Serie A is back: Previously, in Serie A...

By Sports Desk May 29, 2020

Hot on the heels of the Premier League, it was announced on May 28 that Serie A would be resuming its season next month.

Italy's top flight is to get back underway from June 20, all being well, with the Coppa Italia semi-final second legs and final to be held during the week prior.

It means four of Europe's top-five leagues are committed to finishing the coronavirus-disrupted campaign, with only Ligue 1 having declared the season over.

Ahead of the return of the action, which includes a true title tussle, a fight for Europe and unease in the bottom half, we look at the story so far of 2019-20...

 

What is the state of play?

It's hardly a surprise that Juventus were top when the season was suspended in March, but this has by no means been a procession towards what would be a ninth consecutive Scudetto.

Simone Inzaghi's Lazio are just a point behind, while Inter, who have a game in hand, are a further eight points back.

Antonio Conte's Nerazzurri were beaten 2-0 by Juve in their final match before the season was halted, but while the title looks a touch beyond their reach, there would be little sense in writing them off entirely.

The race for Europe is similarly close. Free-scoring Atalanta are fourth but only three points above Roma, having played one game fewer, while only five points separate Napoli in sixth and Bologna in 10th. Milan, Hellas Verona and Parma are all in need of some improved form, though.

At the bottom, Brescia and SPAL look to be fighting a losing battle, but no side in the bottom half of the table could realistically declare themselves safe. Lecce are 18th, level on points with Genoa, but it's Torino who are enduring the worst form of all, losing six league games in a row to slide to within two points of the drop zone.

 

What have been the big controversies?

The return of football, for one.

There has been plenty of uncertainty around whether or not Italy, one of the world's hardest-hit countries by the pandemic, would sanction the resumption of the league. Indeed, Brescia owner Massimo Cellino has been outspoken against the idea from the start and branded the decision to declare a return date "crazy".

There is also concern around kick-off times as we move into the Italian summer. Umberto Calcagno, the vice-president of the Italian Footballers' Association, told La Repubblica there was "no way" the organisation would support matches taking place at 16:30 local time in June and July, when average temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celcius.

Even before the league was suspended, confusion reigned. When Parma were due to face SPAL in early March, players were sent back to the dressing rooms minutes before kick-off after sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora recommended all matches be stopped. The game eventually went ahead, 75 minutes late, with SPAL winning 1-0 in front of empty stands.

Juve might be top of the table, but things haven't been going swimmingly for Maurizio Sarri this season, either. The Bianconeri have often produced rather turgid displays and relied on individual brilliance from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo to see them through, and they only won four of their final eight games in all competitions before the enforced break.

Ronaldo's frustrations have boiled over at times. There have been suggestions of discord between the head coach and the 34-year-old, who was angry at being substituted last November and was caught on camera telling Paulo Dybala "We're left alone out there" at half-time of their Champions League last-16 first-leg loss to Lyon.

 

Who had momentum before everything stopped?

Juve's results have been sufficient to keep them top and the convincing 2-0 defeat of Inter on March 8 was a real statement of intent, but Lazio, unbeaten since September in the league, are the real form team.

Led by 27-goal man Ciro Immobile, their run of 16 wins from their past 18 games has come in stark contrast to city rivals Roma, who have lost five of their past nine in Serie A to lose ground on Atalanta in the Champions League race. As for Milan, some bright January form tailed off in February and their season is in danger of petering out, although they are level at 1-1 with Juve after the first leg of the Coppa semi-final.

Lecce's improved form has left SPAL and Brescia looking forlorn at the bottom, but Torino should be particularly concerned - their last points came on January 12.

 

Which clubs have had it toughest during the COVID-19 months?

Although the most high-profile confirmed coronavirus cases came from Juve, where Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Daniele Rugani were infected, other clubs have had higher figures.

Fiorentina returned six positive tests this month, while Patrick Cutrone, German Pezzella and Dusan Vlahovic were all confirmed as having contracted the virus in March.

There were also confirmed positive tests at Sampdoria, one at Atalanta and one at Torino, while Milan director Paolo Maldini and son Daniel both had the virus.

All clubs have, of course, been hugely impacted by the loss of earnings during the suspended season.

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina said to Riparte l'Italia this week that "more than €500million has already been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown".

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    Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri insisted he was unworried about criticism as his team continue to chase trophies this season.

    Ahead of a trip to Sassuolo on Wednesday, Juve are six points clear atop Serie A with six games left to play, and also in the Champions League last 16.

    Sarri, who has lost the Coppa Italia final and Supercoppa Italiana this season, has faced some criticism, but the Juventus coach is not bothered.

    "Honestly, I don't pay much attention to criticism, I always try to be focused only on what I can do," he told a news conference.

    "I don't know what people say on social media because I'm not on them and I will never be in my life.

    "If we talk instead of people in the streets, I only receive support and affection."

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    Sarri was asked about his side's lack of goals from midfield, but he has no concerns about their firepower, although Ronaldo (seven) and Paulo Dybala (four) have netted the majority of their goals in the past six games.

    "We scored 17 goals in the last six matches and I'm not concerned about our scoring ratio frankly," he said.

    "We all know that among our midfielders [Aaron] Ramsey is the one that can potentially score more goals considering his individual characteristics.

    "Then we have two players that are growing a lot and in the future, I'm sure they will score more like [Rodrigo] Bentancur and [Adrien] Rabiot."

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    "I keep talking about mentality and I don't like the word bottle too much, but when you're coming up against Liverpool away and Wolves at home, it's just two very good opponents," Lampard told a news conference.

    "We just have to focus on those games one by one, prepare right, show the right attitude, I thought we showed it [against Norwich] in a way, those two games will look completely different to what tonight did.

    "But rather than talk about bottle, I want to talk about focus and I want to talk about attitude and then hopefully we have enough to get through, but it's going to be tough."

    In Lampard's first season in charge, Chelsea are also in the FA Cup semi-finals and Champions League last 16, although they suffered a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the first leg.

    The 42-year-old has been pleased with Chelsea's progress, although accepted they still had a long way to go to catch Liverpool and Manchester City.

    "We can be pretty happy with where we're at right now," Lampard said.

    "I don't want to jump the gun because we have games that are going to be really pivotal on where we actually finish, but if we were to have said we would've been in third and contesting like we are and in the FA Cup and Champions League, I know it's going to be really tough but we got through the group stage, and you see the transition of the team and the youth and the issues we had, a lot of our players were on loan last year and most of those in the Championship, I think we can be pretty happy.

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    Giroud, 33, was strongly linked with a transfer away from Chelsea at the start of the year having reportedly grown frustrated with a lack of first-team football, finding himself back-up to Tammy Abraham.

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    "He is always going to give you a desire to get in there for the team," Lampard told Sky Sports. "He had a few half chances in the central area. That is what you have to do when he is in the team – use his attributes, try and cross the ball.

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    Lampard was by no means impressed with the collective display at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, though he accepts that getting the points is all that matters for the time being.

    "It was OK – I shouldn't joke because at this stage of the season, as we've seen in the last 48 hours, results are critical and we didn't concede any chances of note, we created a few ourselves, got our one goal," he said.

    "We could have got more with better quality, but it was OK, professional is probably the word. I want more, but that can wait. Where we are at as a team and the position in the table, three points was everything."

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