Seeing Catania explode for 4 goals against Palermo was a nice, speedy compliment to constant bleary Sunday morning cups of coffee. The first half of this Derby di Sicilia was a boring grind in the Sicilian sunshine that gave no warning of the sudden storm of goals that would spray Palermo’s side of the pitch in the second half.
Federico Balzaretti’s own goal started a deluge of wide-open, attacking Catania forays and classy finishes that swept Palermo out of the stadium, and possibly out of European competition next season.
Did I evil-eye Palermo out of the scudetto chase with my posts touting how exciting they were in January? Nah, their defense is just that bad. The only side in Serie A that has conceded more goals than Palermo this season is Lecce. A banged-up Javier Pastore came on the second-half, but looked tentative and was unable to add any spark to the sputtering Sicilians. Catania broke down Palermo and dutifully poured salt in the wounds of their hated rivals. This particular Palermo blogger/fan is certainly having a rotten Monday. The Catania v. Palermo derby has a tragic (recent) history of violence and I truly hope that all agression was kept on the pitch and the internet yesterday after the match, as Palermo supporters were permitted to travel to Catania for the first time since the incident in 2007.
Update: Palermo sacked stylish Serse Cosmi last night after their brutal showing in Catania. He is being replaced by the man he replaced: Delio Rossi
I think there was another little derby of interest in the Serie A this weekend, as the San Siro hosted the top two sides in Italy for a Milan showdown with major scudetto implications. This Derby della Madonnina was the first since 1993 that saw the sides enter the match occupying the top two spots in the league. The stadium literally seemed to buzz, crackle and spark with enthusiasm, nerves, hatred, excitement and pride. Alexandre Pato’s goal in the opening minute was goddamn electric. I’ve never seen a player and a team celebrate a goal with such emphatic emotion, intensity and swagger outside of an international context. If ever one scene could communicate and convince a newcomer to Italian football of the totality of historical weight and animosity encapsulated in this rivalry–it was this one.
Inter came out surprisingly sluggish and Milan made them pay dearly for it. Inter gathered momentum as the first half wore on, but were unable to finish the few dangerous chances they created, as Christian Abbiati made a phenomenal save on a Thiago Motta header in the 38th minute. The deadly Samuel Eto’o misfired on a point blank set-up a few minutes later and it looked like Inter would at the very least go into the break with confidence, momentum and the wind at their backs.
The second half began much as the first had ended, with Inter applying pressure, until Kevin-Prince Boateng suddenly threaded a beautiful ball through to Pato, who was brazenly brought down by Christian Chivu. Chivu was given a straight-red and sent off, whittling the defending champs down to 10 men for the rest of the evening. Boateng’s workrate and distribution from his midfield position just behind Pato and Robinho was a key factor for Milan in this match, as he orchestrated an Ibra-less attack that looked far more dangerous than the one last seen in Palermo.
Mark van Bommel and Ignazio Abate also deserve special mention for their efforts. Van Bommel’s destructive, disruptive marking of Wesley Sneijder was a tactical and psychological masterpiece that blatantly frustrated Sneijder, rendering him largely ineffective and off-balance. van Bommel’s presence as a leader was also evident when Inter started carrying the play towards the end of the first half as they sought an equalizer and he started challenging their advances with sharp, physical tackles. Abate played extremely well at both ends of the pitch, with precise defensive positioning and fluid ball movement capped off by his beautiful cross in to Pato for the decisive 2nd goal.
After that goal the match dissolved into a parade of fouls and complaining that almost marred a brilliant, hard-fought match that largely lived up to its considerable hype. This was a huge result for AC Milan who seemed to be speeding in the opposite direction of their surging Milanese rivals. Inter played hard and were dangerous during stretches of the match, but they couldn’t quite match the Rossoneri’s resolve and intensity.
Since the stunning Napoli v. Lazio match was SADLY a dark match in my part of the world, I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from the always excellent Guardian Serie A recap (read the entire thing, as the end contains fascinating stuff about suspicions of match-fixing in yesterday’s Chievo/Sampdoria match) that beautifully sums up Napoli’s victory:
“if Serie A games finished after 85 minutes Napoli would be 10 points worse off – but it is hard to imagine what else could have gone into this fixture. Seven goals, a hat-trick, a penalty, an own goal, a sending-off (two if you count the Lazio manager Edy Reja’s dismissal from the sideline), and a ‘ghost goal’ for Lazio that was never given, Cristian Brocchi’s shot clearly crossing the line with the score 2-2.
Set all this against the backdrop of reports that the two team’s owners, Claudio Lotito and Aurelio De Laurentiis, had come to blows during a league meeting earlier in the week, and it was almost enough to overshadow Milan’s derby win a day earlier. Almost, but not quite.”
I also didn’t get to see Udinese’s shock 2-0 defeat to Lecce. More soon.