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After a miserable first half in Turin, in which the players looked more like participants in a mud wrestling match than a football game, Juventus and Udinese came to life after the restart. Claudio Marchisio kicked off the scoring with his first goal since the reverse fixture, when Juventus hammered Udinese 4-0 in September. Clearly Udinese have come a long way in the last few months, walking away from the Stadio Olimpico today with all three points after goals from Cristián Zapata and Alexis Sánchez.
The first half provided very little in the way of chances, with Juventus forcing the first save after 38 minutes of play. Fortunately for football fans, the second half provided many more sparks. Udinese took control of the match and dominated possession for the first fifteen minutes, which made it that much more surprising when the home side scored the first goal of the game. And what a goal! Marchisio's overhead kick left Samir Handanovič with nothing to do but watch as the ball sailed into the back of the net.
Udinese, red-hot, were not about to let a Juventus side widely described as "struggling" steal their thunder. Just seven minutes later, captain Antonio Di Natale sent in a stinging shot. Gianluigi Buffon managed the save, but the ball fell to the feet of Cristián Zapata in the center of the box, who merely had to poke the ball in the net to put Udinese level.
One point's never enough when a team senses three are possible, and Udinese could smell a win, or possibly it was simply the odor of the air of defeat that hung around the Juventus players. The last ten minutes were frantic, yet it seemed inevitable that the visitors would find the winner. And there it was, in the 85th, Alexis Sánchez combining with fellow Chilean Mauricio Isla to put the ball in the back of the net.
Shortly thereafter, a frustrated Juventus realized the only way to stop Sánchez (their mud trap ploy, a la Wolves in 1954 against Honvéd, worked for just 45 minutes) was to hack him down, and Leonardo Bonucci was handed a straight red for a late challenge. Sánchez himself was sent off in the 88th minute, picking up a second yellow after a poor challenge. But even with four minutes extra time, Juventus failed to create a chance, appearing resigned to their loss.
According to Opta, the 19 goals Juventus has conceded at home is the highest for any Serie A side. Now that Udinese have pushed the Old Lady down to seventh place, surely something has to give?
Alexis Sánchez has done it again for Udinese, this time as both the creator and the finisher of the visitors' second goal. Sánchez sent the ball over the head of a Juventus defender before grabbing possession again and sending it off to substitute Almen Abdi. Abdi sent it through to Mauricio Isla, who sent it back to Sánchez before the Juventus defense had even registered that Isla even had the ball. With all heads turned the other way, Sánchez sent it past Gianluigi Buffon and into the net.
Just two minutes later, desperate to stop Sánchez, Leonardo Bonucci committed a late challenge on the forward and was shown a straight red for his efforts. Yet Udinese could barely enjoy their advantage, with Sánchez seeing a second yellow and being sent to the bench barely two minutes after.
After taking the lead in the 60th minute, Juventus now seem resigned to the loss. Although the referee added four minutes of stoppage time, it appears they will barely know what to do with the extra minutes.
Although Juventus had a bit more confidence about the for the first five minutes after Claudio Marchisio scored the opener for the home side, it took just seven minutes for Udinese to send in the equalizer. Udinese sent in the corner for Juventus to head away, but the ball fell directly at the feet of Antonio Di Natale. The Old Lady breathed a sigh of relief as the stinging shot was saved by Gigi Buffon, but unfortunately for the home support, the keeper pushed the ball to the feet of Cristián Zapata. Zapata knocked the ball in from the center of the box, putting Udinese straight back in the match.
Just three minutes later, Di Natale was subbed off, replaced by Almen Abdi. Francesco Guidolin's 3-4-3 lasted about five minutes, with the coach reverting back to the 3-5-2, with Alexis Sánchez and Germán Denis up top. With ten minutes left, can Juventus regain the lead against the dangerous Udinese?
Even those who don't support Juventus must admit that the opening goal from Claudio Marchisio was a beautiful piece of work. Udinese had been dominating the match since the start of the second half, but Juventus capitalized on their first opportunity to string together a few passes. The ball ricocheted off the mass of tangerine shirts in front of the Udinese goal, and as it fell, so did Marchisio, executing a mouth-dropping overhead goal that left Samir Handanovič helpless as it dropped in the back corner of the net.
