Italian Football returns
Almost 14 weeks since Italian football was halted due to the Covid-19 crisis, play was allowed to resume on Friday evening, starting with the Coppa Italia. It was Juventus that advanced through to Tuesday’s final, their 0-0 draw with AC Milan enough to see them triumph 1-0 on aggregate.
Of course, there was no noise from the crowd, and the match was somewhat uninspiring, but fans were happy to welcome back their beloved sport nonetheless. Figures revealed that more than eight million Italian households tuned in to watch the tie as the insatiable appetite for live football shows no signs of stopping.
Saturday night sees Napoli take a 1-0 lead into their tie with Inter after the first leg at San Siro back in February. The Partenopei are hoping that Dries Mertens and Fabian Ruiz will recover from injury in time to feature under boss Gennaro Gattuso. (Inter have since been eliminated following their draw in Naples condemning them to a 2-1 defeat on aggregate.)
Meanwhile, Antonio Conte’s men may have one eye on the league, and are aiming to challenge alongside Juve and Lazio for the Scudetto by the time the season finally concludes. They will host Sampdoria on Sunday June 21, seeking to plug the gap that opened up between themselves and their two rivals just before the action was halted.
Theirs is now an outside chance of winning the league, as the Nerazzurri sit eight and nine points behind Lazio and Juventus respectively, albeit with a game in hand. Simone Inzaghi’s men face a tough opening fixture versus Champions League chasing Atalanta on June 24 as the Aquile look to break Juve’s run of eight consecutive titles.
Maurizio Sarri will have seen his squad play two Coppa Italia matches and may even have a trophy under his belt before the Old Lady see any league action, their first domestic test on Monday June 22 away to Bologna.
There were many concerns that the Serie A season would not be completed even with a restart, as government scientists insisted on a 14-day quarantine period for an entire squad if even one player tested positive for coronavirus. Yet on Friday the technical scientific committee reportedly accepted an appeal from the FICG and will allow just the affected player to enter into the two-week isolation, in line with Germany, Spain and England.
Yet it’s not realistic to expect that the lack of supporters inside stadiums will be the only change. Many Northern regions – especially Lombardy – will still be reeling from unimaginable losses, and some sides themselves have seen many of their players and staff members infected.
“We’re the team with the most players affected by coronavirus, but I’ve always maintained that it’s important for us to stay up,” veteran Sampdoria boss Claudio Ranieri told Il Secolo XIX. “It’s our number one objective. Some need longer to recover than they did before. The players affected may suffer in a game situation. We don’t know how well [the virus] affects the heart or lungs.
“Everyone’s passed the tests, as required by the protocol, but of course some have yet to resume certain types of training to help them cope better. It’ll affect my choices, especially at the start. On top of that, I can’t always pick the same players every three days, so I have to consider this too.”
The league has clearly pushed the government to allow a restart, in part to safeguard teams from financial ruin due to the loss of TV revenue. Another important reason for the strong desire to fulfil the remaining fixtures is the closely fought title race, as well as to decide the European places and relegation.
While the top three have almost sewn up a place in next year’s Champions League, the fourth place is still up for grabs. Atalanta sit in that coveted spot, just three points ahead of Roma who admittedly have played a game more. The Europa League spots will be contested between Napoli, Milan, Hellas Verona, Parma and Bologna, with only five points between the five sides.
At the bottom, relegation for Brescia and SPAL is almost certain, but Lecce, Genoa, Sampdora and Torino will fight between them in order to avoid the third and final spot that will see one side demoted to Serie B.
Right now, we should be enjoying the start of Euro 2020. Nobody could have predicted that the 2019/20 campaign would only just be restarting but many of us are just content to have live football back on our screens once again.
Freelance Football Writer