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It took over 70 minutes for things to finally get going in the Juventus - Cesena match, but once stuff started happening, it just didn't seem to stop. Alessandro Del Piero came on for Mirko Vucinic, only to be carried off eight minutes later, blood streaming from his face. Claudio Marchisio took advantage of the Seahorse guilt to score a great goal. And then, with eight minutes of normal time remaining, Francesco Antonioli was shown a straight red, forcing Guillermo Rodriguez to take over in goal. Arturo Vidal converted the resulting penalty, but Juventus were unable to score again, resulting in a 2-0 victory.
The Seahorses managed to hold Juventus to a 0-0 draw going into the break, primarily by packing ten men behind the ball and frustrating the home side into taking foolish shots. It was clear that relegation-dwelling Cesena wanted nothing more from this match then to grab a point, but it was also reasonable to expect they could actually contain the giants.
In response to Alessandro Matri's ineffectualness up front -- a few of his shots still haven't returned to earth -- Antonio Conte brought on Fabio Quagliarella in his place. Just minutes later, Mirko Vucinic made way for il capitano, completing Conte's shakeup -- or so he thought. Instead, Del Piero experienced a nasty clash with the boot of Marco Rossi, earning him the eternal hatred of the bianconeri faithful. Just eight minutes after coming on, Del Piero was carted off on a stretcher, blood staining the hands covering his face. Emanuele Giaccherini replaced him, and all Juve's subs were used.
Cesena, meanwhile, held off on the substitutes until after the deadlock was broken. Marchisio performed a beautiful turn in the area, shifting the ball to his left foot and firing it near post, scoring his sixth goal of the season. Shortly thereafter, Seahorse substitute Dominque Malonga also left with injury, replaced by Eder, while Daniele Arrigoni took that opportunity to make his last substitute at the same time, putting on Antonio Candreva in place of Raphael Martinho. Arrigoni would soon regret that decision.
Minutes later, Giaccherini received a pass from Stephan Lichtsteiner and, rushing toward goal, took a tumble over Antonioli, coming out to stop the shot. There was really nothing wrong with the play, but Daniele Doveri pointed to the spot anyway, issuing a straight red to Antonioli. With no substitutes left, Cesena had no choice but to move defender Guillermo Rodriguez into goal. Needless to say, he was unable to save the penalty shot from Arturo Vidal. Surprisingly, however, he was able to stop a shot from Quagliarella, and the match finished 2-0.
Wow, this is not a good day for Juventus. Not only are they failing to regularly trouble Francesco Antonioli in the Cesena goal, but they've now lost il capitano after less than ten minutes of play. Alessandro Del Piero suffered a nasty collision with the boot of Marco Rossi, landing facedown and requiring a stretcher to leave the pitch. Closeups on Del Piero revealed blood streaming through his fingers and staining his hands.
In response, Claudio Marchisio has finally put the ball in the back of the net, neatly turning round a Cesena defender and firing in by the near post. While that should help ease the Old Lady's pain, you can bet they'll still be braying for the head of Rossi, ideally served on a silver platter. It's not like Del Piero has had much playing time this season. To have him on for but eight minutes almost makes it worse.
Take a look at the Juventus lineup and the first thing you'll notice is that Andrea Pirlo has been left out, presumably due to injury. Although the master midfielder has played a pivotal role in taking the Old Lady top of the table this season, he looked out-of-sorts against Napoli midweek and likely has earned a rest.
As for Cesena, after their 2-0 victory over Genoa last week, all eyes are on Adrian Mutu. Well, they usually are anyway.
Juventus Starting XI: Gigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner,
Leonardo Bonucci, Paolo De Ceglie*,** Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini; Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, Michele Pazienza; Simone Pepe, Alessandro Matri, Mirko Vucinic
Cesena Starting XI: Francesco Antonioli; Yohan Benalouane, Steve Von Bergen, Guillermo Rodriguez, Maurizio Lauro; Abdelkader Ghezzal, Roberto Guana, Marco Parolo, Raphael Martinho; Erjon Bogdani, Adrian Mutu
Cesena Bench: Somewhere, someone knows who is on the Cesena bench. I'm assuming Daniele Arrigoni, at the very least. I, however, do not.
*late change according to Adam Digby, so blame him if it doesn't happen.
