After Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, Serie A returns to brighten the post-apocalyptic gloom.
The Azzurri may not be in Russia next summer, but the Scudetto race is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in years.
With seven months until World Cup blues set in, here’s what to look out for in Week 13 of Serie A.
The Derby della Capitale
Even in a league known for its passion and depth of feeling, the Rome derby is a special fixture.
For fans of both Lazio and Roma, the city bragging rights trump almost anything else, and this game matters more than any other.
The Derby della Capitale is always keenly felt, but this season both sides can legitimately aspire to the Scudetto.
Lazio lie just five points behind leaders Napoli with a game in hand, with their city rivals only a point behind, also with a game in hand.
The 85th official derby promises to be an exciting one, with the last 0-0 draw occurring in April 2007.
The Giallorossi have scored in the last 12 derbies, while the Aquile have scored more goals in the first 15 minutes than any other side in Serie A.
There will be fireworks, both literally and metaphorically.
Showdown at the San Paolo
Almost immediately after the Rome derby, attentions turn to Naples where Milan take on Napoli at the San Paolo.
It’s a crucial match for both sides, with the Rossoneri already nine points away from the Champions League places, and fourth-place Lazio having a game in hand still to play.
One of the two capital clubs will drop points though, so this weekend could be an opportunity to close the gap if Vincenzo Montella’s side can get a win.
The hosts can’t afford to slip up either though, with both Juventus and Inter breathing down the necks of Maurizio Sarri’s side.
The Partenopei will slip to third if they lose and both of those sides win, and the battle at the top could not be closer.
Roma, in fifth place, are five points behind Napoli with a game in hand so none of the top sides can afford to drop any points.
The game will see Kalidou Koulibaly play his 100th Serie A match, and the Diavolo haven’t won in Naples since a 2-1 triumph in the 2010-11 season.
Ballardini’s Genoa debut
Defeat to Sampdoria in the Derby della Lanterna saw Genoa fire Ivan Juric, replacing him with Davide Ballardini.
The new Coach will make his debut in what amounts to relegation six pointer away at Crotone, with the Grifone stuck on just six points from 12 games.
The hosts are currently six points clear of the relegation zone, and will be determined to beat a relegation rival.
This is the fifth meeting between the two sides, with two wins for Genoa, two draws and one Crotone win.
Can Juventus go top?
Juventus will take to the pitch on Sunday afternoon knowing the result from Napoli-Milan, and if the Partenopei drop points Allegri’s men can go top of Serie A for the first time since Week 3.
It won’t be an easy game in Genoa though, with the Blucerchiati sitting sixth with seven wins from their first 11 games.
A win for Juve would equal Juve’s record away at Samp, and would also provide Max Allegri with his 300th win as a Coach.
Atalanta look to break their away duck
Sunday night sees a meeting of two sides with contrasting records. Inter are still unbeaten at San Siro - and indeed overall - while Atalanta haven’t won on the road so far.
The other Scudetto contenders will all have played by the time this one kicks off, so Luciano Spalletti’s men will either be looking to keep pace or go top of the pile.
Inter have won 45 of the past 64 games between the two in Milan, with the last game ending 7-1 to the hosts.
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