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Home > EltasZone > After 552 days, Juventus finally knocked off their Serie A perch | Nicky Bandini

After 552 days, Juventus finally knocked off their Serie A perch | Nicky Bandini

In Italy, the Serie A table is always front-page news. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, La Classifica appears on the cover of all the nation’s major sports papers. This season is only three games old but readers want to see those numbers. And especially on a weekend when Juventus have been knocked off their perch.

The Bianconeri had occupied first place – or at least a share of it – for 552 consecutive days, dating back to March 2018. That sequence ended after they drew 0-0 away to Fiorentina, leaving room for Inter to overtake by extending their own perfect start with a 1-0 victory over Udinese.

It is far too soon for any of this to matter. And yet, at the same time, it does. Last season, Juventus led the league from the first weekend to the last. They remain clear favourites to win a ninth straight Scudetto but at least this time someone else will get a turn to front-run.

Juventus, furthermore, did look vulnerable on Saturday. This was Maurizio Sarri’s first game in the dugout for his new club, after recovering from pneumonia. Fiorentina had the better of the play, taking 18 shots to the visitors’ eight and earning 10 corners without giving up a single one.

Douglas Costa’s early injury hurt Juventus, and Miralem Pjanic also had to be withdrawn before half-time, but those factors alone could not excuse the ponderousness of the champions’ play. Fiorentina were simply quicker to the ball. The dynamism of Gaetano Castrovilli’s emerging talent was to the fore in sweltering heat, but the defining image was that of a 36-year-old Franck Ribéry running down Cristiano Ronaldo after giving up a five-yard head-start.

The Frenchman had been just a step too slow to punish a mistake by Matthijs de Ligt in the 16th minute, when the defender miscued a backpass, sending the ball square along the edge of Juventus’s six-yard box. Wojciech Szczęsny, having endured a near calamity of his own when he accidentally booted the ball into Federico Chiesa moments earlier, beat Ribéry to it at the back post.

Sarri cited the temperature, early kick-off and tired legs from international duty as mitigating factors. Those excuses drew a response from Antonio Conte. “I don’t want to say anything,” said the Inter manager, “otherwise we would have to bring out the balance sheets and the look at the estates. Let’s just say that someone needs to stay calm and serene because they are on the strong side.”

Premier Sports 📺

🔵⚫ Inter come away with a 1-0 win against 10-man Udinese and Antonio Conte’s team go top of Serie A!

September 14, 2019

Those sounded like the first shots fired in what will no doubt develop into a season-long back-and-forth. Sarri replaced Conte as manager of Arezzo in 2006, only for the latter to be reappointed before the end of the campaign – returning with barbed remarks about the team’s fitness. The favour was returned when Sarri succeeded Conte at Chelsea, expressing surprise at the lack of tactical organisation in the team.

For now, Conte is being careful not to puff up his own club’s prospects. The truth is that Inter look far from an all-conquering side despite having collected maximum points. They were grateful against Udinese to the hot-headedness of Rodrigo De Paul, sent off after 35 minutes for slapping Antonio Candreva.

What the Nerazzurri do have is an emerging star in Stefano Sensi, the 24-year-old midfielder signed from Sassuolo this summer. He had already grabbed his first goal for the club in the season-opening rout of Lecce, and it was his dazzling Veronica (a pirouette turn) that drew the foul for the penalty to seal Inter’s victory over Cagliari. On Saturday he added a match-winner of his own.

It was a remarkable goal, Sensi beating Rodrigo Becão to a header despite giving up almost a foot in height . The delivery had come from Diego Godín, advancing out of the back to support the attack – another positive note for the manager, who had spoken during pre-game interviews about his desire for defenders to contribute to build-up play.

Sensi looks already like a classic Conte player: small in stature yet an enormous on-pitch presence, breaking the lines with his runs and committing furiously to winning back lost balls as well. He lined up in an advanced position, just behind the attack, at San Siro, yet only two players on the pitch had more touches. None had as many shots on target.

Stefano Sensi (second left) is congratulated after opening the scoring.

Stefano Sensi (second left) is congratulated after opening the scoring. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Romelu Lukaku had a quieter game, but that did not prevent one pundit, Luciano Passirani, from dropping some alarming racism into the public discourse when he suggested on local TV station Telelombardia that the only way to stop the striker was to give him 10 bananas. Further awfulness was to follow, with monkey noises aimed at Franck Kessie during Milan’s win away to Verona.

Telelombardia were at least quick to condemn and distance themselves from Passirani’s remarks, with a show director stating that he would not be invited on again. Verona took a different approach, putting out a pair of tweets in which they questioned whether the abuse of Kessie, along with reported taunts of the Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, had happened at all.

“The ‘buuu’ for Kessie? The insults to Donnarumma? Maybe someone was dazed by the decibels of the Gialloblu support,” read the tweets. “What did we hear? Whistles, inevitable, for refereeing decisions that continue to leave people feeling very perplexed today, and then a lot of applause for our ‘gladiators’ at the end of the game. We will not fall into clichés and old labels. Respect for Verona and the Veronese. #respect”

Hellas Verona FC

I ‘buuu’ a Kessie? Gli insulti a Donnarumma? Forse qualcuno è rimasto frastornato dai decibel del tifo gialloblù. Cosa abbiamo sentito noi?

September 16, 2019

Unlike the league standings, those chants did not make it on to Monday’s front pages. Certain stories never change.

Talking points

A contrastingly beautiful scene outside the Sant’Orsola hospital, with Bologna’s players making a detour on their way home from beating Brescia to share the win with manager Sinisa Mihajlovic as he continues to receive treatment for leukemia. Bologna had been 2-0 down after 19 minutes, and then 3-1 down at half-time, but roared back to win 4-3 after Mihajlovic made tactical tweaks – and delivered a stern dressing down to his players – from his hospital room, relaying his instructions to his assistant Emilio De Leo. “You only come here to bust my balls when you win,” he joked. “But on Wednesday we’re still going to talk about your mistakes. You can come up to my room and we’ll rewatch the games.” For now, Bologna’s seven points from three games are their best start to a Serie A season in 17 years.

A happy weekend for Duván Zapata, who scored a thunderous 95th-minute strike to set Atalanta off in top spirits for their Champions League debut. A less happy weekend for his cousin, Cristián, the Genoa defender who fouled him for the penalty that led to Atalanta’s first goal and later got bamboozled by his relative in a one-on-one.

Premier Sports 📺

🇨🇴 Duván Zapata is 3 from 3 in Serie A this season snatching all 3 points yesterday

He’s set to challenge once again this season for the Capocannoniere 💪#MondayMotivation

September 16, 2019

Henrikh Mkhitaryan marked his Roma debut with a goal, and Paulo Fonseca got his first win. Even Justin Kluivert got in on the act, finding the net in Serie A for just the second time since joining last summer.

Quick guide

Serie A results

Verona 0-1 Milan, Roma 4-2 Sassuolo, Brescia 3-4 Bologna, Parma 1-3 Cagliari, Spal 2-1 Lazio, Genoa 1-2 Atalanta, Inter 1-0 Udinese, Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria, Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

Monday: Torino v Lecce

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