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With the to-and-fro nature of the fledgling season continuing, the champions got back on track while other title contenders were taking backward steps

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

With the rain pouring down on Sicily and the cold enveloping Milan and Naples, the reminders of a long winter to come were plentiful as Serie A football resumed after the international break. But whereas AC Milan welcomed the seasonal change with a convincing home win, Napoli missed a great chance to go top of the league. Meanwhile, things just get worse for Inter.

The Nerazzurri’s trip to Catania started well enough, with Esteban Cambiasso’s clinical finish giving them an early lead, but the Massimino was to become a watery grave for any hopes they may still have had of making a title challenge. Come the second half, Vincenzo Montella’s side upped the stakes and the reigning world champions had absolutely nothing with which to come back at them.

MATCH FACTS | Catania 2-1 Inter

Shots
On Target
Possession
Corners
Bookings
Catania
10
4
51%
6
3
Inter
5
2
49%
5
2

Sergio Almiron’s delightfully curled finish pegged them back before Francesco Lodi fired home a clinical penalty after Luca Castellazzi brought down Gonzalo Bergessio. With Inter in need of some inspiration, they had absolutely no quality to throw at the home side.

Downpour or no downpour, Inter only had as much rain to contend with as did the Elefanti and it even came to their rescue when Andrea Catellani couldn’t get the ball out of his feet as he went one-on-one with Castellazzi.

If Claudio Ranieri was unsure of the size of the task he has on his hands before last night’s fixture, he will be very aware of it as he wakes this morning. Arguably the most high-profile job he has had in his career, this could also be his most thankless task. The lack of reserves beyond an ageing first team base is astounding.

Their Champions League win 17 months ago feels more like it came 17 years back right now. With four defeats in their first six games, and a calendar of seven games in 23 days having started with another loss, there are tough times ahead for Inter.

With the other side of Milan hosting the other side of Sicily, many expected the previously high-flying Palermo to give the Rossoneri a real scare at San Siro, but nothing could have been further from the truth as it turned out. Instead, the champions coasted to their most comfortable result of the season, and the 3-0 final scoreline could and should have been more.

MATCH FACTS | Milan 3-0 Palermo

Shots
On Target
Possession
Corners
Bookings
Milan
15
10
69%
10
2
Palermo
5
0
31%
4
1

It was perhaps inevitable that Antonio Nocerino would finally look more comfortable in a Milan shirt when coming up against his former employers, and in turning home Alberto Aquilani’s header from a Zlatan Ibrahimovic cross, he also added his first goal for the club.

After the break, Milan let loose for long spells. Ibrahimovic was the provider again as his perfect through-ball found the returning Robinho, whose delightful finish capped off a performance which showed exactly what his side had been missing during his injury-enforced absence. Rusty though he may have been early on, it was his increased involvement in general play which coincided with the home side racking up the goals.

While Ibrahimovic’s toe-poke over the top at the near post just cleared the bar, Antonio Cassano managed to complete the rout when curling home from Ignazio Abate’s cut-back from the byeline. It probably should have been more, but Milan will have been happy enough to simply get back on course. Now only three points behind Juventus, there is suddenly a light at the end of their dark early-season tunnel.

For Palermo, there was no good news. A pathetic away showing was nothing short of an embarrassment to their commendable followers, with a downright failure to even compete. With no shots on target in the 90 minutes and no indication that they were ever going to get close to the Milan midfield, the Rosanero were second best from the start. Massimiliano Allegri’s side will have tougher games between now and the end of the season – 32 of them, to be precise.

MATCH FACTS | Napoli 1-2 Parma

Shots
On Target
Possession
Corners
Bookings
Napoli
13
5
65%
8
1
Parma
3
3
35%
0
1

One of those more testing fixtures is likely to come against Parma, as Napoli found to their cost at San Paolo while Milan were strolling to victory. Despite dominating much of the possession and territory, Walter Mazzarri’s troops were stung by a classic away-day performance from the Ducali.

The Azzurri have yet to make their home arena the tough prospect they would have hoped, despite having beaten Milan in their opening game. With a 0-0 draw with Fiorentina having come since that Edinson Cavani-inspired win, last night they dropped all three points.

Massimo Gobbi finished superbly after racing onto Sergio Floccari’s excellent back-heeled pass to open the scoring, and though Giuseppe Mascara equalised after a similarly superb flick from Ezequiel Lavezzi, Franco Colomba’s side grabbed the victory thanks to Francesco Modesto’s 82nd-minute clincher from Sebastian Giovinco’s right-wing cross.

While one of their eyes may well have been on Tuesday’s huge Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, 13 shots and 65 per cent of possession should have been enough to see them through. However, the resilience shown by their backline against Inter was not on display as they were exposed on the break.

The slight drop in tension was enough to see their Scudetto hopes take a blow to the ribs, but their ability so far this season to step up for the big games may stand them in better stead on Tuesday.

As for the Milanese cugini, a home game against BATE Borisov off the back of a confidence-boosting league win awaits one side, while the others face a tricky trip to Lille after yet another Serie A embarrassment.

Meanwhile, it will be another midweek off for Juventus, who will this afternoon have the chance to open a four-point gap on their realistic title rivals before putting their feet up for a few days. Milan might have won 3-0, but the Bianconeri were big winners too last night.

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