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Juventus fall 3-0 to Napoli at the San Paolo, their second straight defeat leaving them tied with Palermo for the fifth spot in Serie A. Napoli, meanwhile, have shaken off their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Inter Milan, storming back into second position on the back of an Edinson Cavani hat-trick. The Uruguayan was able to leave the pitch before the 90th minute, having sewn up the match by the 53rd--a nice change from "Napoli time", with the club leaning on injury time to secure wins in both Europa and League matches.
Although Napoli allowed Juventus to play in their half in the last thirty minutes, the home side refused to stop attacking, still sending forth their fluid front line of Cavani, Marek Hamšík and Ezequiel Lavezzi, all of whom the visitors seemed powerless to contain. In the absence of striker Fabio Quagliarella, and on the back of two utterly dismal performances, Juventus will likely have a tough time staying in the race for the scudetto.
Edinson Cavani scores a third with his head, putting Napoli up 3-0 at the San Paolo and making it absolutely impossible to see the field, as the Napoli supporters express their glee through a plethora of flares. The trio of Napoli attackers combined to absolute perfection to create the goal: Ezequiel Lavezzi sent a perfect reverse pass to Marek Hamšík, who then sent a cheeky chipped ball from the right side of the Juventus goal over to Cavani, who dove forward, evading the Juventus defense to send the ball into the back of the net. That's Cavani's 13 Serie A goal of the season, and Napoli are likely not missing Fabio Quagliarella one bit at this moment.
Juventus, on the other hand, are definitely missing their star striker, ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Although Luca Toni hasn't been bad for The Old Lady this match, he hasn't made a Quagi-like impact, either.
Just eight minutes after scoring his first goal of the match, Edinson Cavani has bagged a brace for the home side, with yet another header. Andrea Dossena, making up for his earlier errors down the left wing, sent in a beautiful cross for Cavani, with the Uruguayan easily climbing over his defender to head the ball into the net. How many more does Cavani have in him?
Napoli certainly aren't through yet, continuing to press forward toward the Juventus goal. But after falling 4-1 to Parma last week, The Old Lady are desperate to find a win and climb back up out of fifth place. The visitors are taking their share of the chances, but for the most part Morgan De Sanctis and his three defenders are up to the challenge.
Still, after AC Milan came back twice earlier today, finally finishing 4-4 against Udinese, Napoli should take care to make sure they aren't making the same mistakes. The partenopei don't tend to stop their attack for anything, but they're also not used to being ahead before the 30th minute.
Edinson Cavani apparently failed to note the time on the clock when opening the scoring against Juventus at the San Paolo. Cavani made "Napoli time" famous by scoring winners in injury time, but today he chose the 19th minute to give Napoli the lead. Christian Maggio, who'd been absolutely battered by the Juve players in the first fifteen minutes, sent the cross through to Cavani, who timed his run perfectly into the Juventus defense. While the visitors made a desperate attempt to clear the header off the line, they got not even a touch on the ball.
After the goal, a flurry of attacking followed, with Cavani's forward partners Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi desperate to get their balls in the net as well. Instead it was Juventus who put the ball in, off a corner, but the referee judged Luca Toni to have fouled Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis in the process, and diasllowed the goal.
Although the final scoreline in Udinese's visit to AC Milan suggest equality, it was the visitors who were clearly the better side for much of the match. Udinese opened the scoring in the 35th minute with a goal by Antonio Di Natale, who, left unguarded in front of the goal, capitalized when Gökhan Inler's shot hit the post. It wouldn't be the last time AC Milan's defense would fail.
Milan must have felt confident going into the break, however, with Alexandre Pato's equalizer making things all even at the half. His tap-dancing celebration with Robinho certainly lightened the mood at the San Siro.
Yet during the half-time cappuccino, Massimiliano Allegri forgot to remind his team that defense is a crucial element of the game of football, with both Daniele Bonera and Luca Antonini having a tough time remembering what it is, exactly, they were meant to be doing. Alexis Sánchez and Mauricio Isla made a cool Chilean combination, with Isla's cross allowing Sánchez to easily beat Bonera and put Udinese ahead.
