28 February ~ The build-up to Saturday's top-of-the table clash between Milan and Juventus, which finished 1-1 thanks to goals from Antonio Nocerino (Milan) and Alessandro Matri (Juventus), was particularly poisonous. Both clubs tried to gain a moral or psychological advantage by pointing out alleged favours received or injustices suffered. Unsurprisingly, this produced a bitter match that was also marred by some controversial decisions. The flashpoint was the non-goal by Sully Muntari after 25 minutes, which would have given Milan a 2-0 lead.
Despite the ball being well over the line before Gigi Buffon clawed it back, linesman Roberto Romagnoli, who was perfectly placed to see what had happened, persuaded referee Paolo Tagliavento to change his mind and rule that a goal had not been scored.
Romagnoli then wrongly flagged a second-half strike by Matri offside, and none of the officials saw Milan’s Philippe Mexès punch former team-mate Marco Borriello in the stomach at the start of the second half. Off the field, the Milan number two, Adriano Galliani, appears to have insulted Juventus coach Antonio Conte and remonstrated with the referee at half time.
The chaotic scenes at the end were just the icing on the cake of a thoroughly unedifying spectacle. It is a shame the good football played will be forgotten. Buffon did not help matters by saying he did not realise the ball had crossed the line, which is difficult to believe. Even a TV commentator got in on the act. Carlo Pellegatti, a Milan fan who works for Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset, insulted Conte when he thought he was off-air.
Meanwhile, Milan’s city rivals Inter continue to plummet. On the surface, the 1-0 defeat at Napoli was an improvement on recent performances, but it was still a seventh defeat (with one draw) in their last eight competitive games. This is a sequence almost without parallel for one of Italy’s big three, especially when you consider that Inter have only scored in one of those games.
They would be bottom in a league table based on the first six games of the girone di ritorno, with a miserable one point from the 4-4 home draw with Palermo. They are currently the worst team in Serie A. They are not even a team; they are up a blind alley and it is difficult to see a way out at the moment.
Roma arrived in Bergamo to meet Atalanta already without their suspended captain Francesco Totti. Then, to general astonishment, the name of Daniele de Rossi, their other talisman, was also missing from their line-up. After the game, we were told he had turned up a few minutes late for a team meeting in the hotel. In accordance with the code of conduct laid down by coach Luis Enrique, he was summarily despatched to the stands.
So Roma took the field with a team that proved easy meat for an enthusiastic but not exceptional Atalanta side. Luis Enrique wants his team to play the Barcelona way. Their display showed that you players of the quality that Pep Guardiola has to do that. If your game is based on ball possession, you have to be able to deal with opposition counter-attacks. Atalanta ran out comfortable 4-1 winners.
Roma had 65 per cent of possession, but their defending was some of the worst I have ever seen at any level of football. It allowed Atalanta to score four almost identical goals in fast breaks, which met little opposition from a statuesque Roma defence. Leading scorer German Denis, who had not scored since December 21, helped himself to a hat-trick. His partner Guido Marilungo, scorer of the other goal, was the game's stand-out performer.
Atalanta’s display should not be underestimated – they did what Roma allowed them to do very well – but they will never again be given so much room to play in Serie A. As for De Rossi’s "crime", surely a fine would have more appropriate. Sunday’s humiliation smacks of self-destruction. As does the fact that red cards for Pablo Osvaldo and Marco Cassetti left Roma with nine men, but the damage had already been done. Richard Mason