Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just One Scudetto Week 1: Breaking away

Within days of the season's kick-off, the powers behind Italian football rubber stamped the establishment of their version of the Premier League, effectively separating the top two divisions from next season. The separation is hoped to stem the dwindling power of the League, an atrophy highlighted this summer with the departure of two of its biggest stars, Kaka and Ibrahimovic, to Spain. Serie A is in serious danger of slipping to fourth in the UEFA coefficients behind the Bundesliga, so they need a good season at home and abroad.

This season kicked off with six one-goal wins and four draws. All three newly promoted clubs stayed unbeaten... one wonders how often that will happen in the new regime.

Play-off winners Livorno held on for a goalless home draw against Cagliari, while it took a spectacular Di Natale turn and volley from the edge of the box to spare Udinese's blushes against Serie B runners-up Parma. It was the second time he equalised in the match following strikes from Paloschi and Lucarelli either side of the break.

But the performance of the week must go to Bari who had to face probably the toughest match in their whole season - away to Inter. For the home team, new signings Milito and Eto'o look pretty tasty already but squandered the opportunities presented to them, combining in a less a than satisfactory dive from the former and penalty conversion from the latter to provide their only goal. Kutuzov did well to control the ball for Bari's breakaway equaliser and in the end few would begrudge the Serie B champions their point.

In an opening day derby of sorts, Bologna took the lead mid-way through the first half against Fiorentina, Osvaldo left in hectares of space in the six yard box from a corner. Mutu (who else) got the equaliser with a wonderfully neat chip. He didn't celebrate too greatly - maybe because his goal bonus is hardly going to make much of a dent into that £15 million he owes Chelsea.

A Pato brace was enough for Milan in Siena. The Rossaneri made things far more complicated than they needed to be when Marco Storai tamely palmed a shot into the path of the onrushing Algeria forward Abdelkader Ghezzal to equalise. Milan's Brazilian class showed through in the end to provide Leonardo with a debut win.

Cassano pulled the strings in providing Sampdoria with an opening day victory, jinking through to lay up Pazzini's opener and creating a number of opportunites for himself. Catania equalised just before the break with Marimoto bursting through a static defence to poke home but Gastadello's last minute header (or more accurately noser) stole the points in the last minute.

A tough opener for Roma ended in defeat. A goalless first half in Genoa gave way to a feast in the second, Criscito tastily finishing a neat move to open the scoring against the visitors. The lead changed in 15 minutes, Totti instrumental in both goals, setting up the first and scoring the second. Their lead lasted just five minutes when Zapater delightfully curled one into the top near corner. The points stayed in Genoa after Roma failed to clear their lines from a wide free kick seven minutes before the end, Biava on hand to tuck in the rebound.

The fixtures were completed by three 1-0 home wins: Summer signing Diego had an instant impact for Juventus - his curling free-kick powerfully headed home by Iaquinta to beat Chievo; Tommaso Rocchi's first half goal was enough for Lazio to take full points against Atalanta; and Walter Zenga got a win in his first match in charge of Palermo against Napoli, but it certainly wasn't pretty - a rather unconvincing penalty giving the three points to the home side.

Well that's it for week one - a cagey start I'm sure you'll agree, but with the champions Inter already playing catch-up, it looks like we're in for an intriguing season. They could slip even further behind if they fail to beat their hometown rivals in the Derby della Madonnina this coming Saturday evening (Live on ESPN).

Results, fixtures and tables here...

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