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Walter Mazzarri's Napoli laboured to a 2-1 home win over Cagliari to cement their position in the top three of the Serie A and show that their ambitions for the Scudetto are far from over. A scoreless first half in which Napoli dominated but had no clear cut chances quickly made way to a back and forth second, with Edinson Cavani dispatching an early penalty only to see that goal cancelled out almost instantly by Robert Acquafresca. Captain Paulo Cannavaro was hugely to blame for the equaliser, losing the on-loan striker as he attempted to make a clearing header and leaving Acquafresca one on one with Morgan de Sanctis for the easy finish.
However, El Matador wasn't finished, dispatching a beautifully flighted Marek Hamsik pass up and over a stranded Michael Agazzi for the winner. Substitute Guiseppe Mascara had a chance to wrap up the points almost immediately after coming on, but his header came back off Agazzi's right post and rebounded to safety, leaving Napoli to weather some worrisome Cagliari pressure to end the game. But weather it they did, and the Partenopei have now taken full advantage of AC Milan's slip against Palermo on Saturday to close the gap between themselves and the leaders to just three points.
Although it might not have been the most impressive performance of the season for Napoli, who clearly missed Christian Maggio's industry down the right flank, the match will come as a huge relief for Edinson Cavani, who managed to snap his six-game scoreless streak with two very well-taken goals, taking his tally to 22 in the league. The Uruguayan striker remains second in the Serie A scoring charts to Udinese's Antonio di Natale.
Well, that didn't take long. Just four minutes after Robert Acquafresca scored the equalizer for Cagliari, Napoli are back in the lead after a 61 minute goal by Edinson Cavani. And what a pretty little goal it was. Marek Hamsik chipped the ball over two Cagliari defenders. Michael Agazzi charged out from between the sticks in an attempt to save, but Cavani knew exactly where the keeper was, and, taking his cue from Hamsik, chipped the ball over Agazzi's head.
The goal makes 22 on the season for the Uruguayan striker, but it's clear he's itching for even more, possibly trying to catch Antonio Di Natale, who has 24 for Udinese. However, he'll have to take his service now from Ezequiel Lavezzi and Giuseppe Mascara, who came on to replace Hamsik, off with cramp. With his first touch of the game, Mascara hit the post with a header from Andrea Dossena's cross.
The San Paolo had been a fortress since November 21, the last time the opposition had scored against Napoli at home. But with the partenopei playing without Hugo Campagnaro, it seemed inevitable that today would be the day for the record to end. Sure enough, Cagliari have scored in Naples, although surprisingly it was due to an error by captain Paolo Cannavaro. The normally flawless defender allowed Robert Acquafresca to get past, leaving him staring at the ball as the header sailed on by. Acquafresca rescued his own ball and then nutmegged goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis to put Cagliari on level terms.
Napoli are absolutely desperate to get all three points, as without them Udinese could very well steal third place. While Napoli did come back from a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1 at Parma last week, do they have the same strength to pull off multiple goals this week? Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik sure seem to think they do.
Napoli have started the second half on the right foot, the foot of Edinson Cavani. A cheeky backheel from Marek Hamsik sent Ezequiel Lavezzi free on goal, but Cagliari defender Lorenzo Ariaudo dragged the Argentine down inside the area. Ariaudo was rewarded with a yellow card for his efforts, but in even worse news for the visitors, the referee pointed to the spot. Cavani, without a goal in his last four games, stepped up, sending the ball low and to the left. Michael Agazzi apparently did not study any tapes of Cavani before the match, as El Matador always puts the ball in the same way.
The home side, without any shots on target in the first half, have had three shots on goal in the seven minutes of second half. Despite Napoli's excellent defensive record at home, adding another to their tally seems essential should they want to make sure of all three points.
Cagliari face a tough challenge at the San Paolo today, as Napoli have not conceded a goal at home since November 21. Having said that, today will be the day, as I'm terribly superstitious about such things. Napoli would do well to keep a clean sheet, however, considering that anything less than all three points will see them slip into fourth place in the table, with Udinese claiming third after a 2-0 victory over Catania.
Meanwhile, Cagliari have climbed up to tenth in the table. A draw could see them reach the magical mark of forthy points, whereas a win would propel them into ninth, just behind Palermo. The fact that Napoli are without two of their three regular defenders should give the visitors confidence, although Victor Ruiz did well enough last week in his debut against Parma.
