Despite the protests of the Anti-Vivisection League, Lazio's real-life eagle made its debut at the Stadio Olimpico last night, soaring around the stadium to enthusiastic applause and even a few tears before the Aquile kicked off against Milan. Unfortunately for Lazio, though, the evening's stage was about to be stolen by a game taking place more than 100 miles away. How, after all, could one airborne bird compete with a whole pack of Flying Donkeys?
Chievo Verona, the Mussi Volanti – they of the 2001-02 "miracle" – when, led by the current Juventus manager Gigi Del Neri they finished fifth in their first ever season in Serie A – have taken to the skies once again. After opening the season with back-to-back wins that briefly earned them sole possession of first place in Serie A, most had expected them to come crashing back to earth after their 1-0 defeat at home to Brescia on Sunday. Even the local press held out little hope after an injury to Chievo's Brazilian midfielder Luciano.
"Nobody can beat a man like him, exchange passes like him, or create numerical superiority in the middle of the park," wailed the Veronese newspaper Arena after it was confirmed that the muscle injury that had forced Luciano to limp out of the defeat by Brescia would keep him out until at least December. "His injury will deprive Chievo of a player gifted with unpredictability and numbers that cannot be replicated by anyone else in the team."
The departure of the centre-back Mario Yepes to Milan in the summer had been met with similar dismay. How was this team, this "quiet backwater", this "bunch of parochial nobodies", as Tim Parks describes them in his wonderful book A Season With Verona, supposed to cope with such set-backs? The same way they always have. The same way the British government implored its population to behave during World War II. "Keep Calm and Carry On".
That is what they did after falling behind to Napoli at San Paolo. Not nine minutes had elapsed when Paolo Cannavaro snuck in behind a dozing defence to head the home side in front from about four inches out and the reporters in the press box began to apply the final flourishes to their match reports. Game over, job done. A team such as Napoli, European contenders, who lost only twice at the San Paolo last season, don't surrender home leads to ones like Chievo, who finished 14th.
Only it turns out they do. The visitors reacted to going a goal down by continuing to do exactly what they had been doing. There were no substitutions or a frantic raising of the tempo and the visitors' composed demeanour was summed up neatly by the equaliser. Kévin Constant looked like a man with all the time in the world as he looked up and picked out Sergio Pellissier with a delectable chip over the defence that the striker volleyed magnificently home.
When Chievo's manager, Stefano Pioli, finally did make a change in the 10th minute of the second half, it proved just as inspired as the lack of one had in the first period. Gelson Fernandes was sent on in place of a tiring Constant after 55 minutes and needed only three more to get his name on the scoresheet. Pellissier completed the scoring with just over a quarter of an hour to go, seizing on an underhit backpass from Cannavaro to round the keeper and slot home.
The victory moved Chievo back up to second with nine points from four games. There is a long way to go yet and it is unthinkable that a team with an annual player wage bill of just over €13m (£11.1m) – only Cesena's is lower in Serie A – can sustain such form over the course of a season but as ever with Chievo the miracle remains that they are gracing such a stage at all.
Parks is an unapologetic supporter of Hellas Verona – city rivals of Chievo – but he was right when he pointed out that the Flying Donkeys are a team who can only exist at this level because of the television money that is now available. Their attendances were the second lowest in Serie A last year and the reality is that Chievo itself is a suburb of Verona with a population of roughly 4,500.
Which is not to say they don't deserve credit for such success – quite the opposite in fact. Their president, Luca Campedelli, has been one of very few in Italian football consistently to resist the temptation to overspend ever since he took over the club in 1992. By working strictly within the club's means at all times he was able to ensure that their relegation in 2007 did not become a disaster. They were promoted back to the top flight a year later and after bursting on to the scene almost a decade ago they are now part of the Serie A furniture.
The squad he has helped put together may have been assembled on a shoestring budget yet there is enough talent there to suggest that even once this fast start fades this team can be competitive. Pellissier might not be a 20 goal-a-season striker, but has shown he can provide a number in the low teens. Fernandes didn't make it at Manchester City but he is tireless and at 24 is maturing into a more intelligent ball-player. Constant, acquired from Châteauroux in the summer, could on this showing allow Luciano to quickly be forgotten.