**oh just watch and figure it out yourselves.
This was the match that Napoli needed -- a match in which they were utterly dominant, a match upon which they could build both within Serie A and leading up to their final group game in the Champions League. A 4-2 victory over Lecce certainly won't dampen their spirits, with Edinson Cavani scoring two, and Ezequiel Lavezzi and Blerim Dzemaili both contributing. Sure, the visitors scored early in the second through Luis Murial, but every team has to have their Salvatore Aronica, and a last minute goal by Daniele Corvia certainly couldn't rescue a point for Lecce. On the whole, the partenopei should feel ecstatic about this result.
The home side claimed three goals at the San Paolo before the halftime whistle even blew. Lavezzi started things off with a beautiful little goal, dribbling right around two giallorossi shirts, nutmegging a third just for a bit of added flair, and aiming his shot just inside the near post. Massimiliano Benassi could do absolutely nothing to stop the ball from settling into the back of the net.
Cavani's goal was slightly less spectacular, although the pass from Goran Pandev was quite nice, slicing through the heart of the Lecce defense (I use the word defense loosely, mind). El Matador used Benassi's prone body to roll the ball up and into the net.
Having seen what passed for defense in the giallorossi side, Dzemaili thought he'd seize this opportunity to get his goal for the season. In the 42nd minute, the Swiss midfielder, lingering just outside the area, pounced on a poorly cleared ball and shot it through into goal. Napoli were up 3-0 at halftime, and Walter Mazzarri had no idea what to say in the dressing room, being so accustomed to giving the hairdryer treatment during every match.
That might explain why Lecce were able to score early in the second half -- Salvatore Aronica's mind was wandering off to his post-match meal, while Morgan De Sanctis hadn't yet woken up from his halftime nap. Luis Murial took advantage, easily running around Aronica and beating De Sanctis to pull a goal back for Lecce.
Yet Mazzarri seemed less than worried. In fact, he treated the next fifteen minutes like a chess match, and by the 67th minute,Mazzarri elected to turn the training ground exercise into a warm-up for Napoli's match against Villarreal midweek. Walter Gargano was in, Goran Pandev was out. Marek Hamsik came in, but not for either Cavani or Lavezzi -- it was no rest for the weary as the Slovak replaced Dzemaili, perfectly emulating the preferred front seven for Mazzarri's side.
And, in the 82nd minute, the partenopei showed just how lethal their Holy Trinity could be. Despite needing nothing else from the match, the trident combined in perfect synchronicity: Hamsik took the ball in the middle, passing it to Lavezzi racing down the left, who slid the ball across the face of goal to where Cavani was rushing forward to poke the ball in.
Alas, Lecce just couldn't leave it at that wonder goal, deciding to score once more when the home side had packed it in and were preparing to shed their kits. Daniele Corvia headed one past De Sanctis in the final move of the match, but it certainly wasn't enough: Lecce remain bottom of Serie A, while Napoli take temporary possession of fifth.
Udinese have clinched a massive three points away to Inter Milan in their race for a UEFA Champions League spot, but this match will be remembered for much more than a good Udinese performance and a mildly surprising result. After a fairly dull first half and a slow start to the second half, things truly got interesting when Mauricio Isla scored the eventual winner in the 73rd minute, but that would be nowhere near the last of the clear cut chances in an unbelievable 1-0 victory.
Isla's winner came on a spectacular counter-attack, which was the only way Udinese created their chances on the night. It started with a ball forward to Antonio Di Natale, who made a fantastic turn and pass to Antonio Floro Flores. Flores laid the ball off with a great pass to his right for Isla to run onto, and Isla quickly snapped a low shot into the back of the net at the far post.
The final five minutes plus stoppage time were among the wildest you'll ever see anywhere in the world. In the 85th minute, Javier Zanetti cleaned out Kwadwo Asamoah in the penalty area, forcing the referee to point to the spot and show Zanetti a straight red card. The Argentinian legend accepted his sending off with class, shaking the referee's hand before he walked off the pitch. It was only Zanetti's second career red card in an Inter shirt in Serie A.
At that point, the match seemed over. According to the match announcers, the fans at the San Siro began to exit the stadium when Zanetti was sent off. Stepping to the spot was Di Natale, arguably the most lethal finisher in the world. Inconceivably, he took a poor penalty that was easily saved by Julio Cesar, keeping the result in doubt for the Zebrette.