Napoli Starting XI: De Sanctis; Ruiz, Santacroce, Cannavaro; Zuniga, Dossena, Pazienza, Yebda; Hamsik, Lavezzi, Cavani
Substitutes: Blasi, Lucarelli, Cribari, Aronica, Mascara, Sosa, Iezzo
Cagliari: Agazzi; Perico, Canini, Ariaudo ,Agostini; Biondini, Conti, Nainggolan; Cossu, Lazzari, Acquafresca
Substitutes: Pellizoli, Laner, Magliocchetti, Ragatzu, Missiroli, Cepellini, Dametto
H/T to Napoli_Blogger for the assistance in lineups
Inter Milan stepped on to the field at the San Siro today with a clear mission: take all three points from Lecce, and in doing so close the gap on AC Milan to just two points. Mission accomplished with the 52nd minute goal from Giampaolo Pazzini, and although the visitors threatened, Inter seemed content to coast through with just one goal. With Milan losing 1-0 to Palermo yesterday, a win for Inter in the derby on April 3rd could see them overtake their rivals in the scudetto race.
Lecce managed to keep an attacking Inter side at bay through to the halftime whistle. although much of that was to do with Inter's sluggishness and inability to place many of their passes on target. The best chances for Inter came in the first five minutes, when Wesley Sneijder disturbed Antonio Rosati's goaltime slumbering twice. After that, Rosati was left to rest in relative peace. Lecce wasted a chance in the 45th minute to put themselves ahead, with Nenad Tomović failing to get on the end of a Rubén Olivera cross, and then sending his own cross over the byline.
After the restart, Inter looked revitalized, speeding up their attack and disturbing the Lecce defense. Pazzini went close in the 51st minute before finding the net in the 52nd. The forward used his chest to control the pass from Wesley Sneijder -- Lecce clamored for a handball, but nothing doing -- before sending his shot into the far corner of the net. After the goal, Inter seemed to calm down a bit, not really anxious to score, but not really worried about Lecce doing so, either.
The visitors did have one more attack left in them, however, waiting until the 85th minute to truly threaten the goal of Júlio César. Andrea Bertolacci sent in a shot from close range, but the Inter keeper, desperate to atone for his recent mistakes, performed a brilliant save to give Inter all three points.
Inter Milan may have looked a little off the pace in the first half, but they came back in the second anxious to put pressure on the Lecce defense. The increased speed payed off quickly, with Giampaolo Pazzini coming close in the 51st minute before scoring his sixth goal for Inter in the 52nd. Wesley Sneijder put through the pass, slipping it through the Lecce defense for Pazzini, who controlled the ball on his chest. The Lecce players were convinced a hand was involved, but no whistle was blown as Pazzini sent his shot low and into the far corner of the net.
Lecce have been re-energized by the goal, determined to get back on level terms. Brescia, currently drawing at Juventus, could climb above Lecce and into safety with a win. Three points may not be possible for the visitors, but they've looked bright enough to manage an equalizer, provided they can keep Inter's attack to just one goal, of course.
Inter Milan have thrown nearly every attacking player they possess onto the field against relegation - battling Lecce, yet haven't managed to score a goal, or even trouble keeper Antonio Rosati all that much. The home side have had just one shot on goal, an early strike from Wesley Sneijder, who has been the only player to pose any real threat to the Lecce defense.
Despite a thrilling midweek performance that saw Inter come from behind to beat Bayern Munich 3-2 and advance to the quarter finals of the Champions League, and despite the fact that most of the players included in the starting lineup played in that game on Tuesday, the nerazzurri look a totally different side. Perhaps the difference could be down to exhaustion -- after all, the match against Bayern was fast paced and intense, enough to drain anyone -- but it often seems as though Inter simply don't know exactly where to be when a pass is played.
Lecce, for their part, have looked rather good, especially for a team in 18th place taking on last year's champions. Of course, they also screwed up their best chance, in the 45th minute. Rubén Olivera sent the ball over from the left side but Nenad Tomović was entirely out of position, needing to race over to collect the pass and then hastily sending in the cross, which flew beyond the byline.