It was perhaps telling too that, while Napoli fielded the same side that had beaten Sampdoria on Sunday – some of whom were playing their third game in a week following the Europa League draw with Utrecht last Thursday – Pioli felt comfortable enough in his depth to rotate, making four changes. They looked the fresher side for it, especially in the second half.
Chievo return home on Sunday to face another tricky fixture against Lazio – who drew 1-1 with Milan last night. Flying Donkeys and Eagles going at it for our entertainment. The Anti-Vivisection League should have plenty to say about that.
Serie A strike cancelled
The proposed players' strike has been suspended, meaning that games will go ahead this weekend as planned. The two sides will continue to hold discussions but have confirmed that six of eight points have now been agreed upon. There is still some way to go, though, since the two unresolved points are the two biggest. The players continue to reject the imposing of a rule that would render them unable to refuse a transfer in the last year of their deal and insist that they should always be allowed to train with their team – a reaction to events such as those last year at Lazio, when several first team players were frozen out by the owner Claudio Lotito.
• "Ibra yes, Milan no" was how Gazzetta dello Sport summed up the draw at Stadio Olimpico. Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Milan ahead against Lazio with a well-taken goal but predictably enough the Rossoneri promptly went to sleep and conceded an equaliser. If the plan was for this Milan attack to score so many the defensive frailties could be overlooked, it isn't working – they've managed only two in three games since Lecce. The manager, Massimiliano Allegri, again left Robinho out, giving the Brazilian just three minutes off the bench at the end after starting Kevin-Prince Boateng up front with Ronaldinho and Ibrahimovic. Right now it's just not working. That said, Lazio look to have got themselves quite a player in Hernanes, who lost three defenders to set up the equaliser.
• Roma's miserable start to the season continued with a 2-1 defeat at Brescia and, though Claudio Ranieri is beginning to remind some observers of Michael Douglas in Falling Down after his press conference rant last week, it is also fair to say he had a point when he raged afterwards about the performance of the officials. Brescia's second goal came from a spot-kick that never should have been given – Philippe Mexès getting a red card for a clean challenge made outside the area – while Roma had two strong penalty appeals of their own turned down.
• More worrying still for Ranieri are the rumours that he is to be replaced by Marcello Lippi. My own suspicion remains that no club would want to change manager while actively seeking a new owner – indeed, would Lippi take the job knowing a new owner may have their own man in mind? – but Ranieri made no pretence of being unaffected by such speculation. "You make your own conclusions. Often the journalists know more about a situation than the tacticians," he said. "The newspapers wrote names and dates, so clearly they know too. I knew in Turin what was going on too, OK? Everyone knew it was Lippi."
• Also of note at the Roma game were the really quite disturbing scenes in injury time, as the goalkeeper Julio Sérgio screamed and wept with pain after injuring himself in a collision with Panagiotis Kone but was forced to stay on the pitch as Roma had used all their substitutions. Fears that he had broken his ankle have now been allayed but he may have damaged his ligaments and could be out for a little while.
• Gazzetta dello Sport ran a feature on Tuesday in which they noted that all of last season's top five scorers in Serie A – Antonio Di Natale, Diego Milito, Giampaolo Pazzini, Fabrizio Miccoli and Alberto Gilardino – were yet to score so far this season in the league (though Miccoli has of course not yet played). It was probably inevitable, then, that Di Natale, Milito and Gilardino should all open their accounts last night, but the latter will be by some distance the most relieved. Gilardino had not scored in 10 games for Fiorentina and the last time he had found the net was the last time they had won – against Udinese all the way back in March. His goal against Genoa did not signal the end of that winless run as the game finished 1-1, but with Stevan Jovetic injured and Adrian Mutu still serving his doping ban, getting Gila scoring again was certainly a vital first step for Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Results: Bologna 2-1 Udinese, Brescia 2-1 Roma, Cagliari 0-0 Sampdoria, Catania 2-0 Cesena, Genoa 1-1 Fiorentina, Inter 4-0 Bari, Lazio 1-1 Milan, Lecce 1-1 Parma, Napoli 1-3 Chievo (Juventus v Palermo kicks off at 7.45pm tonight).