As difficult decisions go, this was more "cheese or chocolate?" than an impossible choice. The scheduling of Serie A's two most intriguing match-ups of the week at the same time on Sunday night will have prompted debate in football-watching households. But this was a question with no wrong answer. Whether you plumped for Lazio v Udinese or the Derby del Sole, the outcome was much the same: 90 minutes of hectic, high-tempo football marked by four goals plus many more missed opportunities.
They had not anticipated anything different at the Stadio Olimpico, of course. Lazio and Udinese have met 39 times since their last scoreless match, in November 1992, with an average of 3.5 goals per game. The two teams might have arrived at this fixture with the best defensive records in the division, yet in Miroslav Klose – the scorer of eight goals in his first 13 Serie A appearances – and Antonio Di Natale (67 in his last 84) they also had two of its most prolific poachers.
While Klose might have been the first name on Edy Reja's Lazio teamsheet, however, Di Natale started from the bench. Now 34 and afflicted by a persistent knee complaint, the striker has been forced to train apart from his team-mates on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for more than a year, doing a combination of aerobic work and physiotherapy in an attempt to extend his career at this level. Having played 90 minutes against Celtic on Thursday, and with a fixture against Juventus to come on Wednesday, this was deemed a game too many by the manager, Francesco Guidolin.
Pablo Armero was also rested with the Juve game in mind, yet any suggestion that Udinese's thin squad could not afford such rotation seemed to have been dispelled as the Colombian's replacement, Giovanni Pasquale, delivered the cross from which Di Natale's understudy, Antonio Floro Flores, headed them in front. Senad Lulic would equalise before half-time, though, before Klose made it 2-1. The German ought to have added a third when put through one-on-one but his tame shot was saved by Samir Handanovic. Shortly afterwards, Di Natale – on as a sub – played in Giampiero Pinzi to level the scores.
Gazzetta dello Sport would deliver quite the backhanded compliment to both sides in its match report, describing Lazio and Udinese as "worthy maids of honour to Juventus and Milan". Given that Udinese are – after 15 games – level on points with the Rossoneri and will have the chance to leapfrog the Old Lady with a win on Wednesday, that would appear to be underplaying their role. Lazio, just two points further back, could make a similar case.
Lazio have perhaps deserved greater credit for some time – having spent almost the entire 2010-11 season in the top four, only to be pipped by Udinese on goal difference to the final Champions League place. With Klose they have the look of an even more effective outfit, and yet even in their own city they have rarely achieved top billing. Since the appointment of Luis Enrique in the summer, the media focus has fallen on Roma.
Not that the Giallorossi have been thrilled with such attention. Too often this season the headlines around the club have been negative: from the team crashing out of Europe at the first hurdle to Daniel Pablo Osvaldo cuffing Erik Lamela after a defeat in Udine. Barely seven days ago, Roma were "in crisis" – gossip sites claiming that the new owners were thinking of jumping ship as the new manager contemplated how to cope with the absence of nine players through injury and suspension against the league leaders, Juve.
A week on, the picture could hardly look more different. A 1-1 draw against the Bianconeri was followed on Sunday night with a 3-1 win over Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo in which Roma showed all the qualities they had been accused of lacking: ruthlessness, togetherness and commitment to the cause. Enrique had made a point of praising the work ethic of Napoli's Edinson Cavani before kick-off, yet it was his own forwards who tracked back with greater commitment and were also more effective than the Uruguayan in front of goal.
"Welcome to modern football," said Enrique with a grin at full-time, though in truth this was not a performance entirely in keeping with the model he has espoused. Prior to the Juventus fixture, Roma had been averaging close to 60% possession this season, yet in that fixture and the one against Napoli they have held the ball for less time than their opponents.
On each occasion, they have also received a gifted early goal. After Arturo Vidal failed to clear a tame Daniele De Rossi effort last Monday – instead slicing it into his own net – this time it was the Napoli goalkeeper, Morgan De Sanctis, who came to Roma's aid, mishandling a cross from Erik Lamela (after it took the faintest nick off Salvatore Aronica's toe) and watching the ball trickle over the line.