Just three minutes later, Damiano Ferronetti made a challenge in the opposite box on Diego Milito that looked eerily similar to Zanetti's The referee pointed to the spot, but only showed Ferronetti yellow as it was not clear denial of a goal scoring opportunity. Giampaolo Pazzini, a deadly finisher in his own right, stepped up to the spot. During his run-up, he slipped in a way that was reminiscent of John Terry's miss in the 2008 Champions League final and skiied his shot over the bar, keeping Udinese in the lead.
Even though Pazzini missed and Udinese were up a goal, Ferronetti couldn't stop himself from arguing with the referee about the call after the miss. The official didn't react well to whatever Ferronetti said and he was shown a second yellow card, taking Udinese down to ten men for the remainder of the match.
Inter had one more chance to win the match, as Dejan Stankovic was set up with a wide-open shot at the top of the penalty area, but he powered his shot over the bar. That would be the last real chance of the match, and Udinese walked away with a 1-0 win.
For the first fifteen minutes, it appeared as though Lecce might have come to Naples looking to take at least a point away from Napoli. The giallorossi managed to threaten Morgan De Sanctis's goal, even while keeping enough players back to frustrate the legendary Napoli counterattack. Such a system can rarely be sustained, however, and it all fell apart for Lecce after 26 minutes, when Ezequiel Lavezzi scored a wonderful goal to give the home side the lead. Both Edinson Cavani and -- get this -- Blerim Dzemaili also scored before the halftime whistle blew.
Lavezzi, tired of imprecise balls that he couldn't quite chase down, decided to create his own chance, taking on two defenders, dribbling through, even adding a nutmeg before sending his shot to the near post. Massimiliano Benassi could do nothing to stop it, and Napoli were off.
Cavani was up next, helped along by Goran Pandev, who seems to be making a case for more regular starts in the partenopei kit. Pandy's ball sliced through the Lecce defense, where Cavani seized it, and, using Benassi as kind of a ramp, slid the ball over the keeper and on into the net. 33 minutes in and a romp seemed to be on.
And, well, you know it's a romp when Dzemaili is scoring against your side. In 26 starts for Parma last season, the midfielder managed but one goal. But the Lecce defense couldn't manage to clear the ball after a long range shot, allowing it to fall at the foot of the Swiss, who sent the shot straight on into the back of the net.
3-0, and Lecce have 45 minutes to pull the same trick Milan played on them back in October.
Inter Milan and Udinese have not played a boring game so far at the San Siro, but the style of play certainly won't be for everyone. Both teams are passing well and have stayed tactically disciplined, while chances have been limited. Inter have had more of the ball and have created more shots, but no real chances, as the two teams head into the locker room tied 0-0.
Inter have looked a bit slow, both in their style of play and physically, when chasing after Udinese. The Zebrette have looked dangerous and fast on the counter attack, but haven't been able to create shooting opportunities. While Inter's midfielders have no answer for the athletic ability of Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, their defenders have shut down Antonio Di Natale.
Thiago Motta had the game's best chance in the 30th minute, a half-volley from the edge of the penalty area, but he hit his shot right into the stomach of Samir Handanovic. Inter is going to have to pick up the pace a bit and improve their finishing if they want a goal, while Udinese are likely content with the current result and will hope that Inter push bodies forward so they can get in behind on the counter.
Claudio Ranieri seems intent on convincing the world that Inter Milan are still in the race for the scudetto, despite sitting 15th, 13 points off league leaders and rivals AC Milan. Sure, the nerazzurri have one their last two Serie A matches, but let's not forget that one of those was at home to Cagliari, and the other required an 90h minute shot from Luc Castaignos to snatch all three points at Siena. In short, not much to back up Ranieri's assertion that Inter remain title favorites.
Udinese, meanwhile, remain third in the table, and could see themselves even on points with Milan should they take all three on Saturday. It could be a struggle for the zebrette, however: Francesco Guidolin has been playing a more second-string side in the Europa League, befitting to the size of his squad, but with the opportunity to move to the next round on the line, Udinese fielded a strong squad to earn a draw against Rennais midweek. Guidolin also has a bit of a defensive headache, with Maurizio Domizzi forced to leave the pitch after just 18 minutes last weekend, replaced by Damiano Ferronetti.
Of course, Ranieri is facing even greater selection problems, with Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan still injured, and Lucio and Maicon both hurt. Stopping Udinese? A greater problem last year -- but this year's side is much more likely to concentrate on the defense themselves, rather than putting forth a free-flowing attack. Udinese have conceded just six goals in Serie A this season, and with a serious striker shortage -- Inter is likely to field the inconsistent Giampiero Pazzini up front -- the question for this match won't be how many goals will be scored, but whether one will come at all.
