This was a pivotal weekend in Serie A, with several huge matches that will have implications for the end-of-season prizes and the relegation battle too.
Napoli—fresh off of their points penalty being revoked—came from behind to secure a vital point at Fiorentina, another candidate for one of those three precious Champions League.
Edinson Cavani (who else?) took a half-chance with a glancing header to draw the Partenopei back from a 1-0 deficit and generally caused havoc throughout the game.
Another sensational performance from a South American striker was Paolo Dybala, who inspired Palermo to a point at home to second placed Lazio. The former Instituto starlet is so lively in and around the area and he reacted first to guide home a half-volley into the corner to send the Renzo Barbera into delirium.
Gian Piero Gasperini has done a better job than the recent results might suggest for the Rosanero, and it is refreshing to see him use genuine width. Andrea Dossena has profited from this and could be a great signing if he continues to play like he did against Lazio, firing in some dangerous crosses that fizzed across the six-yard box, including the assist for Egidio Arevalo Rios' goal.
Lazio lost ground on the leaders Juventus, who swept aside an Udinese side with ease, 4-0. Paul Pogba, deputising for the injured Andrea Pirlo, put in a sensational display, scoring two fine long-range goals, with this stunner a candidate for the goal of the season.
Inter and Roma was another thrilling encounter, and it ended in a 1-1 draw. With both sides struggling to add a ruthless streak to their attack, it was largely the defences that emerged on top, although Andrea Ranocchia did his best to embarrass himself with a clumsy foul on Michael Bradley to gift the Giallorossi a penalty.
Marquinhos, the young Brazilian centre-back, impressed again and continues to defy logic in putting in another composed performance under the bright lights of the Sunday night game. The relationship he has developed with Mauro Goicoechea has improved the defence under Zdenek Zeman immeasurably, as the tendency to panic at set pieces has dissipated now that the Uruguayan stopper is capable of commanding his area.
Another bright young star on show at the Olimpico was the teenage striker Marko Livaja, who has been known for this incredible miss until now. But the Croatian was excellent against Roma as he hassled Leandro Castan and drifted down the channels as well as linking well Rodrigo Palacio.
At the bottom of the league, Pescara were dragged back towards the relegation zone after a 2-0 defeat at home to an impressive Torino outfit. Alessio Cerci impressed with his trickery and invention and appeared to find an immediate understanding with new signing Paulo Barreto, finding the Brazilian with several crosses. The former Viola winger capped his performance off with a mazy run and one-two from the wing, before calmly placing the ball beyond a flapping Mattia Perin.
Kamil Glik continues to impress me as he marshals the Toro defence in the absence of the injured Angelo Ogbonna. The Polish international shows great organisational skills and tenacity in the challenge which have led the side to concede just three goals in their five-game unbeaten streak.
Another fine young defender in Serie A would be Siena's Luis Neto, recently linked with a big-money move to Zenit St. Petersburg.
With Emanuele Calaio departing to Napoli, Siena's hopes of survival appear remote, but the Brazilian helped them keep a clean sheet in a gritty 1-0 victory over Sampdoria.
Siena climbed to within six points of safety and are now within one victory from the other two sides who currently face the drop, Palermo and Genoa, with the latter suffering a home defeat to an excellent Catania side.
The Elefanti controlled proceedings through Mariano Izco in the midfield, who distributed the ball magnificently, allowing Catania to punish the Grifone with a couple of trademark counter attacks and proving why they remain one of the best sides in the league to watch.
Mauro Goicoechea; Luis Neto, Marquinhos, Kamil Glik; Alessio Cerci, Paul Pogba, Mariano Izco, Andrea Dossena; Paulo Dybala, Edinson Cavani, Marko Livaja