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Andrew Murray On February - 15 - 2012

Team of the Week: Oops… Novara Did It Again

If you told a group of people at the start of the season that Novara would beat Internazionale twice in 2011/12 you’d have been laughed out of the room. The fantasy became a reality on Sunday, however, when the relegation-threatened Biancoazzurri left the Giuseppe Meazza with another Nerazzurri scalp. Novara put three past Inter in September, but last weekend they needed just a solitary goal to deepen the Nerazzurri’s mid-season mire.

Things looked grim on paper. Novara were firmly rooted to the bottom of Serie A and had won just one of their last previous 18 league fixtures. Without a win since November 28th, the minnows were without Giuseppe Mascara, Francesco Marianini, Carlalberto Ludi and Takayuki Morimoto, a star in September’s reverse fixture. Coach Emiliano Mondonico shuffled the pack and switched to 3-5-1-1 with Jeda playing behind Andrea Caracciolo.

Statistically, Novara did little to prove the pre-match odds inaccurate. They held just 30% of possession, passed poorly, fouled often (21 times in total) and mustered just three shots on target. Inter, in contrast, had a whopping 30 shots on goal but forced ‘keeper Samir Ujkani into action on just six occasions. Much like the previous game, Inter could not convert their statistical dominance into goals.

The hosts created numerous chances to put Novara away, but, their shots were mostly inaccurate. On the few occasions Inter were able to hit the target they met a goalkeeper in imperious form. Ujkani had an outstanding game and showed his athleticism with several important saves. His smothering of a powerful Giampaolo Pazzini strike in the dying seconds was vital and with a host of Inter players waiting to pounce on his fumble the Albanian attached himself to the ball like a limpet.

The decisive goal came in the 52nd minute. Mondonico’s counter-attacking philosophy paid-off when Caracciolo took the ball on the edge of the area and curled an unstoppable shot into the bottom left corner of Julio Cesar’s goal. It was only The Heron’s second shot of the game and his first Novara goal could have hardly been a sweeter finish.

Caracciolo’s January arrival has added beef to Novara’s attack and his 6’5” frame gives them some much-needed physical presence in the final third. The Genoa loanee isn’t a game-changer, but he’s a reliable Serie A journeyman with a good goalscoring record (particularly at Palermo). The Biancoazzurri have netted just 20 times this season, but Caracciolo’s presence gives them another dimension up front as they face an increasingly tough battle with relegation.

The result leaves Novara still bottom of Serie A, but, only on goal difference. Worryingly, however, they are six points behind seventeenth-placed Bologna, who have two games in-hand. Novara have been fortunate that Cesena and Lecce have looked equally abject in recent weeks, but it would take a minor miracle for them to achieve safety over the remaining 15 games.

To say they have struggled would be a massive understatement. They’ve won just thrice all season, which makes their wins over Inter even more miraculous. Claudio Ranieri’s men seem to have returned to their poor early-season form since Wesley Sneijder’s comeback, but, they are still a very strong group of players. Novara’s Nerazzurri wins are historic, it is just a shame that they haven’t done the business against Serie A’s lesser teams.

At this point in the season, three wins is a terrible output for any club (regardless of size). The Biancoazzurri have looked toothless in losses to lowly Cesena, Cagliari and Bologna. They have lost to teams with 10-men on three occasions and they concede an average of almost two goals a game. The team is full of grit and determination, but, they lack penetration, guile and most importantly, a consistent goal threat.

Novara have paid the price for failing to land a proven goal-scorer in the summer mercato. Caracciolo and Mascara should ease that, but, it could be a case of too little too late for Mondonico’s men. Mascara has hardly played this season and incumbent strikers Morimoto, Jeda, Raffaele Rubino and Pablo Granoche have scored just five between them. Goals will still be hard to come by and Caracciolo cannot carry the load alone.

There are positives to be taken, however. Ujkani is clearly a capable ‘keeper, and loanee left-back Santiago Garcia put in an outstanding shift on Sunday, making two last-man tackles and staying solid throughout. The core players are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Novara will not be relegated for a lack of fight and they have not surrendered more than three goals once all season.

Individually, Marco Rigoni remains the star man. A player who’s been with Novara since their Lega Pro days, Rigoni, like his fellow midfielders, had a quiet game on Sunday. He did, however, make a key contribution to Novara’s previous victory over Inter by the decisive second and third goals. Rigoni is comfortable on the ball and is Novara’s top scorer with an impressive six goals from the middle of the park. Do not be surprised to see Rigoni remain a top tier player even if the Biancoazzurri are relegated.

A memorable win for Novara and especially their boss Mondonico, who had a 5kg tumour removed from his stomach little more than a year ago. Club and coach face a massive uphill struggle to remain in the top division and it remains to be seen if this is a step in the right direction or another false down. What’s certain, however, is that Novara fans will remember these two famous victorious forever, even if their side are relegated.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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