Our man in Italy Kris Voakes rounds up the main Week 29 action in Serie A, and looks at the possibility of a shock U-turn in the retirement plans for Pavel Nedved.
It is less than a month since Pavel Nedved stated his intention to retire at the end of May. The Czech's announcement drew many knowing nods from Juventus fans who realised that a 37-year-old limping down the wing would not be at the top of the club's list of needs for next year's scudetto assault. And so remained the opinion of all. Until Saturday evening.
Nedved was asked to spend the first 70 minutes of Juve's visit to Roma picking splinters on the bench. In doing so he played more of a part in the Bianconeri's control on the game than the hapless Tiago Mendes. With 20 minutes remaining, Claudio Ranieri asked Nedved to put the splinters down and put Roma (and Tiago) out of their misery. He did so with a virtuoso, if truncated, central midfield performance which immediately had the Olimpico crowd wondering if this was the same Pavel Nedved who has shuffled agedly down the left flank for the greater part of three years.
The former Lazio man revelled in being given the kind of space and responsibility left wingers are rarely given, dictating the pace, picking out several superb passes and showing energy and defensive industry which Juve have often looked short of this season. Add to that a fabulous half-volley from 22 yards, fired high into the net beyond Alexander Doni, and you’ve got just about the perfect substitute appearance. BUT...
This all came against a Roma side looking as ragged as at any time in the last 5-10 years. The Giallrossi were shorn of 11 first-teamers, some of them in the crowd wearing jeans and jackets – Phil Brown will not be pleased – sitting out suspensions, others crocked due to being rushed back into the first team (I will let you add the name Francesco Totti to this sentence.) As promising as it was to see late debuts for Marco D’Alessandro and Adrian Stoian as well as a first full start for Brazilian midfielder Filipe, it was more disappointing to see the likes of Simone Loria, Julio Baptista and Christian Panucci make the kind of cardinal errors which have stunted the club’s growth on the pitch at various stages this season. The fact that Panucci, whose recent petulance is well documented, was wearing the captain’s armband on Saturday sums up Roma’s current position well.
Juventus won 4-1 and should have scored more. Vincenzo Iaquinta bagged a pair either side of Loria’s set-piece finish before Olof Mellberg headed his second goal in this season – coincidentally both have come from right-wing corners at the north end of the Olimpico, his previous effort earning a point from Lazio. Within in a minute of Mellberg’s effort Nedved was introduced, his goal sparking an exodus amongst the Roma supporters. After the match Nedved talked of still having a dream to win the Champions League and suggested that he could yet change his mind over retirement. However, it will take more than 20 minutes of resurgence for the Czech to earn anything other than his guaranteed place in the annual Patrick Swayze-lookalike competition.
Daniele Mannini returned from his shortened drugs ban in Roberto Donadoni’s debut on the Napoli bench, but neither could inspire the Vesuviani to victory over a stubborn Milan, sporting all six of their galactici for the first time in nearly two months. Clarence Seedorf returned from injury to start and there were substitute appearances from Kaka and Ronaldinho, but it was Napoli who came closest to breaking the deadlock was when Marek Hamsik fired past Nelson Dida only to have his effort ruled out by a harshly raised offside flag. After the game a group of Napoli fans, clearly upset at the disallowed goal, blocked Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani’s car on the motorway leading to Naples airport and smashed a window. Police were called and Galliani managed to escape unharmed, but Napoli may well face further fan restrictions after this latest problem.
The race for fourth looks set to go all the way after Roma’s defeat and home victories for Genoa and Fiorentina. The Grifone dispensed with 10-man Udinese thanks to second half goals from strike duo Giuseppe Sculli and Diego Milito whilst the Viola laboured to a 1-0 home win in their Tuscan derby with Siena. Giampaolo Pazzini continued his sensational scoring run for Sampdoria in their 3-1 win at Torino. Pazzo earned an Azzurri call-up with his 11th goal in 12 games for the Blucerchiati since his January move from Fiorentina. The result heaps further pressure on Toro, particularly in light of Chievo’s 1-0 win over Palermo sent the Flying Donkeys six points clear of the relegation positions. Rumours around the peninsula suggest that boss Walter Novellino could soon be heading out of Turin, with the Granata having now fallen to three straight losses.
Back at the top Inter remain seven points clear after a straight-forward home win against bottom side Reggina. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s double tied up a 3-0 victory after Esteban Cambiasso’s opener, and comparisons have been drawn in the Italian press between his Serie A and Champions League goal tallies. The Swede has now joined Bologna’s Marco Di Vaio at the top of the Capocannoniere charts on 19, but remains an enigma to all football fans outside of the peninsula after scoring only once in 674 minutes of European football over the same six-month period. Zlatan’s – and Inter’s – next aim is clear.