Eager to fight their way back into the match, Udinese have brought on Germán Denis for Gökhan Inler, shifting from a 3-5-2 into a 3-4-3 with the addition of the forward. Ever aware that a win over Juventus could take them over the Old Lady in the table, and into the European positions, Udinese are prepared to take almost any tack to get at least a point from this game.
Awful weather produces awful pitches which in turn produce awful football. Perhaps it's not always the case, but for the most part, the first half of Juventus vs. Udinese has been marked by spills and slips rather than thrills and chills. While both teams have managed to find a shot on target, the most interesting part of the game has been the fact that the players seem convinced that, because they are hindered by the muddy pitch, it is now permissible to use their hands. Within five minutes, both Alexis Sánchez and Jorge Martinez were handed yellows for handling the ball.
Speaking of Sánchez, Juventus have done well to keep him quiet. Udinese aren't showing the same spark that they have in the past few matches, possibly because many of their link up moves have broken down due to stumbles. On the other end of the field, Juventus have come agonizingly close, but Samir Handanovič has done well to get his hands (legally) on the ball. Enough pressure, however, and he's bound to slip. Now that Juventus are putting pressure on Udinese rather than sitting back and defending, the question becomes: will Udinese's defense give way after a multitude of shots, or will it be the visitors' fast counterattack that undoes Juventus?
Or neither. It could always end in a dull, dreary nil-nil, perfectly befitting of the weather.
Inter Milan manager Leonardo subbed on new signing Giampaolo Pazzini at halftime, and in just 30 minutes, the former Fiorentina and Sampdoria man turned the game on its head. Palermo went into the break with a 2-0 lead, but they came out of the match with nothing as Inter Milan earned a hard fought 3-2 victory.
Pazzini notched a brace and an assist, scoring one with his right foot from open play and one with his head from a set piece before capping off his performance by drawing a penalty. It wasn't quite the perfect hat trick, but it was a fantastic all-around performance where Pazzini showed off his entire skill set.
Sprinkled in for dramatic effect were a missed penalty and another shot off the woodwork for Javier Pastore in the second half, leaving Palermo wondering what may have been.
With their win, Inter Milan are at least temporarily back into UEFA Champions League qualifying positions, while Palermo's loss will make qualifying for Europe a tougher task than it was yesterday.
Thus far on Serie A Sunday, there may have been a few surprises, but in the end, the results were to be expected. Inter Milan came back to win against Palermo, Edinson Cavani scored a hat trick, and four players missed penalties in the five matches played.
Lecce, fighting to say above the danger zone, were held 1-1 by Cesena, although it looked like they would take all three in a relegation six pointer only to suffer an injury time equaliser. Lecce's goal came in the 11th minute, through Daniele Corvia. The Seahorses had an opportunity to equalize but Antonio Rosati saved Igor Budan's penalty, only for Erjon Bogdani to save Cesena with a last-minute header.
Over at Cagliari, both sides missed penalty opportunities. A brace by Alessandro Matri put the hosts ahead, Stefano Okaka pulled one back for Bari, and there the score stayed, 2-1, despite chances from the spot for both.
At Genoa, Rodrigo Palacio opened the scoring by actually converting a penalty. Hernan Crespo brought one back for Parma before at Gabriel Paletta own goal paved the way for a Kakha Kaladze winner. 3-1 at the half, 3-1 at the end, Genoa win.
Despite playing 120 minutes on Wednesday, Napoli refused to put the brakes on, running wild over Sampdoria. Edinson Cavani scored his third hat-trick of the season and Marek Hamsik added a fourth to give the partenopei a 4-0 win.
The true excitement came at the San Siro, however, with Inter Milan's newest signing, Giampaolo Pazzini, scoring a brace after coming on at the interval. Pazzini then drew a penalty, which Samuel Eto'o converted, giving Inter a come from behind 3-2 win. Perhaps if Javier Pastore hadn't missed his own penalty, Palermo could have walked away with at least a point, something it seemed they deserved after going up 2-0 before the half.
It's taken than 30 minutes, but Giampaolo Pazzini already has two goals and an assist in an Inter Milan shirt. Coming down from 2-0 down after the first half, Leonardo's purchase and halftime substitute has paid dividends as Inter now have a 3-2 lead over Palermo.