After AC Milan lost 1-0 to Palermo yesterday, Internazionale have an opportunity to close the gap on the league leaders to just two points. If there ever was a time to seize the day, today would be that time, as Inter welcome relegation - battling Lecce to the San Siro. Coach Leonardo is taking no chances against poor Lecce, fielding an all - out attacking side quite similar to the one that beat Bayern Munich 3-2 on Tuesday. Giampaolo Pazzini steps in and Dejan Stanković sits, while Javier Zanetti returns to the lineup in place of Andrea Ranocchia. Same concept, though: attack, attack, attack. Will Lecce, the club that's conceded the most goals away from home, be able to withstand the onslaught?
Inter: 1 Julio Cesar; 13 Maicon, 6 Lucio, 26 Chivu, 4 Zanetti; 19 Cambiasso, 8 Thiago Motta; 10 Sneijder; 27 Pandev, 7 Pazzini, 9 Eto'o.
Inter bench: 12 Castellazzi, 5 Stankovic, 14 Kharja, 17 Mariga, 23 Materazzi, 27 Pandev, 29 Coutinho
Lecce: 22 Rosati; 40 Tomovic, 13 Ferrario, 14 Fabiano, 28 Brivio; 10 Olivera, 20 Vives, 18 Giacomazzi 91 Bertolacci, 11 Mesbah; 9 Corvia.
Lecce bench: 81 Benassi, 2 Donati, 4 Gustavo, 19 Piatti, 21 Grossmuller, 27 Jeda, 32 Coppola
(once again, thanks to Football Italia for being so quick on the lineups)
Palermo just about held off the Rossoneri tide at the Stadio Renzo Barbera, letting Dorin Goian's first half goal stand as the sole score of the match. League leaders AC Milan pressed incredible hard for the equaliser and came close a number of times towards the end of the game, but some spectacular saves from Salvatore Sirigu kept the home side in front and eventually earned them all three points in a pulsating fixture.
If Palermo had conceded, they would only have had themselves to blame after wasting several opportunities to score a second - they counterattacked at speed regularly in the second half against a flimsy-looking Milan defence, but simply couldn't find the right pass or get a shot on target. The most blatant example was Daniel Martinez's miss after he and Fabrizio Miccoli were one on one against Alessandro Nesta, but similar chances presented themselves throughout the half and were simply not taken advantage of.
Milan, meanwhile, always looked capable of breaking down the defence, and were exceptionally patient in their buildup play. After Pato was forced off with 25 minutes to go, Robinho, on in his countryman's place, gave the visitors further impetus to attack, and his presence was the spark that led to Sirigu's heroics - the goalkeeper had to be at his best to keep out a hammered shot from Mathieu Flamini and then pulled off a spectacular one-handed save after Antonio Cassano's header caught his defence unawares.
The loss means that Milan are only five points clear of arch-rivals Inter Milan in second place and six clear of Napoli, and both teams have a game in hand on the leaders (Inter host Lecce tomorrow while the Partenopei entertain Cagliari). Palermo move up into seventh place, although they look unlikely to catch either Roma or Udinese for sixth this season. Still, beating the league leaders always counts for something, and this is a team that could use a confidence boost after what's been a spectacular collapse in 2011.
Down 1-0 to Palermo and with ace striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic already suspended for several matches, the last thing that Serie A leaders AC Milan wanted to see was an injury taking down Alexandre Pato, but that's exactly what they've got with less than half an hour left in this match. Although the referee had blown for Antonio Cassano offside long before after, neither Pato nor the Palermo defenders heard the whistle when Cassano played the Brazilian through, resulting in a crunching tackle being laid in as well as an excellent save from Salvatore Sirigu. Pato came off very much the worst in the collision, and he hobbled off the pitch shortly thereafter to be replaced by compatriot Robinho.
I can't imagine that the knock is particularly serious, considering that he managed to walk off the field rather than requiring a stretcher, but losing another star striker isn't good news at all for the Rossoneri. However, Robinho has had an excellent start to his game, terrorising the Palermo defence and nearly setting up Mathieu Flamini for the equalising goal only to see him denied by a superb flying stop from Sirigu.
