It took Argentine ace Gonzalo Higuain just nine minutes to persuade his new fans at Juventus that the €90 plus million the reigning Italian champions splashed out on him this summer was, in fact, value for money.
In last Saturday night’s 2-1 home win over Fiorentina, Higuain had been on the field just nine minutes before he struck with familiar, venomous deadliness to score Juve’s 75th minute winner. Just as the Old Lady’s fans were beginning to think that the champions had let an opening day win slip away from them, the lethal Higuain put his side back on a winning track.
Higuain’s goal, Roma’s 4-0 destruction of Udinese, Milan’s last gasp 3-2 win against Torino, Napoli’s 2-2 draw away to newly promoted Pescara and Inter’s 2-0 away defeat by Chievo were the highlights of last weekend’s opening day in the 2016-2017 Serie A season. It was an opening day of few real surprises and of some significant confIrmations.
For a start, we have all been saying this summer that, notwithstanding the departure of Paul Pogba (Man Utd.), Juventus might even be stronger than ever this year. So it looked as a not fully fit Higuain, scorer of a record 36 goals with Napoli last season, came on in the 66th minute to work his magic against bitter rivals Fiorentina.
Just think, too, that when Higuain first arrived in Turin at the end of last month, not everyone was impressed. Some Juventus fans even complained that he was overweight, an impression subsequently confirmed by less than impressive performances in pre-season friendlies.
The Juve fans need not have worried. The panther-like venom with which Higain sprang on a defensive clearance, following a shot by Sami Khedira, to ram home the winner from a narrow angle suggests that there could be a lot more to come from the Argentine ace between now and next May. As for now, the Juventus road show seems well and truly back on the road. By the way, Khedira scored Juve’s opening goal whilst Croat Niko Kalinic was on the mark for an impressive Fiorentina with his 70th minute, short-lived equaliser.
If Juventus benefitted immediately from the Higuain impact, one would be tempted to suggest that he was badly missed when last season’s runners-up, Napoli, drew 2-2 away to newly promoted Pescara. It took 60th and 63rd minute goals from Belgian Dries Martens to pull off an unlikely comeback after Pescara had made by far the better start, scoring twice in the first half hour through goals from Libyan Ahmed Benali and Gianluca Caprari. Before the Napoli fans get too downhearted, however, they would probably do well to remember that in his two previous seasons in Serie A, two years ago with Empoli and last year with Napoli, coach Maurizio Sarri has lost both his opening games, 0-2 to Udinese and 1-2 to Sassuolo respectively.
That same Sassuolo, incidentally, confirmed all the promise of last season’s sixth place finish with an opening 1-0 away win against Palermo, just three days after they had beaten Red Star Belgrade 3-0 in a midweek Europa League tie. Stand by for more surprises, here.
Another side to start positively at home and abroad were last season’s third-placed Roma. Having drawn 1-1 away to Porto in a midweek Champions League play-off, Roma overcame a poor first half at home to Udinese to slam home four goals in a second half when Argentine Diego Perotti scored two penalties. Revitalised Bosnian Edin Dzeko and unstoppable Egyptian flying machine, Mohamed Salah, picked up the other two goals in a win which augurs well for the Luciano Spalletti coached side.
If there was one big loser on the first day, that was obviously Inter. Having parted company with coach Roberto Mancini, replacing him with Dutchman Frank De Boer, just two weeks before the seasonal start, perhaps there was an inevitability about this defeat. Are Inter victims of their current transitory moment in the wake of having been bought over by new management, Chinese electronics giant Suning, in early June.
Across town at Milan, also now 100% Chinese owned in the shape of the Sino-Europe Investment Management Changxing company, things started better. No transitional problems here as the Vincenzo Montella coached side opened up with a perky 3-2 home win against Torino.
The good news was a lively looking Milan attack in which Colombian, Carlos Bacca, seemingly destined to leave the club this summer for West Ham, scored a hat-rick. Not surprisingly, Bacca now says that he is not going anywhere this year…
The bad news for Milan is that had Torino striker Andrea Belotti not missed a penalty in time added on, brilliantly saved by boy wonder goalkeeper, Guanluigi Donnarumma, then Milan might have messed up their seasonal start.
However, in Italy, they are off and running and for the time being, it is Old Lady Juventus who is setting the pace. Plus ca change, plus…