Paddy Agnew’s Notes From Italy: Old Lady Not For Turning

At half-time in last Sunday night’s Lazio v Juventus Serie A clash, the man from Sky Italia TV grabbed Lazio’s Italian international Marco Parolo as he made his way back to the dressing room. Even though the score was 0-0, he complimented Parolo on Lazio’s splendid first half performance, asking him how the second half would go.

Parolo grimaced. Sure, we did well in the first half but I know this lot too well, he said. At any moment in the second half, they can awake from their “slumber” and then… Clearly, Parolo was not up for the counting of unhatched chickens.

Parolo’s caution, notwithstanding a dominant first half showing from Lazio, was well placed. Having outplayed, outrun and outfought Juventus for fully 70 minutes and having taken a 1-0 lead over the champions, Lazio were then cruelly sunk by two goals in 14 minutes as the Old Lady once again showed that she was most definitely not for turning.

For Juve’s rivals, this 2-1 win at the Olimpico was a true sickener, of a familiar variety. You might think that you have the Old Lady on the ropes but just when you think that three points are in the bag, then she mule-kicks herself into life.

It was a doubly cruel result for Lazio, not only because the Roman club had given easily their best performance of the season but also because their defeat came via an 88th minute penalty that was needlessly conceded. Had the game ended in a draw, Lazio would have had every right to feel that they had merited a win.

As it is, the “Laziali” can only scratch their heads and ask themselves how they managed to lose a game in which Juventus did not have even one shot on goal in the first half and in which the final corner kick score of 8-1 for Lazio gives some idea of their superiority. Needless to add, too, Juve’s best player on the night was their Polish goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczęsny.

In reality, the fate of this game hinged on an incident in the 64th minute, just five minutes after Lazio had taken the lead through an own goal from Juve’s German midfielder, Emre Can, following a corner kick. Sent clean through by talented Spaniard, Luis Alberto, Lazio striker Ciro Immobile had a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 and score the goal that  might well have sealed an historic win as Lazio made most of Juve’s all too palpable discomfort.

Immobile, however, side-footed his chance over the bar, letting Juventus off the hook and unwittingly preparing the way for a remarkable Juve comeback. 10 minutes later, Portugal’s Joao Cancelo scored an equaliser with what was practically Juve’s first shot on goal.

14 minutes after that, with the result still finely balanced, Lazio then conceded an unnecessary penalty as their useful Bosnian midfielder, Senad Lulic, pulled down Cancelo in the area. The Portuguese defender was moving into a very dangerous position but one that was at least one yard offside. Had he scored a goal, it most probably would have been overruled by the VAR.

Lulic, however, could not know that. And so it was that Cristiano Ronaldo (who else) stepped up to slot home the winning penalty, thus making up for the partial disappointment of seeing him miss from the penalty spot against Chievo, ten days ago.

As weekends go, it could hardly have gone better for Juventus. As they struggled but took full points, their closest rivals Napoli, Inter Milan and AC Milan all dropped points. Inter lost 1-0 away to Torino whilst Milan and Napoli drew 0-0 at the San Siro.

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As January comes to an end, the runaway Old Lady is fast disappearing out of sight. Juve currently lead second-placed Napoli by 11 points, with Inter 19 behind them in third and with AC Milan a monstrous 24 points behind them in fourth. At this rate, it hardly takes a genius to conclude that the championship contest will be done and dusted, long before the final day of the season, on May 26th.

All the big names are immediately back in action this week as the Coppa Italia resumes with four intriguing quarter final ties. Tonight (Tuesday) at the San Siro, Milan meet Napoli for the second time in three days, whilst tomorrow (Wednesday), Fiorentina are at home to AS Roma as Atalanta entertain champions Juventus. The line up for these one leg, knockout ties is completed by Inter v Lazio on Thursday.

There will be plenty to look out for in these important games but, arguably, no player will be more closely watched than AC Milan’s Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek , the ex-Genoa striker who has replaced Chelsea’s most recent purchase, Argentine ace, Gonzalo Higuain. In 20 minutes as a substitute in Saturday night’s 0-0 draw with Napoli, Piatek’s debut went well, suggesting that there are good things on the way.

Last August on his Italian debut, Piatek scored all four goals for Genoa in a 4-0 Coppa Italia defeat of Lecce. The folks up at Milanello will be hoping that the Italian Cup can bring him more luck tonight.

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