Napoli had their chances to get back into the game – Marek Hamsik, most notably, shooting over from two yards out – and indeed should have been level early in the second half when Christian Maggio was wrongly adjudged to have fouled Aleandro Rosi as he headed down from a corner for Cavani to prod home. But similarly the ease with which their defence was being pulled apart always suggested further Roma goals would be forthcoming.
Osvaldo extended the visitors' lead before Hamsik pulled one back, setting up a tense finish. But after Cavani had another goal (rightly) disallowed, Fábio Simplício sealed the win for Roma. Any hint of recent troubles suddenly seemed very distant. Francesco Totti's suggestiondays earlier that he had contemplated the possibility of leaving was now replaced with a dedication to Enrique. Much more than Totti's insistence that "this win was for the boss", Enrique will have appreciated the forward's application on the pitch, as well as his delicious cross for Osvaldo's goal.
As for Napoli, there was little to relish. The owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, had demanded nine points from the remaining three games of 2011, following the victory over Villarreal that put them through to the Champions League knockout stage. So far they have managed a single point from the first two.
Worse still, Ezequiel Lavezzi left this defeat with a quadriceps injury that will almost certainly rule him out of Wednesday's game against Genoa. Last season the forward's spitting match with Rosi dealt a critical blow to Napoli's title hopes, leading to a three-game suspension which kept him out of a subsequent 3-0 defeat by Milan. This year, despite all their success in Europe, it is beginning to look like Napoli's hopes of a title challenge have already disappeared.
• Regrettably, the biggest talking point may not relate to the weekend's games but instead to the arrest of Cristiano Doni – the Atalanta captain who was already serving a three-and-a-half-year suspension from football – along with 16 others, over alleged match-fixing. The arrests are the latest development in the same investigation which led to Doni's initial suspension. "This is not the end, but a starting point," said the Cremona prosecutor Roberto Di Martino, who suggested that the investigation has been working across a number of countries for several years.
• A comfortable victory over Siena meant that Milan will conclude 2011 without having suffered a home league defeat. But even as that achievement is being toasted, the club continue to struggle to reach an agreement with their manager, Max Allegri, on a new contract. According to Gazzetta, he is seeking a raise to €2.5m (£2.1m) a year, while the club are only willing to offer €2m (£1.7m) plus incentives. More troubling for Allegri may be the fact that Silvio Berlusconi now has time on his hands again, and has started throwing his oar in. "I want to see Pato, Ibra and Robinho playing together," he parped on Sunday.
• Victory for Juventus at home to Novara gave them a two-point lead over Milan and Udinese going into the last round of fixtures before the winter break (which, technically, is also the first round of fixtures – these are the games that were scheduled for the first weekend of the season, which was lost to the strike). Happily, the win also brought a goal for Fabio Quagliarella – his first in 364 days, following the knee ligament injury he suffered in a January defeat by Parma.
• This is the time of year in Italy when questions are asked about whether managers will be allowed to stay in their job long enough to eat their panettone. So although Devis Mangia did lose his job on Monday morning – sacked by Maurizio Zamparini after Palermo lost the Derby of Sicily, failing again to score their first away goal of the season (that is eight games now) – you will be relieved to know that he did, at least, manage to gobble down a few mouthfuls of the traditional Christmas cake before kick-off. He will reportedly be replaced by Bortolo Mutti, who managed Palermo in Serie B in 2001-02.
• Another win and another clean sheet for Inter, who have picked up nine points from three games without conceding a goal. There is a way to go yet, but the Nerazzurri are up to fifth and it seems at last as if Claudio Ranieri is getting the situation in hand.
Results: Catania 2-0 Palermo, Cesena 0-1 Inter, Chievo 2-0 Cagliari, Fiorentina 2-2 Atalanta, Genoa 2-1 Bologna, Juventus 2-0 Novara, Lazio 2-2 Udinese, Milan 2-0 Siena, Napoli 1-3 Roma, Parma 3-3 Lecce.