Dec 15, 2013, 11:16 PM EDT
Perhaps there was no better way for Walter Mazzarri to return to the San Paulo than with a five-goal first half, his new side, Inter Milan, closing their gap to one on Napoli after Yuto Nagatomo scored just before half time. With two of the top three attacks in Serie A meeting in Naples, we should have expected as much, but with the Nerazzuri boss’s time with the Partenopei remembered for its style and approach as much as its results, it was only appropriate that fireworks accompany the return of a man who bossed Napoli for the last four seasons.
Thankfully for the San Paulo faithful, those fireworks went Napoli’s way. In the ninth minute, Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring, giving the hosts a lead they’d hold until Esteban Cambiasso’s 35th minute equalizer. Goals by Dries Mertens and Blerim Dzemaili had Rafa Benítez’s side up two by the 41st minute, a lead the Neapolitans would never relinquish. With both defenses finding their footing in the second half, only José Callejón’s insurance would follow Nagatomo’s goal, and that only came after Ricky Alvarez was shown a second yellow card. Goran Pandev had a chance to give Napoli a fifth in stoppage time, but Samir Handanovic’s save on the Macedonian’s penalty try kept Inter within two.
Though Mazzarri applauded the Curva Sud’s support post match, the former Napoli boss was still embittered at the result. Claiming his team mostly dominated (though they were out-shot 13-9, 9-5 in shots on goal), the 52-year-old criticized referee Paolo Tagliavento for his dismissal of Alvarez, noting the official also gave a controversial penalty in Inter’s loss earlier this season to Roma. Had Inter stayed at 11 men, Mazzarri felt, their attacking play would have eventually pulled back Dzemaili’s goal. Instead, Napoli handed the Nerazzurri their second loss of the season.
After their mid-week disappointment — a 2-0 win over Arsenal unable to prevent Napoli’s fall into Europa League — Sunday’s was a welcome pick me up. That it came against Mazzarri will only add a sense of perspective for a fan base that’s seen their team transformed from a group of en vogue swashbucklers to a more conventional yet equally potent side. After Sunday’s win, only Mazzarri’s team has scored more league goals (36, compared to Napoli’s 35), while the partenopei persist near the top of the league. Considering Edinson Cavani, Hugo Campagnaro, and Morgan de Sanctis all left this summer, things could certainly be worse.
Now, with their owner having already scoffed at the importance of Europa League, Napoli can focus on Serie A. After Sunday’s results, they’re eight back of Juventus but only two short of Roma (who play Monday). A few more performances like Sunday’s, and Napoli may yet catch the Giallorossi
and replicate the finish Mazzarri delivered last season.
While Italy was still trying to figure out how its champions ended up in Europa League, Juventus were busy taking out their frustrations on Sassuolo, a process that didn’t take long to reap rewards. Fifteen minutes in, Carlos Tévez scored the first of his three goals, with Federico Peluso doubling the Bianconeri league 13 minutes later. Tévez added his third shortly before halftime before completing this first Serie A hat trick in the 68th minute, helping Juventus to their eighth straight league win, 4-0.
It was also the defending champions’ eight-straight shutout, a clean sheet kept in what’s become typically strangling fashion. Sassuolo, a team that’s averaging over a goal per game despite battling relegation, were held without a shot on goal, though they did have 12 attempts overall. Juventus, on the other hand, forced four saves from Gianluca Pegolo beyond the four tries the Sassuolo keeper couldn’t stop.
Like his team, Tévez had been criticized after Juventus’s Champions League exit, the summer signing for Manchester City going scoreless in six group stage matches. On Sunday, the Argentine hit double-digit league goals, putting him on pace for just under 24 goals on the season.
At the same time, Tévez pushed Juve’s league atop the table to six point, with Roma set to visit Milan on Monday.
- Catania 0, Hellas Verona 0 - Out-played throughout, Hellas escaped with a draw despite being outshot 16-8 and putting only one attempt on target. Catania stay at the bottom of the table while Verona miss their chance to pull even with fifth place Inter.
- Lazio 2, Livorno 0 - A first half brace from Miroslav Klose doubled the German striker’s season goal total, Livorno limited to one shot on goal as Lazio won in league for the first time since Oct. 27.
- Genoa 1, Atalanta 1 - Guiseppe De Luca’s 94th minute goal stole two points from Genoa, who’d protected Andrea Bertolacci’s opener through the last 18 minutes of regulation time only to see their sixth win of the year snatched just before the final whistle.
- Udinese 0, Torino 2 - A scoreless game at halftime turned the visitors’ way when Alexander Farnerud broke through in the 48th minute, with Ciro Immobile’s sixth goal of the season giving Torino insurance in the 75th minute.
- Parma 0, Cagliari 0 – Antonio Cassano, Nicola Sansone, and Jonathan Biabiany are held to one shot on goal combined as Cagliari slowed down the Gialloblu to take a point from the Ennio Tardini.
- Chievo 0, Sampdoria 1 - Still undefeated since Sinisa Milhajlovic’s return, Sampdoria snatched three points from the Flying Donkeys after Éder’s 16th minute goal sent the visitors to their fourth win of the season.
Monday: Milan vs. Roma.
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