Runaway leaders in shock defeat while the battle for supremacy in Rome promises to be red hot.
You can only conclude that Parma should have planned their bankruptcy problems for much earlier in the season. If they had, then they would not now be headed for an all but mathematically certain relegation.
The remarkable thing about the bottom club in Serie A is that since their much discussed insolvency almost put them out of Serie A at the end of February, they have started to pick up points. We have already reported on some aspects of the former UEFA Cup-winners’ desperate 218 million euro debt plight – players reportedly have not been paid since the beginning of the season; the bailiff has already sequestered a number of items at their Collechio training ground; at times, there is no hot water in the Collechio showers.
Despite all that, Parma in the last week have picked up six points with two wins against Udinese last Wednesday and, yes, against league leaders and champions Juventus on Saturday. It is true that the Old Lady might well have had Monaco on her mind as she prepares for tomorrow night’s Champions League first leg tie against the French club in Turin. It is also true that Juventus fielded a distinctly second choice looking side against Parma, starting off with an initial line-up in which Buffon, Barzagli and Bonucci in defence, the injured Pogba and Pirlo in midfield as well as Tevez and Morata were all “rested”.
Yet, this Juventus are not in the habit of making life easy for anybody. Lest anyone failed to get the point, they trounced Fiorentina 3-0 in their Italian Cup semi-final tie last week in Florence, in the process rectifying a 1-2 first leg home loss to win a place in the final against in-form Lazio.
Clearly, Juventus have not lost their appetite. Given that the Old Lady went into the Parma game 57 points clear of her rival and given also that when the two sides met at the Juventus stadium last November, Juventus trounced Parma 7-0, there could only be one result, no?
Curiously, though, after having looked occasionally dangerous in the first half, Juventus lost control of the game against a gritty, well-organised and obviously defensive Parma.
Parma’s 60th-minute winner from 18-year-old Italo-Argentinian Jose Mauri, to some extent, reflected the flow of the game, making it hard to disagree with understandably jubilant Parma coach Roberto Donadoni when he said afterwards: “Don’t tell me that Juventus were distracted. When people said that to me, when I was a player, I always found it offensive. The truth is that, against this Parma, Juventus couldn’t do anymore than they did.”
Donadoni, too, had put his money on the line last Saturday, sponsoring the team’s shirts with the name of his “Dac A Tra” restaurant outside Milan, a restaurant owned in partnership with former Milan team mate, Mauro Tassotti.
The next important midweek fixture for Parma comes at the Court House on Wednesday when the Bankruptcy court must give the go-ahead to an emergency business plan that could see the club through to the end of the season. Guarantees for more than 45 million euros are apparently required. Will last week’s two wins prove persuasive when it comes to arguing that Parma, down but not out, deserve to be rescued?
At this point, it hardly requires a crystal ball to conclude that the second Rome derby of the season, due on the second last day of the season on May 24, is going to be red-hot. Surprise packet Lazio continued their memorable run in Serie A last weekend when they hammered Empoli 4-0 to pull off their eighth consecutive win since losing to Genoa at the beginning of February.
Much more important than the statistics, though, was the fact that this victory saw them achieve the “sorpasso” (overtake) of their cross-town rivals, Roma, who were held to a 1-1 away draw by gutsy Torino. Lazio now lie second on 58 points, 12 behind Juventus but critically one ahead of Roma. On the day after that defeat by Genoa in February, Lazio were sixth in the table, all of 12 points behind then second placed Roma.
At stake, of course, is more than city pride since finishing second in the league guarantees an automatic place in the Champions League group stage, whilst the third place team will have to earn that place by playing in the pre-season qualifiers.
Lest anyone had any doubts about their current form, Lazio underlined their well being with a midweek win in the other Italian Cup semi-final, eliminating Napoli 1-0 at the San Paolo to earn a crack at Juventus in the final. The Roman club, however, will get an immediate chance to test the Juventus waters when they travel north to Turin next Saturday night for a clash with the champions, who have already beaten them 3-0 in Rome this season.
Lazio coach Stefano Pioli, the 49-year-old former Juventus, Verona and Fiorentina player, has thus far given a master class in “flying-below-the-radar-as-coach-to-a-Serie-A-biggie”. From here to the end of the season, this former Bolgna and Palermo coach, will find it much harder to keep a low profile.
In the meantime, the Lazio fans can only marvel and rejoice at the manner in which his coaching has molded a team from such as 36-year-old German ace, Miroslav Klose and 21-year-old Brazilian winger Felipe Anderson in attack, not to mention Italian internationals Stefano Mauri, Antonio Candreva and Marco Parolo in midfield. As we said, that May derby is destined to be “hot”.