Shipped from abroad: Reflections on an Italian Serie A Saturday

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It’s difficult for an undefeated team to sneak up on anybody, but without mid-week European soccer to keep them in on out radars, it’s been easy to lose track of Juventus. With all the draws and the lack of a prominent goalscoring threat, the Old Lady’s kept a low profile; yet, here we are, with just over a month left in the season, and not only is there still that stale bagel in their loss column, but thanks to one of their castaway attackers, they’re back in first place.

It’s unlikely Amauri was trying to do his old team any favors, yet with this 89th minute goal at the San Siro against Milan, he gave Fiorentina a desperately needed win (2-1), Milan their fifth loss of the year, and Juventus first place thanks to the Bianconeri’s 2-0 win at Palermo. Now 17-14-0, Juventus have a one point lead at the top of the Serie A and, thanks to another clean sheet, have dismissed another significant obstacle in their quest for an undefeated season.

Most wouldn’t describe Palermo as a major hurdle, but with the likes of Fabrizio Miccoli and Josip Ilicic leading one of the most dangerous attacks in the league (their 44 goals sitting seventh overall), there was always a chance the Aguile could run out on Juve the same way they did against Lazio (5-1, Feb. 19), Genoa (5-3, Jan. 22), and Inter (4-3, Sep. 11).

But since their trouncing of Lazio in February, the Renzo Barbera has not been as kind to Palermo. They’ve scored only once in their last four home games, losing to Milan, Roma and Juve while drawing against Udinese. To be sure, those are four difficult opponents (the worst sitting sixth in league), but it still seems Juventus caught the Sicilians at the right time.

Those are the kind of breaks you need if you’re going to go undefeated, and with their 17th clean sheet of the season, Juventus is one step closer to being invincible. They’ve now gone 373 minutes in league without allowing a goal ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with third-place Lazio, now the biggest obstacle between the Bianconeri and a loss-less season.

Their next biggest challenge after that: a home match with a Roma team that gave up four goals to Lecce on Saturday. No other team in their run-in sits higher than 12th.

Elsewhere in Italy

All results: Cesena 0-0 Bologna; Chievo 3-2 Catania; Milan 1-2 Fiorentina; Novara 1-1 Genoa; Cagliari 2-2 Internazionale; Udinese 3-1 Parma; Lecce 4-2 Roma; Atalanta 1-2 Siena; Palermo 0-2 Juventus; Lazio 3-1 Napoli

Stuff that stuck out:

  • Napoli was without Christian Maggio (injured) and Juan Zuniga (suspended), while Andrea Dossena wasn’t fit for 90. That meant that Walter Mazzari had to abandon his 3-4-3 for lack of defenders who could play on the wings. But on a night when Lazio honored Giorgio Chingalia, it’s uncertain Napoli’s full team could have gotten a result. The win leaves Lazio three clear of Udinese for third while Napoli, six back of the league’s last Champions League spot, looks to Europa.
  • Despite their loss, Roma is only one point behind Napoli, though Saturday’s result was beguiling. At a Lecce side seemingly set to book its place in Serie B, the Giallorossi were down four goals within an hour. It’s also the third time this calendar year Roma have given up four road goals to what you would think to be inferior competition (4-2 at Calgiari on Feb. 1; 4-1 at Atalanta on Feb. 26).
  • Michael Bradley’s sixth minute goal for Chievo against visiting Catania made him the first U.S. player to score in Serie A since Alexi Lalas during the 1994-95 season.

Up next: Mid-week action starts on Tuesday as Milan visits Bradley’s Chievo. Juventus hosts a Lazio team that has not beaten the Old Lady in league since 2003.