Not even fifteen minutes later, Bonera was beaten yet again, this time with Di Natale's second of the match. An error from Clarence Seedorf gifted Di Natale with the ball in midfield, and the striker was able to simply go around Bonera to put the ball into the net for Udinese's third. By this point, Bonera was probably dreaming of warm milk and a blanket, a place far, far away from accusatory eyes.
Then came the Milan pressure. Again and again the home side packed the Udinese box, and just when it seemed nothing would come of it, a ball broke through, sailing past keeper Samir Handanovič and into the net. Unfortunately for Udinese defender Mehdi Benatia, the beautiful shot had come off his foot.
Udinese, shaken and exhausted from the rigors of defending, barely had time to catch their breath and regroup before Pato bagged his second, with the visitors failing to learn from their earlier mistakes and leaving him unmarked in the box. Milan had found their equalizer, but weren't content with just the point--they were convinced they deserved all three.
Instead it was Udinese who found the fourth goal, once again dismantling Daniele Bonera in the process. Sánchez's cross found Germán Denis, who had no trouble beating Bonera to give Udinese the lead--albeit briefly. The visitors were too complacent after regaining the lead, and made the foolish mistake of allowing Zlatan Ibrahimović to drift too close to the goal. A pretty back and forth between Ibrahimović and Antonio Cassano ended with the Swede nodding the ball into the net.
So Milan scraped a 4-4 draw with a last minute equalizer, but they certainly did not show that they are a team that will go unchallenged at the top of the table. Goals were only found after packing the field with Pato, Ibrahimović and Cassano, a strategy that won't work for all matches. While games stuffed with goals may be more fun to watch, Milan will need to re-evaluate their defense should they expect to be free and clear for the scudetto. Leaving Daniele Bonera back there by himself does not make a championship team.
For any neutral observers, this match was a cracker. For fans of AC Milan or Udinese, or even for those who simply wanted to see the Serie A leaders upset, this was a heart-stopper. Udinese must have been convinced that they'd rescued their win with the 89th minute goal by Germán Denis, but the home side had one more trick up its sleeve. That trick came in the form of the one-two magic of Antonio Cassano and Zlatan Ibrahimović. Ibrahimović headed the ball down to Cassano's feet, with Cassano quickly moving the ball back to the Swede, who nodded it past Udinese keeper Samir Handanovič and into the net.
With just the few minutes of injury time left, will Udinese be able to hang on? Or will Milan be determined to find the winner? Even if Milan find a miracle, the play of Udinese will certainly have observers asking questions of the league leaders, particularly with regards to the weakness of their defense.
Just when AC Milan must have convinced themselves that they had, at the least, a point, Udinese turned the match on its head. Milan had come back from a 3-1 deficit, with the help of an own goal by Udinese player Mehdi Benatia and a second from Alexandre Pato, but suddenly a goal by substitute Germán Denis gave the visitors hope that they might take all three points home.
Once again, it was the error of Milan defender Daniele Bonera that lead to Udinese's fourth goal. Alexis Sánchez sent in a beautiful cross from the right side of the field, where Denis was waiting. The forward was easily able to beat Bonera and slice the ball into the net. That's three goals partially due to the errors of Bonera--surely Massimiliano Allegri will have to think long and hard about using him next week against Lecce, who, incidentally, managed to beat second-place Lazio today.
Just when you thought that nothing could upset the strong Udinese defense, Medhi Benatia manages to send in a shot that Samir Handanovič just can't get a hand on. Unfortunately for Udinese, Benatia plays in black and white stripes. Handanovič, who had had such a spectacular game, was absolutely furious with his defender, for good reason. Suddenly Udinese look exhausted by the effort of keeping AC Milan out of their net.
And yes, it's an AC Milan equalizer, through the shot of Alexandre Pato once again. Apparently Udinese do not learn from their own mistakes, and leave Pato open in the area. Pato easily shakes off the last-minute attempt to dispossess him of the ball and neatly sticks the ball in the net. Now it's all Milan as the home side press on, not content with the draw, ready to find the winner at the last minute. Udinese deserve more, but at this moment will likely be content with the point.
Attacking midfielders, who needs them? When Esteban Cambiasso can score a brace for your team, you might as well play four defensive midfielders in every game. This one, like the last one, was not a garbage tap-in or a long range effort, but a true forward's goal.
