Serie A served up a real treat on Saturday with two thoroughly entertaining matches to start Week 8 of the season.
It included the top three clubs, and Milan—the fallen giant of this season, who are currently in a state of flux after selling star players Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Both matches had intriguing subplots and ultimately conjured up some fascinating results that might reveal to us how the rest of the season will unfold.
The earlier kickoff pitted the two best sides in Serie A this season, with the champions entertaining a rejuvenated Napoli side, intent on reclaiming a Champions League place and perhaps mounting a Scudetto challenge in the process.
The opening stages were quiet, with both teams utilizing 3-5-2 formations, which meant that the midfield became predictably congested. Nonetheless, Juve probed away, controlling possession with the majestic Andrea Pirlo sweeping the ball from side to side, while Napoli looked to exploit the wide areas through Juan Zuniga and Christian Maggio.
Edinson Cavani almost scored a stunner, wrapping his right boot around a free kick from the left side of the penalty area. The ball cannoned off the cross bar, with Marco Storari absolutely helpless, despite flinging himself towards the ball.
El Matador continued to threaten again in the second half, unleashing an even more outrageous effort, as Juventini drew breath in the stands. Running away from goal, Cavani let the ball drop over his left shoulder, before unleashing a stunning volley that whistled past the right post with Storari rooted this time.
Juve rode their luck somewhat as the end of the game approached, Napoli always one pass short of completely opening up the Bianconeri. Leonardo Bonucci, for one, kept the game flowing by striding out from defence to help Juve's attacks in transition.
Juve took the lead with 10 minutes to go, leaving Walter Mazzarri to wave his arms furiously on the sidelines. Martin Caceres, left completely unmarked, jumped highest to power home a header, sending the Juventus Stadium into raptures.
Napoli, stunned, had barely gathered themselves to react to the goal when Juventus struck again. This time it was a sensational long-distance strike from Paul Pogba, who lashed in Hugo Campagnaro's sloppy clearance, low into the bottom right corner.
Juve, three points clear now, retained their spot at the top of the table and now appear to be too strong to even allow a title race to develop.
Lazio vs. Milan
Lazio had the opportunity to narrow the gap on second place, knowing that a win would draw them to within a point of the Partenopei.
Massimiliano Allegri, under severe pressure, opted to reinstate his trademark diamond 4-4-2 formation, utilizing Kevin-Prince Boateng as a trequartista, to the annoyance of the majority of Milanistas.
After a quiet opening, Lazio struck first with a deflected Hernanes strike from the edge of the area, which looped over the despairing Marco Storari. The Rossoneri had not been severely tested but had once again conceded the lead in unfortunate circumstances.
Stephan El Shaarawy almost equalised immediately, but Andre Dias' sliding clearance off the line, followed by an exuberant fist-pump celebration, ensured the score remained 1-0.
It was soon two though, this time Antonio Candreva unleashed a rocket from the right side of the penalty area, arrowing into the top left corner. Amelia might have done better, but the sheer power of the strike would have done for most goalkeepers around Europe.
Allegri then made the baffling decision to bring on Urby Emanuelson for Boateng at halftime. The Ghanaian had been ineffective, but the substitution was hardly going to alter proceedings.
Lazio seemed to have put the game out of sight, after Candreva's lofted pass found Miroslav Klose, left on his own in the middle of the penalty area. Daniele Bonera was nowhere to be found and the German smashed home with an impressive volley. Good night.
The Rossoneri rallied late on after Nigel de Jong's faintest of touch managed to push the ball into the back of the net from an in-swinging Emanuelson free kick. El Shaarawy then continued his fine form, notching his fifth goal in eight matches, after a mazy dribble from the left flank.
The Azzurri international swept the ball home from just inside the left side of the area and suddenly Milan sensed they could take an unlikely point from the game.
The Biancocelesti held on though, ensuring Vladimir Petkovic's men secured a third successive victory. That illusive Champions League place is looking like it might finally be achieved.
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