The return of Serie A: What’s at stake
MILAN, May 29 — Italy’s Serie A has been given the all-clear to return on June 20 after a three-month enforced absence in one of the epicentres of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the Scudetto, all remains to be played for with leaders Juventus just one point ahead of Lazio, in what had been shaping up to be one of the most exciting title chases in years.
There are also other issues to sort out, including relegation and next year’s European places, with all the drama set to take place behind closed doors in empty stadiums.
AFP Sport takes a look at what still needs to be resolved.
Juve dominance in peril
Juventus’s dominance of Serie A has seen them win the last eight titles in succession but is now in peril in coach Maurizio Sarri’s first season in charge, with the Turin giants holding a slim one-point advantage over challengers Lazio.
Lazio had been one of the most vocal teams pushing for a return to action as they have the best chance in years to lift a third Scudetto in the club’s 120-year history.
Simone Inzaghi’s side are unbeaten in the league since September 25, when they lost 1-0 to Inter Milan at San Siro.
They beat Juventus twice in December by a 3-1 scoreline, including in the Italian Super Cup, and are due to visit the Allianz Stadium in Week 34 of the season.
The top two have 12 games left to play with Inter, nine points behind the leaders in third, and Atalanta 15 points adrift, having both played one game fewer.
Juventus also have the Italian Cup still to play, while Lazio’s focus will solely be on the league title which they last won in 2000.
Champions League fight
Juventus and Lazio’s places at the top table of European football next season look assured with Inter also well positioned to qualify for the Champions League in third.
The battle looks set to be for the fourth spot with Atalanta, who are through to the quarter-finals of this year’s Champions League in their first ever appearance in the competition, three points ahead of Roma, who are fifth.
Napoli are six points behind the side from the capital in the second Europa League berth.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s AC Milan are just outside the Europa League places, three points behind Napoli, with Verona and Parma a further point adrift.
Ronaldo v Immobile duel
Lazio forward Ciro Immobile was having a stunning season prior to the shutdown and leads the Serie A scorers chart with 27 goals scored in 26 games, six ahead of Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Inter’s Romelu Lukaku has scored 17 league goals in his first season in Italy since arriving from Manchester United and is third overall.
Brescia, SPAL and Lecce occupy the three relegation places, at the bottom of the table.
Brescia are 20th and last with 16 points from 26 games and look destined to return to Serie B as they sit nine points from safety. SPAL are only two points better off in 19th.
However, the fight is on to avoid the third relegation place with Lecce currently occupying that position but equal on points with 17th-placed Genoa.
Udinese, Torino and Sampdoria are also hovering just above the relegation zone. — AFP