Maicon was the man who got the assist, whipping in a cross from his right back position. Cambiasso, along with others, was lurking in the box and he ended up being marked poorly. Who can blame Catania, really? I'd be much more concerned with Diego Milito, Samuel Eto'o, and Goran Pandev as well. Cambiasso rose to meet Maicon's cross and headed the ball into the back of the net, a great finish.
It's been a crazy sequence, with Catania taking the lead in the 70th minute, Inter equalizing in the 74th, and then taking the lead in the 78th. Since the goal, Leonardo has made a substitution, bringing on McDonald Mariga for Thiago Motta.
Another mistake for AC Milan, another goal for Udinese. Antonio Di Natale dispossessed Clarence Seedorf near the halfway line, took the ball up the field, where only Daniele Bonera was waiting in front of keeper Marco Amelia. Bonera had a chance to be a hero after his error led to Alexis Sánchez's goal just minutes before, but Di Natale easily shook off the defender, stepping to the right and firing past Amelia.
Antonio Cassano took the field for Seedorf just seconds after the goal, with Seedorf clearly upset with himself over his uncharacteristic error. Unfortunately for Milan, however, the errors just keep adding up. Udinese are continuously making the Rossoneri look the fool. Although Milan are now packing the Udinese box, the home side just can't get a shot in the net, with goals going wide or simply weakly rolling to the keeper. Milan are just unable to unlock the Udinese defense.
It took just five minutes for Inter Milan to find their equalizer on the road against Catania, and there were plenty of shouts for offside when the goal was scored. Upon replay, the goal was fair, and Esteban Cambiasso has brought his team right back into the game.
Dejan Stankovic was the man who provided the assist, hitting a great through ball from just outside the penalty area to right around the penalty spot. It was a very intelligent run from Cambiasso, and not as odd as it might seem. Inter Milan are playing with four different players that they have played as defensive or holding midfielders at some point over the last couple of years, with Cambiasso, Stankovic, Javier Zanetti, and Thiago Motta all gracing the lineup this afternoon.
Inter started the game in a 4-4-2 setup with Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito up top, but they have since brought on Goran Pandev for Christian Chivu, moving Javier Zanetti to left back.
Catania have been knocking on the door for large portions of their game against Inter Milan, but they've finally broken it down and scored after 70 minutes, going 1-0 up on the defending champions. Still, Inter have been the better side for a lot of the game and will feel aggrieved if they end up dropping all three points on the road today.
The goal was a true poacher's effort and came as a result of a lot of hard work from the hosts. The real danger of the move was started by a shot by Maxi Lopez that was brilliantly saved by Luca Castellazzi. The rebound fell to Maxi and he struck again, this time beating Castelazzi. However, this one wouldn't go into the back of the net either, as Dejan Stankovic did well to clear the ball off the line. His clearance fell right to Alejandro Gomez, though, and he hit a powerful strike into the back of the net.
Just as I was idly wondering if I could pay Alexis Sánchez to come run circles around inanimate objects in my living room, much in the same manner as he is running through the AC Milan midfield, the Chilean goes and scores for Udinese, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead. The striker shook off Daniele Bonera to get behind the Milan defense, just in time to receive a perfect pass from his Chilean compatriot, Mauricio Isla. Cue the (deserved) wild celebrations from Udinese.
Milan have done very little in this game to convince observers that they have a lock on the scudetto. Their defense has been easily dismantled by both Sánchez and Antonio di Natale, with Bonera and Luca Antonini looking like the weakest links. Is this really a team that should be sitting top of the Serie A table? Udinese are set to convince us otherwise, determined to expose every one of the weaknesses of the Rossoneri.
The San Siro came alive again just before halftime after being treated to the sight of Alexandre Pato and Robinho doing a tap-dancing jig on the sidelines. The cause for celebration? Pato knocking in a pass from Zlatan Ibrahimović to find Milan's equalizer against Udinese. The shot by the Brazilian was nothing terribly special, but the conditions of the pitch at the San Siro meant that neither the Udinese defender nor keeper Samir Handanovic could dig themselves out of the trenches to clear the ball.