Inter's second goal came from a set piece, which was produced by an almost certain dive from Lucio. On the right side of the penalty area, between 20 and 25 yards from goal, Maicon curled the free kick into the box, and his delivery found the head of Pazzini, who made a great diagonal run. Pazzini didn't waste his chance and directed a powerful header into the back of the net.
Just two minutes later, Inter struck again. Ezequiel Muñoz hauled down Pazzini in the box, and Samuel Eto'o stepped up and buried the penalty to complete the comeback. It's been no more than Inter deserve, since they've been the better side throughout the match.
Like Inter Milan are playing a video game...it's a goal on his debut! And the fans love him already! Yes, Giampaolo Pazzini has scored on his debut for Inter against Palermo in his first appearance since his transfer from Sampdoria. Palermo still lead 2-1, but Inter Milan are still battering the Palermo goal and are very much back in the match with a chance to do more than just draw.
Pazzini was brought on as a substitute in the 45th minute and it took him just 11 minutes to score. In the 56th minute, he received a ball to his feet while playing with his back to goal in the box. He made a brilliant turn to his left and hit a low, right-footed shot past Julio Cesar, beating him at his far post.
Since the goal, Palermo have made a substitution, taking out their captain Fabrizio Miccoli a for budding star, 18 year old Macedonian Pajtim Kasami.
Palermo took the lead over Inter Milan after five minutes, it's snowing in Bologna, and Edinson Cavani has scored yet again. Just another normal Sunday in Serie A.
In the early match, Chiveo Verona broke the spirits of relegation battling Brescia, beating them 3-0 at their home ground. A brace for Sergio Pellissier sandwiched a goal by Davide Mandelli brought the Flying Donkeys into 10th in the table and caused more heartbreak for Brescia.
At least Brescia can take (very little) comfort in not being at the bottom of the table. That's where Bari dwell, with just 14 points. Currently the Galletti are down 2-1 to Cagliari, unable to handle Alessandro Matri, a brace from the forward coming within five minutes. Bari's goal was fortunate, coming from Stefano Okaka off a Michael Agazzi mistake. Agazzi atoned for his error by saving the Bari penalty kick that would've evened the score.
Lecce are trying their best to prove they're not Serie B bound, leading Cesena in this relegation six-pointer. Daniele Corvia takes credit for the goal and it's 1-0 Lecce.
In Genoa, Rodrigo Palacio put the home side ahead from the spot in the 16th minute, but Herman Crespo found an equalizer for Parma in the 32nd. After a Gabriel Paletta own goal, however, the visitors rather fell apart, and allowed Kakha Kaladze to stick one in as well, making it 3-1 Genoa.
On a soggy pitch in Naples, Edinson Cavani put Napoli ahead in the first fifteen minutes with an assist by Ezequiel Lavezzi. The home side continue to exert pressure on Sampdoria, but a 120 minute match midweek appears to have tired the partenopei. Fortunately for their hopes of the scudetto, Sampdoria defender Pietro Accardi brought Cavani down in the box. The Uruguayan scored from the spot and it's 2-0 Napoli at the break.
But the big story is occurring at the San Siro, where Palermo lead Inter Milan 2-0. Fabrizio Miccoli put the visitors ahead in the fourth minute, with Antonio Nocerino getting the better of Maicon and doubling Palermo's lead in the 36th. The 2-0 scoreline stands at the break.
Oh, and they tried to play in Bologna, but called the game after just a few minutes, realizing that no one could see Roma's white kits in the snow.
Palermo have only hit the target with two of their shots this afternoon at the San Siro, and those two shots have been all they have needed to drop two goals on Inter Milan. The first came from Fabrizio Miccoli in the 5th minute, and Antonio Nocerino doubled the lead on 36 minutes.
Despite Palermo's two goal lead, Inter Milan have literally been all over them, battering the goal with shot after shot. The Palermo midfield are being outplayed, but goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and the Palermo defense are having a great game thus far.
The pace of the game has been great, with both teams looking to break out quickly on the counter when they dispossess the other. Inter Milan have been the better side in just about every department...but finishing. Arguably, that's what matters most.
