Thursday, 29 January 2009

Who needs Mourinho? Inter pull away once more

Our man in Italy Kris Voakes reports on all the main midweek action in Serie A, looking at how Inter went from level to six points clear in the title race within just a few days.

Just four days after falling behind in the title race Inter raced six points clear of Juventus on Wednesday night with an accomplished 2-0 victory at Catania.

Guided by assistant coach Beppe Baresi due to Jose Mourinho's one-match touchline ban, the Nerazzurri hit the ground running thanks to a fifth-minute header from Dejan Stankovic. Despite Sulley Muntari's second sending-off against Catania this season (both for fouls on Giacomo Tedesco) on the half-hour mark, Inter stayed largely in command, though they were thankful for referee Gianluca Rocchi's intervention when Michele Paolucci's strike was chalked off for dangerous play by Takayuki Morimoto in the build-up.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck his 13th goal of the season, latching onto Stankovic’s long ball over the defence before beating Albano Bizzarri and tapping home, to ease Inter home. It was a return to form for the Champions after their scrappy performance against Sampdoria on Sunday evening. More importantly it re-opens a six-point lead they’d seemingly squandered after claiming the Winter Championship.

Juventus managed to turn in one of their poorest performances of the season against an Udinese side which had failed to win in 11 league games, and whose coach Pasquale Marino was on the verge of the sack due to the poor run which had seen them drop from the Champions League positions down to 14th.

Fabio Quagliarella had given the Friulani a first half lead and when Antonio Di Natale lobbed the ball beyond Gigi Buffon from the corner of the area for Udinese’s second it became clear this wasn’t going to be Juve’s night. They did pull a goal back from the spot when Friuli old-boy Vincenzo Iaquinta converted after Lukovic’s foul on Grygera, but the Bianconeri never looked likely to take anything from the game.

Milan also lost ground on their city rivals thanks to Diego Milito’s late eqauliser for Genoa at San Siro. A fantastic first-half display from the Rossoneri looked likely to yield three points, particularly after David Beckham’s fantastic 33rd-minute free-kick. From seven yards out to the left of the penalty area, the England international curled a wonderful set-piece over the wall, catching out Rubinho at his near post. It was the Spice Boy’s second goal in consecutive games and will only accelerate demands for him to remain in Italy beyond the end of his loan spell.

Beckham was later substituted to a standing ovation after pulling a muscle in his thigh, but by this time Milan’s performance had fallen flat. Clarence Seedorf turned in another shocker of a performance, while Massimo Ambrosini and, of all people, Kaka’ lost the ball at regular intervals.

Genoa threatened to equalise long before Milito’s strike, with Salvatore Bocchetti and sub Rafaelle Palladino missing glorious opportunities as Milan slipped deeper and deeper in an attempt to protect their lead. Giuseppe Favalli was then guilty of falling too deep as he kept Palladino onside, allowing Juric to nudge the ball across for Milito to break the home crowd’s hearts in the 88th minute.

Genoa’s point keeps them in the Champions League places, but Roma moved ominously to within a point of them with a 2-1 win at home to in-form Palermo. The Giallorossi, languishing in 17th during October, have hit their stride since Christmas and continued their recent run thanks in part to the returning Francesco Totti.

Er Pupone had missed more than five weeks’ action with a thigh strain, but was back on the scoresheet within 25 minutes after his shot deflected off the unfortunate Moris Carrozzieri and beyond Marco Amelia. Palermo hit back almost immediately through Edinson Cavani’s first time shot, but Totti found Matteo Brighi on the stroke of half-time for the former Chievo man to claim all three points.

Lazio continue to slide down Serie A after a 3-1 defeat at Antonio Cassano-inspired Sampdoria. The capital club have now conceded seven goals in two games and had keeper Fernando Muslera to thank for the scoreline not being much worse. He saved a Claudio Bellucci penalty and several other efforts as the home side dominated for long spells. Fiorentina are back in contention for a return to the Champions League after they stopped a three-game losing run with a 2-1 triumph against Napoli. Mario Alberto Santana and Luigi Vitale exchanged goals before Riccardo Montolivo’s expertly-taken winner 10 minutes from time.


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