In fact, Ibrahimović himself had been thwarted just minutes before, trapping the ball on his chest and then slipping before he was able to put the shot away. Should Udinese want to re-claim the lead, they'll do well to remember that allowing Milan into such dangerous positions could mean that they won't have enough reaction time to bring themselves out of the mire. But if the Bianconeri refuse to let themselves be rattled by Pato's goal, their constant attack should mean they'll find another before the final whistle blows.
The constant attack of visiting Udinese pays off, with Antonio Di Natale's 12th goal of the season upsetting Serie A leaders AC Milan. Udinese have had the lion's share of the chances in the first half, but have been lacking a man to finish those chances. The Bianconeri found that man in Di Natale. Gökhan Inler sent a shot straight off the Milan goalpost. Di Natale gave every appearance of being offside, but was kept on by Milan defender Luca Antonini, much to his chagrin at this moment. The ball bounced off the post and into the path of the Udinese striker, who wasted no time in getting it into the back of the net.
The visitors will feel that the lead is deserved, after seeing wave after wave of pressure come to nothing. Just minutes before, Cristián Zapata rose up to head the ball into the Milan net, but managed to knock it just wide of the post. AC Milan, for their part, had managed only weak attempts on goal, but had been pinned back by the strength of the Udinese defense.
These days, it's a rarity in Serie A to have all teams play on Sunday, but with all twenty clubs in action on Thursday, we've had to wait until the end of the weekend for our Italy fix.
Roma, flying high on the back of three consecutive wins, including a comeback 4-2 victory over Catania midweek, kick us off with a visit to Sampdoria. The home side are slipping down the table, with their latest loss a 3-0 fall to Palermo. The Blucerchiati haven't scored a goal in over a month, and are hoping to shake off the shadow of the Antonio Cassano debacle with a win over the Romans. But how many are willing to place bets on Samp putting the brakes on Marco Borriello? They'll also need to contain Mirko Vucinic, who is likely to start after his substitute appearance midweek netted him a brace. The money's on Roma to take a win and second in the table.
Next comes the flood of eight matches. Lazio should have no trouble regaining the second spot (should Roma take it) in their home match against relegation-battling Lecce, but most neutrals will be fixed on the two Milan sides. It's AC Milan that's at the San Siro this week, hosting Udinese, who are rising rapidly up the table after a disastrous start to the season. Alexis Sanchez es en fuego and Antonio Di Natale is dangerous, but will that be sufficient to unseat the team leading the scudetto race? Milan have looked rather bleak in their last outings, needing a last-minute goal from substitute Rodney Strasser to find the win over Cagliari.
But if Milan are unwilling to play the role of deserving title winners, their rivals Inter Milan look ready to step into the breach. After spending the first half of the season looking like ghosts of their treble-winning selves under Rafael Benitez, the Nerazzurri appeared to be a changed team under Leonardo, running wild in their 3-1 defeat over Napoli on Thursday. Inter now travel to Catania, who may look unthreatening in 13th place, but have only one loss at home this season. Against Roma, the Elephants showed they're able to do more than just sit back and defend, but Inter's revitalized back line put up a nearly flawless game midweek. With the return of Samuel Eto'o from suspension, Sunday's result will likely continue to set tongues wagging about Inter's scudetto chances.
The day in Serie A wraps up with Napoli hosting Juventus, two teams that slipped midweek in their race up the table. The Old Lady had a disastrous time of it against Parma, losing Fabio Quagliarella to injury early in the match and finishing with a 4-1 loss. Quagliarella is out for the season, meaning Napoli won't have to face their former striker, although they may need to deal with his replacement, veteran Luca Toni, brought in just hours after the injury. Juventus are also without Felipe Melo, with the midfielder banned for three games after kicking Parma defender Massimo Paci in the face. While goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's return was meant to be postponed until Juventus's Coppa Italia game, he may be called into action early, with Marco Storari having picked up a minor injury. As for Napoli, they simply need to come out of the fog that settles over the team for every big match. The partenopei have a rightful claim to second place, but they just don't seem to understand that their play this year has been based on skill, not just luck. But if they can't find a win against Juventus tomorrow, expect the team to slide away from all scudetto talk.
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