Is this the end for Genoa coach Alberto Malesani? He was already walking on thin ice, proclaiming people were attempting to push him out, but a 2-0 home defeat to AC Milan could be what pushes him over the edge into unemployment. The rossoblu started off well enough, unable to convert their chances but managing to hold Milan to a 0-0 scoreline at halftime.
It all went to pieces shortly after play resumed, however. Kakha Kaladze clattered into Zlatan Ibrahimovic inside the area. With Kaladze already on a yellow, the German was sent off, and Ibra himself stepped up to take the penalty. After an agonizing wait, the air pierced with whistles from the Genoa fans, the Milan forward put his shot straight down the middle. It bounced off the bottom of the crossbar and into the back of the net.
Genoa were just starting to make it fun again, even attempting a backheeled shot that went just wide of goal, when the rossoneri struck their second goal. Kevin-Prince Boateng turned, and turned again, creating space on the left to slip the ball across the face of goal. Antonio Nocerino was there, meeting the volley with the toe of his right boot to earn his fifth Serie A goal of the season.
It may not have been pretty, and the visitors certainly didn't show complete and utter dominance over Genoa, but Milan reached their goal: Top of Serie A. For about 48 hours, anyway -- is anyone truly expecting Cesena to beat Juventus?
There may be no goals after 45 minutes of play, but the match between Genoa and AC Milan is not nearly as dire as may have been anticipated. Although it often seems as though the rossoblu have ten men behind the ball, at least the home side is getting forward, even if their finishing leaves something to be desired. A free kick by Miguel Veloso threatened to disturb the rossoneri peace, but Marco Amelia managed to tip it over the bar to preserve the clean sheet.
Milan, for their part, look simply sloppy. Antonio Nocerino and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have both stung the gloves of Sebastien Frey, but the visitors don't look like a team intent on leaving with all three points. Their passing has been, shall we say, negligent, with the best illustration provided by Thiago Silva: the Brazilian attempted a cross field pass that fell far short of his fellow defenders, allowing Giandomenico Mesto to pounce, but unfortunately for Genoa, his shot went just wide.
Provided there are no more smoke bomb/tear gas/noxious fumes eruptions, we should be in for a fun second half. Someone's gotta score, right?
It's not entirely sure what's happening at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, but it appears that some sort of smoke bomb has gone off, and is affecting both the crowd and some of the players. After just 16 minutes, the referee has stopped play between Genoa and Milan until things have calmed down.
At first glance, it simply looked as though someone in a section had, well, farted, as the crowd wafted hands across their faces and pulled scarves above their noses. But then the crowd started swarming, abandoning some sections, tears on cheeks. It appeared that the players were affected as well, particularly at the visiting end, where Marco Amelia was frantically rubbing his eyes.
It's being reported that police are inspecting the stadium, trying to determine exactly what happened and who the culprits might have been. Play will resume, however, in hopes that this was a simple one-off.
Alas, it appears that staying uninjured and scoring against Chievo Verona was simply too much for Alexandre Pato. He now misses the match against Genoa with flu, so Robinho will step into the Milan starting lineup in his place. Max Allegri continues to field his preferred 4-3-1-2 position, with Kevin-Prince Boateng playing just behind the strikers. Also of note: Allegri really seems to favor those with "A"s in their names. Sorry, Carlos Tevez, guess you just won't be welcomed at Milan.
Genoa are without top-scorer Rodrigo Palacio, and will set up in a 4-4-2 in an attempt to counter the forward threat from the visiting rossoneri.
Genoa Starting XI (4-4-2): Sébastien Frey; Andreas Granqvist, Dario Dainelli, Kahka Kaladze, Giandomenico Mesto; Miguel Veloso, Kevin Constant, Marco Rossi, Emiliano Moretti; Lucas Pratto, Boško Jankovic
AC Milan Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Marco Amelia; Ignazio Abate, Martin Yepes, Thiago Silva, Luca Antonini; Alberto Aquilani, Massimo Ambrosini, Antonio Nocerino; Kevin-Prince Boateng; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho
Week 13 in Serie A starts on Friday and continues all the way until Monday. Keep an eye on SB Nation Soccer for detailed match previews, lineups, and post-game analysis.
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