It was an outstanding slate on this Serie A special Boxing Day matchday. Everyone was waiting for the heavyweight showdown between Inter Milan and Napoli but the best part of the Christmas season is always the surprises, and Serie A gave us plenty. What wasn’t surprising, though? Cristiano Ronaldo rescuing Juventus, once again.
Serie A Special: Ronaldo Saves Juventus’ Unbeaten Start
Atalanta 2-2 Juventus
Juventus knew this game would be tough – all trips to Bergamo are a challenge. This time, though, they did it with Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench, the product of such a heavy clog of fixtures. Even after they got a second-minute opener from a comical own goal, Juventus knew Atalanta were not going to put their heads down with the form they are in.
This meant it was time for the Duvan Zapata show. The Colombia international has been on an excellent streak of form, scoring six goals in his last four coming into this game. He absolutely tore apart Leonardo Bonucci on a beautiful turn, opening up a lovely left-footed shot into the corner. It was exactly what Atalanta needed, but he was not done.
In the second half, after Rodrigo Bentancur had been sent off for a soft second yellow, he popped up again, this time with a close-range header to give Atalanta the lead. It looked like they were going to hold on too, they had out-played Juventus and were already up a man. It was really looking like the upset this Serie A special Boxing Day needed.
There was another lethal goalscorer on the field by now, however; the man Ray Hudson affectionately calls the Dark Invader. Cristiano Ronaldo popped up where he always does, right in front of the goal with a chance to score, and he did just that, giving Juventus a massive equalizer and saving their unbeaten start to the Serie A season.
Inter Milan 1-0 Napoli
When the team sheets came out and Jose Callejon was listed as Napoli’s right-back, fireworks could be expected. Napoli knew that after Juventus failed to win, they had a chance to close the gap to six points. When Mauro Icardi hit the crossbar with the opening kick, however, we could only go down from there.
It was a rather choppy first half, Icardi’s opening kick really was the best chance. Neither side could show the necessary quality to break down the others’ organisation. By the end of the half, Inter began playing like the better side, even forcing a great clearance off the line by Kalidou Koulibaly.
The second half started just as slowly, with plenty of fouls and choppy play. By the 60t minute, both sides had been more risk-averse than interested in winning the game. The headline of the opening hour will no doubt be the poor performance of Ivan Perisic, who has been pretty awful since his return from the World Cup this summer.
Kalidou Koulibaly had had one of his best games of the season, but then he put an arm out to block off Matteo Politano and he went down. It was soft, but most likely a yellow for Koulibaly. However, his reaction, clapping the referee’s decision, got him sent off. Napoli’s best player had his marching orders with ten minutes left in the game.
With the 90 minutes finished, it looked like the points would be split. Out of nowhere, though, a lovely cross from Keita Balde found substitute Lautaro Martinez for the winner. All of it was made possible by the dummy from Matias Vecino to give Inter all three points. Maybe Luciano Spalletti will think about starting them in the next game.
Gattuso in Trouble
It was the fourth successive Serie A game without a goal for AC Milan and Gennaro Gattuso is under pressure. The ex-Milan player has struggled to find an identity since taking over as manager just over a year ago and, despite all the injuries, his side have looked extremely pedestrian in recent weeks. The newfound pressure for Gattuso is more about the teams they’ve struggled against, though.
Goalless draws against Torino, Bologna and Frosinone are not going to cut it. Coupled with a loss at home to Fiorentina and being knocked out of the Europa League by Olympiakos, however, will cast real doubt. The general lack of attacking ideas is what will cost Gattuso his job in the end.
Elsewhere in Serie A
Fabio Quagliarella, take a bow. You’ve done it again. Mr Wondergoal has now scored the two best goals of the season and both of them are worth an endless watch. On top of all that, Quagliarella has now scored in eight straight games for Sampdoria. That’s quite the run headed into their big showdown in Turin against Juventus on Saturday.
Roma picked up a much needed three points at home against Sassuolo as well. Eusebio Di Francesco’s men have really been struggling but these three points go a long way with how tight the midtable is in Serie A’s special season. The performances are something Roma fans will be most pleased with.
In particular for Roma, the performances of Patrick Schtick and Niccolo Zanolio. They have come under heavy criticism in recent weeks for their poor performances in place of injured starters. However, they showed up big on Boxing Day with two goals and an earned penalty. Even though Schtick is expected to leave in January, this will be a positive step out the door.