each other (for the last time this season), this is too much of an opportunity for the Nerazzurri to leave with less than three points.
Juventus versus Bologna, Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET - Juventus's two match winning streak went up in smoke last week at Lecce, with Gianluigi Buffon's early red dooming the Old Lady. As a result, Juve will be without their iconic goalkeeper, though it may not matter. Bologna's averaging just over a goal per match this year. If Juve's defending is anything close to what they showed two weeks ago against Inter, the Bianconeri will be fine.
Cagliari versus Lazio, Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET - Just as Inter may benefit from the top two facing off, so may Lazio. While they have faded some since their torrid start to the season, Lazio remain fourth, only two points behind the defending champions. The Eagles have won their last two meetings with Calgiari - a 2-1 home victory earlier this season, and a 2-0 win last season at the Sant'Elia - hinting Lazio may also be set to take advantage of a fortunate Monday outcome.
Roma versus Parma, Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET - Vincenzo Montella's coaching career got off to a rousing start mid-week, provided a 1-0 win at Bologna fits your definition of rousing. Given Roma's results over the preceding three matches? Giallorossi supporters will take it. Roma's back in sixth and hosting a Parma side that's 2-2-6 (that's a record, not a formation) since the calendar turned. Dire straits aren't always long.
Palermo versus Udinese, Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET - Udinese hasn't lost in league since visiting Lazio in mid-December, which may not be as impressive as the 296 minute scoreless streak they take to the Renzo Barbera. Until the last three matches, a thriving Udinese could still be scored upon. They'd given up 30 goals in 23 matches and were only able to keep one clean sheet in January. That Udinese team could have been exploited by the likes of Javier Pastore, Fabrizio Miccoli, and Josip Ilicic. Now, this zebrette may be able to hold Palermo to two, one, dare we dream zero goals?
Other matches: Catania vs. Genoa (Sunday, 6:30 a.m. ET), Bari vs. Fiorentina (Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET), Brescia vs. Lecce (Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET), Cesena vs. Chievo (Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET)
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