Going down to 10 men might have been what A.C. MIlan needed to wake up and finally get past Catania. After a dreadful first half by both clubs that saw neither able to create anything in the final third and threaten the goal aside from wayward shots from 25 yards, Milan was forced to play down a man just 10 minutes into the second half. From there on, MIlan dominated the home side to pick up a 2-0 victory that could have been even bigger, but will do just fine to put them seven points atop the league.
Mark van Bommel made his Milan debut by picking up a yellow card in the first half and then another in the second half to cut his club debut short. While his reputation as a rough tackler will hardly earn him any sympathy, even the most ardent of Catania fans would argue that the Dutchman deserved to be sent off. With Catania pushing forward early in the second half, van Bommel came across Ciro Capuano and Capuano hit the turf in a heap. The referee came over, showed van Bommel a yellow card, his second of the match, and then the red card to end van Bommel's day. However, replays showed that there was minimal contact between van Bommel and Capuano, if any at all and that even a foul would have been harsh, let alone a sending off.
Down to 10 men, Milan pushed forward and were rewarded with 30 minutes remaining in the match. After being fouled 25 yards from goal, Zlatan Ibrahimovic took the free kick and drove it hard and low, where Mariano Andujar was able to get to it and parry it away. Unfortunately for Catania, Andujar wasn't able to parry it far and Robinho was quickest to the ball to smash home the go-ahead goal.
The final 30 minutes were all Milan, but it wasn't until late that they got their second goal. Ibrahimovic was at the center of most of Milan's forays towards goal, forcing Andujar into a fine save once and playing Urby Emanuelson through in on goal another time, but the Dutchman hit it right at the keeper.
Finally, Ibrahimovic got what he deserved when he tallied in the 85th minute. Where Ibrahimovic did the work on the free kick to get Robinho his goal earlier, Robinho did the work to get Ibrahimovic his goal. The Brazilian sped through and played a low cross that found a sliding Ibrahimovic for a 2-0 Milan lead, a scoreline that would stand up.
While Milan is sitting pretty atop Serie A, Catania is in a bit of a struggle. Just three points above the drop zone and having played one more match than those chasing them, Catania will have to figure out a way to manage some points in home matches going forward, especially when they play nearly an entire half up a man.
The most interesting part of the first half between A.C. Milan and Catania were the cards accumulated, most notably the yellow cards handed out to Alexander Merkel and Mark van Bommel. Merkel had been going in tough on tackles, making him a candidate to pick up a second yellow, while van Bommel has never been shy about going in on tackles. Toss in Catania's willingness to embellish any possible contact to draw those second yellows and it seemed like Milan was bound to go down to 10 men.
It took all of nine minutes of second half play before Milan was forced to play a man down and appropriately, it went to van Bommel in his Milan debut on minimal contact embellished by Catania. The Dutchman came across Ciro Capuano and Capuano hit the turf, drawing van Bommel's second yellow. As van Bommel marched off the pitch, replays showed that van Bommel may not have even contacted Capuano and if he did it was minimal at best. It was not a foul, let alone a second caution.
Despite going down a man, Milan pushed forward and finally broke the deadlock. Pablo Ledesma took down Zlatan Ibrahimovic 25 yards from goal, drawing the free kick. Ibrahimovic took the free kick and blistered it low on frame, which Mariano Andujar parried away, but Robinho was quickest to the ball and smashed it into the net to give Milan a 1-0 edge with 30 minutes to play.
Down to 10 men, Milan will have a battle to hold onto the lead, even if they have been the more dangerous of the two clubs since the break. The biggest test will be whether they are fit enough in the waning minutes to hold Catania off when their legs are weary after nearly an entire half of playing down a man. If they can, they'll move seven points clear of Napoli atop Serie A, while Catania will remain just three points clear of the drop zone.
In a rather uneventful first half, neither A.C. Milan nor Catania were able to find the net as the bulk of the action took place in the middle of the field without any spark from either side in the final third. As a result, the two clubs go into halftime in the same place they found themselves 45 minutes earlier, scoreless.
