A tragic loss. Davide Astori was 31, the captain of Fiorentina, with a successful Serie A career behind him and many more years to give, both on and off the pitch.
Fiorentina Reels From Death Of Davide Astori
By Michael Ottolenghi
He was the product of the Milan youth system, but made his name as a promising central defender in 8 productive years in Cagliari. From there he moved to Roma, where he played in the Champions League, before moving to Fiorentina, initially on loan. He impressed so much at la viola that the move was made permanent and Astori became the captain last season.
He also had 14 caps for the Italian national team – no mean feat considering he was competing against the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini. And then, last Saturday evening, he went to sleep in the team’s hotel in Udine and never woke up. He leaves a partner and a two year old daughter.
Italian football ground to a halt after the news broke, out of a combination of shock and respect. Sunday’s games were cancelled and tributes poured in from players who had known Astori, testifying to his leadership and generosity. For at least a moment, the importance that Italians place on football disappeared in the face of more important emotions.
Football Lover Astori
It seems perverse to turn back to mundane matters like title races and city rivalries, but Astori was a lover of the game and as more tributes are planned over the next few weeks, we can but turn back to the action on the pitch and remember a young man felled in his prime playing the sport he loved.
That same evening the Serie A title race took a potentially decisive turn, as Juventus managed to beat Lazio 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico through a 93rd minute winner scored by Paolo Dybala. It was Juve’s only shot on target of the game, but showed that the defending champions would fight to the very end rather than concede their title. Dybala’s goal echoed all the way to Naples, where later that evening Napoli lost 4-2 to Roma. Napoli’s lead over Juve at the top of the table is now only one point, but Juve have a game in hand (against Atalanta), so with 11 games to play the title is Juve’s to lose.
But it is only March and only a couple of points in it. Napoli fans were not defeatist after the Roma game, applauding their team off the pitch, perhaps in recognition at their run of 10 consecutive league wins. One loss, no matter how big, does not detract from that achievement, but Napoli know that the dream of their first title since the days of Maradona is now out of their hands. Some have already started making excuses, saying they would rather be remembered for their style of play than for winning the league.
Fiorentina Soldier On
Manager Maurizio Sarri will want his team to rebound immediately, starting with Sunday’s game at San Siro against Inter. He will believe that if his team perform from now until May, they can still catch Juve by beating them in the showdown at the Juventus Stadium at the end of April.
With no midweek fixtures to worry about, Napoli can focus on addressing the defensive mistakes that cost them against Roma. And with striker Arkadiusz Milik back from his latest knee injury, Sarri will have welcome options if his plan A of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens fail to break the deadlock against Inter.
That seems like an unlikely outcome, though, as Inter are still in a poor run of form despite their win against bottom club Benevento last time out. The postponement of last Sunday’s Milan derby may help manager Luciano Spaletti recover some of his injured players, particularly captain Mauro Icardi, but Inter’s problem during their abysmal run has been more psychological than tactical.
A good start against Napoli will be crucial for the home team, as if Napoli get into a groove, Inter’s back line is unlikely to be a match for them. With Juve playing against Udinese in Turin earlier the same day, Napoli need to start their next unbeaten run with a win in Milan on Sunday.