It felt, in the end, like eating a plate of pasta without the sauce. After the usual bungling of the Italian football authorities, the Serie A season - and its showpiece Derby d’Italia - could go ahead, but behind closed doors. Desperate times call for desperate and drastic measures, we can all agree, but from a pure spectacle point of view we were denied an appetising element of one of Calcio’s key encounters.
Some may have enjoyed hearing the howls of Antonio Conte with greater clarity. Others might have savoured Cristiano Ronaldo’s yelps of pain every time anyone came within close enough range to attempt a tackle. However, the echoing shouts in the Allianz Stadium had a hollow ring to this observer. To pinch a phrase from Robert Frost, it all felt a bit like playing tennis with the net down.
There is an argument, eloquently made by others, that the lack of fans does not diminish the effort of players and that seemed true throughout this clash. Nonetheless, it still had the air of a glorified training game at times for all the intensity of their endeavours. All the same, it would appear Serie A is still a league where you can play with or without supporters, but in the end Juventus keep on winning.
These are usually games that we pundits handle with the delicacy of a scientist tinkering about in a nuclear reactor. One misplaced word and you risk producing a mushroom cloud of social media controversy from one camp or another. At least, this time around, it would appear there was no incident to ignite the ire of conspiracy theorists everywhere. Perhaps it had all burned out in the furore over when and how this game should be played.
For followers of the Bianconeri, of course, the empty seat audience will have mattered not one jot. They suffered in spells during the first half, but a sharp finish by Aaron Ramsey and some exquisite footwork from Paulo Dybala - freshly freed from his prison on the Juve bench - unlocked Inter in style. In the process, the Nerazzurri’s Scudetto challenge was all but snuffed out - leaving Lazio the last man standing in attempts to stop La Vecchia Signora taking title number 212 in a row or whatever we have reached now.
Conte will have been pulling his hair out at how meekly his team folded in the later phases of this game. They have made huge progress under his stewardship - and that should not be forgotten - but they spluttered to an embarrassing halt in this key clash. They look to be on the right road, at last, but their journey back to challenging for the championship might be a little longer than their followers had hoped.
Would it have been any different in front of a packed stadium? Of course, we can never know. The drama would surely have had a better backdrop, but if these silent clashes help to save even one person from being claimed by Coronavirus, it will have been worthwhile. At times of genuine trouble, sport can be a nice distraction, but its controversies do get put into a bit of perspective. It is not, really, the matter of life and death we sometimes convince ourselves it might be.
Perhaps we will get used to these eerie encounters over the next month or more - we have no choice but to do so. Three points are three points, after all, no matter how many people witness them in person. From the outside looking in, these triumphs feel a little hollow, but you wouldn’t have known it from the celebrations of the Bianconeri’s players at full time.
It’s the same for everyone - well at least now it is - so there can be no real cause for complaint or the usual claims of a “falsified championship”. It is certainly an odd season and one which, without its normal sound-effects and choreography, feels a little empty to some of us. The players, pitches and performances might be the same, but it fails to stir the soul in quite the same manner without its other passionate protagonists.
Our hopes and prayers are all for a swift end to this public health crisis, of course, so we will have to witness many more matches in such subdued surroundings. If nothing else, we will get the chance to answer that ancient Zen-like question - what, exactly, is the sound of one fan clapping?
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