The first half was so lacking action that the most interesting aspect of the half was the accumulation of yellow cards. Nicolas Spolli was the only Catania player to pick up a caution, but Alexander Merkel, Mark van Bommel and Mario Yepes all picked up cautions for Milan. Of the trio, Markel found himself in the most danger of getting sent off, going in on multiple tough challenges and Catania showed no hesitancy in going to the turf in hopes of the referee showing Merkel his second yellow card for a relatively minor offense. With Merkel's aggressiveness and van Bommel's reputation as a tough tackler, there has to be some concern by the Milanese that they will have to finish the match down a man.
Milan are hoping to go seven points up on Napoli with three points against Cantania, a very different spot that their opponents are in. Catania are just three points clear of the drop zone and need to manage at least a point at home.
It wasn't the greatest game in the world at the Olimpico, but Lazio have strengthened their hold on a UEFA Champions League qualification place with a 2-0 win over Fiorentina this afternoon. Lazio didn't create any serious goal scoring opportunities until very late in the match, but Fiorentina failed to create any at all in a very poor performance.
No one for Fiorentina had a good game, so it's impossible to pick out anyone to place blame on, but talented youngster Adem Ljajic's performance stuck out a bit as particularly poor. He normally does a lot of creating for the Viola, and failed to do anything of the sort today.
To be fair, Lazio didn't look particularly creative themselves, but one player willed them to victory tonight.
Libor Kozak has had some trouble establishing himself as a regular at Lazio since joining the team as an 18 year old, but the now 21 year old Czech Republic native is starting to become a bit of a cult hero at Lazio. He has a total of four goals this season, with three of those goals being game winners.Two of those four came tonight, and thanks to Tommaso Rocchi's injury, Kozak is going to have plenty of opportunities to bang in a few more goals.
Lazio now sit on in third place in Serie A on 40 points, four points behind leaders A.C. Milan.
It seemed likely that after Libor Kozak converted from the spot to put Lazio ahead, Fiorentina would have to push forward, causing the game to open up. That is exactly what has happened, and the Viola have been hit on the counter. Once again, Kozak is the one who hit the back of the net.
Following a giveaway by Fiorentina, Lazio broke out on the counter attack. Their move culminated in a cross from the left side of the pitch, with Giuseppe Sculli sending a ball to the far post. Kozak was there to meet it, and he nodded the ball into the back of the net to secure his brace and a 2-0 lead or Lazio.
If this lead holds - and it should - Lazio will move up one spot in the table to third place, behind A.C. Milan by four points and behind Napoli on goal differential alone.
Lazio vs. Fiorentina hasn't been a very good match. The first half was universally declared to be exceptionally poor, and if you don't believe me, have a look at twitter. Thankfully, a silly mistake by the Viola has given some life to the match, as Lazio are now ahead and the match will almost be forced to open up.
In the 67th minute, Per Koldrup committed a silly foul on Libor Kozak in the box, resulting in the referee showing Koldrup a yellow card and granting a penalty to Lazio. It was a stone cold booking and penalty, and Fiorentina would have no complaints. The man who was fouled was the man who stepped up, and Kozak took well from the spot, putting his team up 1-0 after 68 minutes.
It looked like both teams were rather content with a draw before the goal...or at least unable to really chase a win. It's been a pretty sloppy match. Now, we're likely to see Fiorentina get a little more ambitious, which could open up some opportunities for Lazio.
Week 22 in Serie A brings very few must-watch matches, but Italy always has the potential to surprise. AC Milan could actually look their top-of-table selves against Catania. Bologna could pull off a surprise win against Roma. Inter Milan could continue their "revitalized" slide by falling to Palermo. But whatever you do, don't miss the final game of the weekend, in which Juventus host Udinese. Regrets? You'll likely have a few.
To Kick Us Off
Lazio v Fiorentina
Serie A Saturday starts off with Lazio, so recently at the top of the table, hosting Fiorentina, who have now slipped to 11th. While Lazio started off brightly enough last week, with Sergio Floccari scoring in the fifth minute, Bologna came from behind to win 3-1 off a brace by Marco Di Vaio. The Viola, meanwhile, had to battle hard for a point against lowly Lecce, with Alberto Gilardino's header securing the draw. Playing away from home against a better side, expect Fiorentina to sit back and defend rather than attempt to capitalize on Lazio's recent defensive lapses. Actually, if you want to wait until the late Saturday kickoff to start your Italy day, no one would blame you.
