Serie A wrap: Napoli continue to challenge Juve for the Scudetto
Kieran Beckles reflects on a busy weekend in Serie A which saw Juventus and Napoli maintain their unbeaten starts
Napoli are Serie A title contenders
With Internazionale and AC Milan struggling, Napoli are the early title rivals to defending champions Juventus after six games in Serie A. Walter Mazzarri’s men have seen their stock rise over the past three seasons, largely thanks to the success of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi – the latter departed to Paris Saint-Germain this summer. Napoli were impressive en route to finishing in third place in the 2010-11 campaign which saw the Partenopei qualify for Europe’s premier competition for the first time since Diego Maradona reigned in Naples. Mazzarri’s men ousted Manchester City in the group stage last term to reach the second round, and after a stunning 3-1 first-leg victory at the Stadio San Paolo which ultimately cost Andre Villas-Boas the Chelsea job, it took a memorable Blues comeback to deny Napoli a place in the last 16. Their European exploits took their tool domestically, with Mazzarri’s side limping to a fourth-place finish, although beating Juve to win the Coppa Italia was adequate consolation. But this season, Napoli appear to have developed the ability to dig deep and carve out results, beating Sampdoria in such fashion. Unsurprisingly, it was Cavani who scored the vital winner, with an emphatic penalty kick, taking his tally to six for the season. Napoli remain unbeaten but their title credentials will be tested in their next two Serie A games, with a home tie against Udinese before a trip to Juventus.
Juve stun Roma with devastating 19-minute spell
Juventus faced Roma in Saturday’s marquee fixture as the defending champions looked to extend their unbeaten run to 42 games against Zdeněk Zeman’s dangerous counter-attacking side. The Old Lady emphatically put the game out of Roma’s reach inside 19 minutes, making an emphatic statement to Zeman. Andrea Pirlo’s cunning free-kick surprised his opponents and Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to hand Juve a 11th-minute lead. It soon got better for Antonio Conte’s men when Arturo Vidal scored from the penalty spot and Alessandro Matti put the home side 3-0 up with a dink over the Roma shot-stopper. Pablo Osvaldo pulled one back for the visitors in the second half – his third league goal of the season – before Sebastian Giovinco wrapped up three points with a superb solo effort. Juventus’ victory leaves them tied with Napoli, while Roma languish in eighth place.
Miccoli proves a point to Palermo
Palermo were without a league win ahead of Chievo’s visit to the Stadio Renzo Barbera and languishing in the relegation zone. But Fabrizio Miccoli inspired the Rosanero to three points with a sparkling hat-trick on Sunday afternoon. The 33-year-old struck a superb free-kick in the 13th minute to put the home side ahead, before Chievo levelled as Marco Rigoni’s corner miraculously managed to deceive the entire Palermo defence and creep into the net. However, Miccoli, who is keen to extend his current deal which expires at the end of the season, finished from close range in the 59th minute. Luigi Giorgi was on hand to pounce on a loose ball in the box to put Palermo in command before Miccoli completed his hat-trick with a spectacular long-range effort which caught Chievo goalkeeper Samir Ujkani off his line. “I have not received an offer from the club,” Miccoli told La Repubblica after the 4-1 victory. “The president said contracts are discussed in May or June. If they want to discuss it then fine, otherwise I will go elsewhere. But if I was asked now I would extend my stay because that is what I want.”
Inter end San Siro run
While Inter have not struggled quite as much as their neighbours at the start of the season, the Nerazzurri were still seven points off the pace heading into Sunday night’s fixture against Fiorentina. Winless at the San Siro this term, and perhaps hampered by a new playing surface, Andrea Stramaccioni saw his side finally battle to three points and keep in touch with Juve and Napoli at the top of Serie A. Argentina international Diego Milito put the home side in front from the spot in the 17th minute to the visible relief of Stramaccioni, chief executive Massimo Moratti and the Inter supporters. The 2010 Champions League winners doubled their advantage when Esteban Cambiasso slipped in Antonio Cassano, with the Italy striker coolly slotting under Samir Handanovic. Unsurprisingly, Inter refused to complete the win in nerveless fashion, with Romolu’s 40th-minute strike ensuring a tense second half. After the match, Stramaccioni said: “I can tell you that I’ve always believed in this team, even when we were struggling. I’m not talking so much about the Roma game but the three points we dropped against Siena. Still, at least that game helped us to reach rock bottom and grow from there – we understood that we had to work in a different way.” He added: “I think I could probably define tonight’s [Sunday] game as the first one in which we’ve really played like Inter. We were strong and solid as a group.”
Goal of the weekend: Miccoli’s third against Chievo
This edition’s goal of the weekend goes to Miccoli, with his third strike the pick of a stunning treble at home to Chievo.