A look at the best and worst of the past week in Italian football. Let’s get into it!
1. AC Milan Calling Out Gonzalo Higuain
As well as being one of football’s deadliest strikers, Gonzalo Higuain is perhaps one of the most sensitive men in the sport. That’s not a criticism. Underneath all the raw passion he displays in scoring and celebrating his goals, the 31-year-old has shown at Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus that he has a need to feel both loved and important.
When he does — like during his record-breaking campaign under Maurizio Sarri at Napoli — he delivers. When he doesn’t, that’s when he struggles, as fans of the Argentinian national team can attest. The “Juventus: First Team” documentary on Netflix saw those character traits laid bare for the world to see, but A.C. Milan director Leonardo clearly wasn’t watching.
With his No. 9 enduring a barren spell in front of goal and linked with a move to Chelsea, a press conference last week saw the Brazilian slam Higuain in the most public manner possible. “There’s no point following rumors and gossip,” Leonardo told reporters. “[Higuain] is here right now. Seeing as he is here, he needs to get down and actually do something for this team.”
Was anyone really surprised to see Higuain deliver another disinterested, unengaged display in the Coppa Italia against Sampdoria on Saturday?
2. Luis Muriel’s Arrival in Florence
Signing for Fiorentina last week, Luis Muriel made a fine impression on his Viola debut on Sunday. In a team that has struggled to unlock resolute opponents, the Colombian striker — who has joined the club on loan from Sevilla — brought a refreshingly direct approach against Torino as he looked to run directly at opposing defenders every time he received the ball.
Not only does that set Muriel apart from most of the other attacking players in Stefano Pioli’s side, but it also allowed the coach to give Giovanni Simeone a place on the bench. Sent on in the second half, the Argentinian seemed to have a new sense of what he was expected to do, setting up Federico Chiesa’s goal to break the deadlock after being introduced as a 64th-minute substitute.
3. Lazio Complaining
After a routine win over a third division side with some excellently taken goals and smooth progress to the quarterfinals, you’d think Lazio would be pretty happy. Boy, would you be wrong. As they have countless times this season, the Biancocelesti players spent much of the match against Novara — a game they won 4-1 — complaining to the match officials.
Quite what they were moaning about is hard to understand, but they have been doing the same for months now, led by Coach Simone Inzaghi. He got in on the act, too, of course, using his post-match press conference not to praise his team or even applaud the efforts of the lower-league opposition, but instead to criticize the fact that the video assistant referee (VAR) system “has given a lot of penalties this season and they make a big difference to results.”
Lazio’s second goal came from a penalty…
4. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” is one of the measures Rudyard Kipling uses to judge what makes a man in his famous poem “If.” By that standard, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic most definitely qualifies. His teammates and manager might spend their time constantly bemoaning decisions, but the Serbian midfielder simply gets on with being one of the most talented midfielders in Europe.
There is seemingly nothing he cannot do, and he completely ran the show against Novara at the weekend, using the entire 90 minutes to prove how much better he was than every other player on the pitch. Of course, this is nothing new, but after a slow start to the 2018-19 season, it seems he is back to his very best, even taking the time to deliver this superb free kick to help his side progress in the Coppa Italia.
. Milinkovic Savic ⚽️ 45" pic.twitter.com/HdPeLBKMky— LazioeventsFC (@lazioevents) January 12, 2019
5. Patrick Cutrone’s Movement
Helping A.C. Milan survive through Gonzalo Higuain’s loss of form is the fact that Patrick Cutrone seems ideally suited to a super-sub role off the bench. Just like Pippo Inzaghi, a player Cutrone is often compared to, short bursts seem to bring the best from the 21-year-old as he proved once again on Saturday evening.
Netting twice in a 30-minute tour de force was impressive enough, but Cutrone’s movement for the first of his two goals was utterly sensational. Taking up a position between Sampdoria’s two central defenders, the burst of speed to take him beyond Lorenzo Tonelli, combined with that sublime finish, was truly great to watch.
6. Youngsters Lighting Up Cup
It wasn’t just Cutrone who enjoyed the Coppa Italia last-16, a raft of other young players got in on the act. Juventus gave Moise Kean a place in the starting XI against Bologna, with Coach Max Allegri’s faith rewarded when the 18-year-old bagged a goal to seal a 2-0 win for the Bianconeri after 24-year-old Federico Bernardeschi had opened the scoring.
A brace from Fiorentina’s 21-year-old starlet Federico Chiesa continued the theme, while 22-year-old Fabián Ruiz of Napoli also got in on the act before the weekend was over as plenty of emerging talent came to the fore across the peninsula.
7. Juve’s Boring Beige
I wouldn’t ask whoever was tasked with selected colors for Juve’s 2018-19 away kit — which was given a rare outing against Bologna last weekend — to help redecorate a house or choose the paint for a new car. Their ideas and tastes clearly rooted somewhere between completely hideous and utterly boring. I mean, just look at it:
The Old Lady should always choose her second option kit from the blue and yellow colors of Turin or the pink she wore before changing to black and white all those years ago. Leave stuff like this for the walls of a school corridor.
8. Patrik Schick Taking Care of Business
Roma went into their last-16 Coppa Italia fixture knowing they were expected to win comfortably, third tier opponents Virtus Entella clearly out of their depth at the Stadio Olimpico. Eusebio Di Francesco rotated his side heavily, but the coach’s decision to rest some of his big-name players was rewarded by those whom he named to the starting XI on Monday.
Perhaps none did better than Patrik Schick, the much-criticised striker needing just 23 seconds to open the scoring and send Roma on their way to the next round. He would then set up Ivan Marcano for the second goal of the game before grabbing another himself just as the second half got underway.
9. Duvan Zapata: Match-Winner
With the score still tied at 0-0, it seemed Atalanta’s Coppa Italia clash with Cagliari was destined to go to extra time. The Sardinian outfit had put up a stubborn resistance and appeared to be more than capable of containing the visitors for the full 90 minutes. That is, until Duvan Zapata decided otherwise.
The Colombian striker had already bagged 10 Serie A goals and another two in the Europa League, and he headed in from close range with just two minutes left to play. Not content with that, Zapata fought to win a long ball into the box, holding off the Cagliari defence to tee up Mario Pasalic for a tap-in that put Atalanta firmly into the quarterfinals.
10. Ancelotti Versus A.C. Milan
Just 24 hours after A.C. Milan earned their place in the quarterfinals, a familiar face ensured he would be standing in their way. Thanks to a routine 2-0 win over Sassuolo, Napoli will face the Rossoneri in the next round, meaning Carlo Ancelotti will be going head-to-head with his former club.
By a quirk of the fixture list, that tie — to be held on Jan. 30 — comes just three days after the Partenopei travel to Milan in Serie A.
“That will be a strange one for me,” Ancelotti told Rai Sport at the weekend, but it should be thoroughly entertaining for the rest of us.
Adam Digby is an Italian football writer for FourFourTwo, The Independent, and elsewhere. Author of "Juventus: A History In Black & White." Follow Adam on Twitter.