When your team hasn't scored a goal in the past four matches, what better way to end the drought than sending in your center back to score his first goal of the season? Brilliant plan on the part of Palermo. They even fooled AC Milan at first, sending in a corner kick that resulted in such a scramble that it appeared as though Palermo were doomed to waste the chance. Instead, Giulio Migliaccio headed the ball on to Dorin Goian, who controlled it beautifully before sending a chipped ball over Christian Abbiati and into the back of the net.
The league leaders responded quickly, taking a shot on goal that was knocked out by Ezequiel Muñoz. From the resulting corner, Mathieu Flamini was able to knock the ball right across the face of goal, but an onrushing Alessandro Nesta was unable to reach it in time to tap in. Still, Palermo might have a more relaxing halftime cappuccino if they are able to get in another before the whistle.
Another set of lineups, another manager making Kirsten's predictions look silly. Although it had seemed that Josip Iličić would remain on the bench under the reign of Serse Cosmi, instead it's captain Fabrizio Miccoli that's left on the bench for Palermo as they take on AC Milan.
As predicted, the visitors, lacking Zlatan Ibrahimović, will start Alexandre Pato upfront, alongside Antonio Cassano. Clarence Seedorf plays just behind, while Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng are on the bench.
Palermo will be trying to put their run of five straight defeats out of their minds, whereas Milan are determined to forget about last week's draw against Serie B - bound Bari. Who thinks it will end up a stale draw?
Palermo Starting XI: Sirigu; Munoz, Goian, Migliaccio; Darmian, Bacinovic, Nocerino, Balzaretti; Pastore; Pinilla, Ilicic
Bench: Miccoli, Benussi, Garcia, Hernandez, Acquah, Andelkovic, Maltese
Milan Starting XI: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Jankulovski; Gattuso, Van Bommel, Flamini; Seedorf; Pato, Cassano
Bench: Bonera, Amelia, Antonini, Emanuelson, Robinho, Boateng, Yepes.
It's possible I go into Lazio games with the mindset that the match will be boring, and thus see the boring play that I have predicted, but it sure seems that, aside from the goal in the second minute from Mauro Zárate, today's game against Cesena has been a snooze. Cesena have had a grand total of one shot on target, and while Lazio had plenty of chances, they also wasted the majority of them, apparently believing that one goal would be sufficient.
And in the end that one goal was enough for all three points, proving that betting on one against the Seahorses was likely not a risky wager. The second minute goal came from Zárate, who picked up a pass from Giuseppe Sculli to poke the ball in from close range. That's the first goal in three months for the Argentine, and while it may not have been spectacular it certainly was necessary.
Shortly after the restart, Lazio had a chance to double the lead, but Francesco Antonioli got a hand to it, pushing the ball into the post. With ten minutes remaining, Zárate had another shot at goal, but the ball sailed over the top of the net, while Alvaro González refused to pass the ball, wasting a chance instead.
Cesena, meanwhile, had just one real chance, but Marco Parolo's shot was weak and Fernando Muslera easily smothered the ball. The visitors gave 19 year old Roope Riski his debut, with the Fin making an impact quickly when Muslera collided with his leg when making a save, leaving the keeper looking dazed and confused.
A boring match, perhaps, but one with a definite impact on both the European places and the relegation battle. Lazio temporarily reclaim fourth place, but an Udinese win on Sunday against Catania will see them fall back to the Europa league positions. Cesena will be hoping that Lecce can't pull off a miracle against Inter Milan, and that Juventus will end their run of poor luck and easily beat Brescia.
In case you were still readying your streams or searching for information on the starting lineups for Lazio - Cesena, I'll go ahead and let you know what you missed: a lovely little strike from Mauro Zárate to give the hosts an early lead. Giuseppe Sculli, running up the left flank, put in a short pass to Zárate, who put the ball across the face of goal, past a stunned Francesco Antonioli, and into the far corner.
Cesena have responded with a couple of decent attacks, threatening the makeshift Lazio defense enough to pick up a few set pieces. Nothing has come of it yet, but considering Lazio are without fullbacks Stefan Radu (despite Soccernet putting him on the bench, which was rather amusing as he's suspended for three matches) and Stephan Lichtsteiner, and missing Cristian Ledesma as cover in the center, the Seahorses might be able to pull one back. There's always the possibility that Nando Muslera makes one of his laughable gaffes as well.
Clearly Lazio coach Edy Reja looks at my previews and laughs: Libor Kozák good? Deserves a starting role? MWHAHAHAHAHA we'll show her and her Czech-loving ways. Instead it's Giuseppe Sculli that slots in for Sergio Floccari.
