If you're going to arrive fashionably late, then you had better look good. Thankfully, Serie A was. A fortnight on from its scheduled start, the new season finally got underway for Italy's top flight on Friday with Lazio travelling to San Siro for an entertaining draw with champions Milan. Two days and 35 goals later, the league had taken its first tentative step towards winning back the supporters alienated by an entirely avoidable strike.
Last season, after all, had not been a vintage year for goals – the final tally of 955 scored across the league representing Serie A's worst return since the division expanded to 20 teams in 2004. Where the opening weekend of 2010-11 furnished just 15 goals, last night Palermo and Inter managed almost half that tally in a single game. A scoreline of 2-2 in the 86th minute became 4-2 to the Sicilians by the 88th, then 4-3 in the 91st. Thankfully for Palermo, that was how it ended.
"One of the most emotional and vibrant matches ever seen in these 10 years under [the Palermo president Maurizio] Zamparini," announces Giuseppe Leone in il Giornale di Sicilia this morning, his fervour fuelled by the identity of the opposition. Palermo concluded last season with a painful defeat to Inter in the Coppa Italia final, and they had not beaten the Nerazzurri anywhere since 2005. The duck was broken in style, the decisive goals coming from a swerving Fabrizio Miccoli free-kick that kissed the inside of the post, and a Mauricio Pinilla screamer from 30 yards.
It was a match after Zamparini's own character: extravagant, erratic, and more than a little mad. From a first half in which Palermo had played the better football, Inter emerged with a 1-0 lead. Just at the point when Inter seemed to be getting on top of the second half, their world fell apart. It was, as Gazzetta dello Sport described it: "A breathtaking match, rich with feats of brilliance, but also with blunders."
The Inter keeper Júlio César was quick to acknowledge his own contribution to the latter, admitting that he had taken a step forward and lost track of the ball for Pinilla's winner, but it was the Inter manager Gian Piero Gasperini to whom others have ascribed blame. His decisions to start Wesley Sneijder on the bench and to leave Giampaolo Pazzini there for the duration have been criticised, but it was his 3-4-3 formation that drew the most derision after Inter were carved open time and again on the counter.
"It is not a question of sending out three or four defenders, but of concentration and of the tiredness that was apparent by the end," harrumphed Gasperini, though he can hardly have been surprised to hear the issue raised. Many commentators had criticised his tactics before a ball was even kicked. The reaction in some quarters when Inter's owner Massimo Moratti suggested last month that Gasperini "will eventually change [to a four-man defence]" verged on gleeful.
It is no secret that Gasperini was not Inter's first choice this summer to replace Leonardo – the club having approached Marcelo Bielsa, André Villas-Boas and Fabio Capello – but the continued scepticism over his appointment has been relentless. Even before yesterday's game – and with just one competitive fixture under his belt, the pre-season SuperCup defeat to Milan – bookies were already offering odds of less than 3-1 that he would be sacked before Christmas.
But if he has felt such talk to be destabilising then he will find no sympathy in Palermo. The Rosanero (to whom, incidentally, Gasperini had also lost in his final game before getting the boot at Genoa last year) have already replaced one manager this season – Stefano Pioli losing his job on 31 August after just two games in charge. His replacement Devis Mangia joked after last night's win that: "I haven't heard from Zamparini, but I'm sure that after this I'll get at least one more game."
You'd like to hope so, though frankly with Zamparini nothing is assured. Nevertheless it is certainly fair to say that Mangia – who, fittingly for a man whose name translates as "eat", said he had suffered stomach cramps before kick-off – gave a good account of himself yesterday. Promoted from coaching the youth team and having never managed a side higher than Varese in the old Serie C, he too has plenty of sceptics, but in beating Inter has already achieved something that many predecessors failed to do. Having a fit and motivated Miccoli on board does no harm either.
With 13 teams changing managers over the summer, you might have expected a few more new coaches to be celebrating first wins over the weekend, but in the end Mangia was joined only by Antonio Conte – whose new-look Juventus routed Parma – and Massimo Ficcadenti – who led Cagliari to an impressive win away to Roma. Whether or not those results are indicative of bright futures ahead remains to be seen. For now, most fans will be content just to see the games being played, and the goals flying in.
• As much as the goals will help, it must be noted that a good deal of ill-will persists over the strike (which, to be technical, wasn't a strike at all – but rather a league stoppage, since several friendlies took place and players continued to get paid). There were banners on show at a number of stadiums criticising all the parties involved, and various fan groups staged protests, with Genoa fans starting their match against Atalanta with backs turned. Among the signs on display at that match included one which simply read: "Us: redundant. You: filthy rich."
• The pre-game show wasn't quite as dramatic this time around, but Juventus fans were treated to a much better footballing performance in their first competitive fixture at their new stadium than they had been for the official opener against Notts County. Andrea Pirlo was majestic – picking out Lichtsteiner for the opening goal and Marchisio for the fourth – as well as generally dictating play throughout the game even after being moved into a deeper role in the second half. That said, Gazzetta's reporter was probably getting carried away when he declared that the midfielder "would start for Barcelona", and he will face far tougher tests. The knock on Pirlo in his latter period at Milan was that he couldn't handle being put under pressure. Parma seemed happy to stand off and let him take them apart. Anyway, before we move on, Arturo Vidal's goal wasn't bad either.
• The stadium, by the way, has received rave reviews – including from Pirlo, who described it as "absolutely extraordinary" and said it would "win a head-to-head with San Siro", citing the fans' proximity to the pitch as lending the home team a big advantage. The main criticisms have been of the pitch, which already needs to be relaid after being ruined during the festivities ahead of the Notts County game, and of the fact that it's quite a pain to drive to.
• Djibril Cissé and Miroslav Klose wasted no time in getting off the mark, combining to put Lazio two goals up inside 21 minutes during a sensational start at Milan. The Rossoneri recovered, but this was nevertheless a hugely encouraging show for a Lazio team whose greatest problem last season was an inability to score goals, especially away from home. If they can just persuade Cissé that letting fly from 30 yards is not a percentage play, Lazio have a very serious chance to contend again for the Champions League places.
• Hats off to Novara, who marked their return to Serie A after 55 years by recovering from two goals down to secure a point at Chievo. They got some breaks along the way, not least Gennaro Sardo getting himself sent off when the score was still 2-1, but nevertheless a promising start. Fellow newly-promoted sides Atalanta and Siena also secured a draw — though, the former, of course, still have another five points to make up just to get back to zero.
• It's been a less happy start for Luis Enrique at Roma, who followed up failure to reach the Europa League group stages by starting the Serie A season with a home defeat to Cagliari. It is early days yet and, the Stadio Olimpico seemed in a more forgiving mood than it had following the defeat to Slovan Bratislava (perhaps, it must be said, only because this time Francesco Totti stayed on the pitch but there is clearly much work to be done. Roma perhaps deserved a draw yesterday (and Cagliari's Michael Agazzi certainly made some big saves) but for all their possession Roma still lack incision, and the two costly signings up front, Bojan Krkic and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, have yet to impress.
Results: Catania 0-0 Siena, Cesena 1-3 Napoli, Chievo 2-2 Novara, Fiorentina 2-0 Bologna, Genoa 2-2 Atalanta, Juventus 4-1 Parma, Lecce 0-2 Udinese, Milan 2-2 Lazio, Palermo 4-3 Inter, Roma 1-2 Cagliari.