Catania v Milan
You'd like to think that a Saturday match between a relegation battler and the team at the top of the league would be worth watching, if only for the amount of goals that AC Milan will put in against Catania. Don't get your hopes up, however, because at this point, unless Zlatan Ibrahimović has the ball, Milan are more likely to make observers collapse in a fit of giggles than watch in awe. After draws with Udinese and Lecce, Milan needed an own goal from Cesena to take the lead last weekend. Catania have picked up just one point in their last five matches, but with former Inter man Diego Simeone now at the helm, the tides just might be turning for the Elephants. That is, if they can conjure up the courage to get through a midfield that now contains Mark van Bommel.
To Keep Us Going--On To Sunday
Brescia v Chievo Verona
No. Just wait until the later kickoff.
Genoa v Parma
Genoa can't shoot, and when they do shoot, they rarely find the target. Parma perfectly encapsulate a midtable team, winning 4-1 away at Juventus before losing to Cagliari and Brescia. Last week's 2-0 win against Catania at least shows they can find the net, but still, there are better matches to watch.
Lecce v Cesena
Watch this one just to see if the Seahorses continue to experience the worst luck in the league (or perhaps they're simply bad, if you want to be mean about relegation teams). Cesena have scored two own-goals in their last three league matches, with a near-draw against Inter Milan sandwiched in between. Lecce are fresh from draws against Fiorentina and Milan and a win over Lazio. They might escape relegation after all.
Cagliari v Bari
Cagliari are worth watching for the play of Andrea Cossu and Alessandro Matri, with the latter's presence being sorely missed in the 3-0 defeat at Roma last weekend. But with Bari more or less hopeless, four points below even Brescia, there's little hope of thrills in this match.
Napoli v Sampdoria
Ezequiel Lavezzi has the flu. Anytime Napoli are missing one of their fluid front three of Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik, the partenopei struggle to score and look like pale imitations of their second-place selves. Sampdoria have lost both Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in the January window, but with Federico Macheda now settling in well at his new club, Samp could chip away at the hopes of Napoli's scudetto dreams.
Inter v Palermo
Here's a fun fact for you: it's likely that Inter will need to win 16 of their remaining 18 matches in order to beat out rivals Milan for the title. A week ago that lofty dream seemed plausible, almost probable. But after watching the Nerazzurri fall apart, utterly helpless at the feet of Udinese, that likelihood has diminished rapidly. And with Inter's questionable decision to purchase Giampaolo Pazzini and add to their strikeforce, rather than shore up a defense that relies on Lucio's use of his hands to stop goals, it's looking as though a European place will be sufficient for last year's champions. Meanwhile, Palermo have just one striker on their side, Fabrizio Miccoli, but haven't lost since December 6. Yet with both teams enduring midweek 120 minute Coppa Italia matches, this game could be played in slow motion.
Bologna v Roma
Bologna are in 13th, Roma in 3rd. Roma have just one defeat in their last seven league matches. Bologna have eight points from six. Yet if ever the numbers don't tell the full story, this might be the time. Both sides have been in fine form, with Bologna coming from behind to beat Lazio last weekend, and Roma stomping all over Cagliari before beating Juventus 2-0 in the Coppa Italia. Marco Borriello played just half the Coppa match on Thursday, so he should be keen to find the net, whereas the Roma defense will likely have a tough time with the free-scoring Marco Di Vaio.
To Finish The Week
Juventus v Udinese
Ah, the big one. Juventus are clinging, just barely, to sixth place right now, with no real signs of life flickering behind the Old Lady's eyes. Now they're stuck hosting Udinese, who are undoubtedly the hottest team in Italy right now. The eighth-place Bianconeri have scored 13 league goals in 2011, most of those coming from the work of Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sánchez. With Juventus refusing to budge from their 4-4-2 ways, the Udinese free-flowing attack will likely swarm all over the hosts. And should Juventus decide that cutting down the visiting players is the best way of coping, they'll likely find their plan backfiring: two of Udinese's goals against Inter came from set pieces, with a free kick from Maurizio Domizzi also tipped over the bar. This match is undoubtedly the must-watch of the Week 22.
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