As for Cesena, they'll be without Emanuele Giaccherini, who is likely off still crying about his spectacular double miss against Juventus. Dominique Malonga will start in his place.
Lazio Starting XI: 86 Muslera; 5 Scaloni, 20 Biava, 3 Dias, 14 Garrido; 15 Gonzalez, 11 Matuzalem, 6 Mauri; 8 Hernanes; 10 Zarate, 77 Sculli
Substitutes: 12 Berni, 13 Stendardo, 31 Meghni, 81 Del Nero, 32 Brocchi, 92 Ceccarelli, 18 Kozak
Cesena Starting XI: 1 Antonioli; 46 Santon, 3 Pellegrino, 25 Von Bergen, 6 Lauro; 8 Caserta, 14 Colucci, 18 Parolo; 10 Jimenez; 71 Bogdani, 17 Malonga
Substitutes: 33 Calderoni, 15 Benalouane, 19 Gorobsov, 4 Appiah, 77 Ceccarelli, 44 Piangerelli, 7 Riski
Many thanks to Football Italia for putting these in an easily readable form
We all know there's a full slate in Serie A this weekend, but after Week 29 started on Thursday, having to wait until Saturday for the matches to start has been a bit tortuous. Fortunately, there's been wine and pizza to get us all through our Friday, and now that Saturday has arrived, it's time for two matches: Lazio welcoming Cesena and Milan getting ready to wreak havoc on Palermo.
Lazio v Cesena
Well. Lazio have gotten themselves into a right mess, haven't they? Starting off the season so brightly with a legitimate claim to the top of Serie A, the Biancocelesti last weekend not only once again tasted defeat at the hands of rivals Roma, but were pushed out of the Champions League positions by Udinese. By the end of the Derby della Capitale, Lazio were down to nine men, with Cristian Ledesma and Stefan Radu having both been sent off, the latter after headbutting Fábio Simplício directly in front of the linesman. Both are suspended for Saturday's match, as is Stephen Lichtsteiner. With Sergio Floccari injured, Lazio will likely start Libor Kozák, who's certainly looked sprightly in many of his appearances for the club. He'll lead the attack ahead of Stafno Mauri, Hernanes and Mauro Zarate. While the Lazio offense hasn't exactly been prolific this season, that's a lineup that could still make the visitors nervous.
Cesena, however, will be looking to keep up their run of good form by capitalizing on the defensive suspensions. The Seahorses may be in 17th, just a point above the drop, but they're undefeated in their last four matches, coming back from a 2-0 deficit last weekend to draw with Juventus. They'll likely be missing defender Davide Santon, who picked up a knock in training this week, but Cesena are in relatively good health and won't be missing any other regular starters. Marco Parolo, who scored the equalizer against Juve last weekend, will be looking to replicate his last performance against Lazio, a match in which he scored the only goal.
Palermo v AC Milan
Well. Palermo have gotten themselves into a right mess, haven't they? After the winter break, it seemed almost a given that the free-scoring Rosanero would be in Europe, possibly even in the Champions League. Now they've lost five in a row, including a humiliating 7-0 loss to Udinese, and haven't scored in their last four. Josip Iličić has looked dreadful, and Javier Pastore not much better. Fortunately for Palermo, captain Fabrizio Miccoli is back to full fitness, while Mauricio Pinilla will likely be handed his first start since November. But the likelihood of Serse Cosmi getting his first win -- or even his first points -- as Palermo coach seems about as likely as Rino Gattuso slow dancing with the referee.
Palermo might cling to a small thread of hope, however, after seeing Milan draw with bottom - place Bari last week. After being knocked out of the Champions League in the previous week, the league leaders undoubtedly have a point to prove, and a comprehensive win over Palermo would help them breath easier. A loss, meanwhile could mean that Inter move within two points of their rivals. The Rossoneri will be without Zlatan Ibrahimović, banned for three matches after punching Marco Rossi last week,but the suspension may actually work in Milan's favor. Alexandre Pato will step forward, all the way forward in fact, leading the attack in front of Antonio Cassano and Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Duck has 11 goals in Serie A this season, making it tough to feel sorry for Milan's having to use their fallback forward.
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