Football is in lockdown and only a few European Leagues are still carrying on games behind closed doors. Serie A has been the template, being the first campaign to suspend because of the Coronavirus outbreak. They were initially mocked for ‘over-reacting to a flu,’ but the rest of the continent and now much of the world has caught up. Now, Italy could also lead the line when it comes to solving the outcome of the current 2019-20 season.
Juventus sit at the top of Serie A when the League has been suspended, but lead Lazio by only one point. Inter lost their last match to the reigning champions and are currently nine points behind the Old Lady, but with one game in hand. Atalanta are six points further behind in fourth, but only three points above Roma, but with a game in hand on the Giallorossi.
With 12 Serie A rounds remaining, and 13 for some, there are a whole lot of points still to play for before one could decide who will rightfully claim a place in the Champions League, the Europa League or take a step down to the second tier in 2020-21.
The extraordinary scenario is not rare, it’s unique, and according to the reports in Italian media, the footballing authorities are still working at full pace behind the padlocked doors to help the Lega complete the current campaign – the ultimate target is to crown a champion and assign the Scudetto to its rightful owner.
But the FIGC have a lot of implications to consider and the hypotheses run in the media, for now, could only be looked at as mere speculation.
There have been suggestions of a scenario where the four teams at the top and bottom will fight it out in a play-off for the top prize and a play-out for the less fortunate. It seems like a plausible option, an interesting idea to help crown a winner, but fundamentally change the concept of consistency standing the league apart from a knockout tournament. It hardly seems fair, no matter how you put it.
The top four could play for the title, but are they then automatically qualified for a place in the Champions League next term? And who deserves to fight for the title, will Roma lose out on a place, despite being within reach of the Orobici in fourth, and how do you decide who gets to play in the other lucrative European tournament? Do you just draw the line under the season and call it a day how it stands?
At the other end of the table, the stakeholders are anxious to find out how their fate would be determined and have a lot riding on the decisions of the FIGC. In a play-out scenario, where three teams have to go down, where do you draw the line? Who do you decide have nothing to play for, who will be involved in a play-out and what will their current position in the League count for ahead of the eventual moment when three teams will take the step down a division and lose out on the revenue from being part of the Italian elite?
Let’s not forget, in Serie A, goal difference doesn’t matter, position when equal on points is decided by head-to-head record. You cannot calculate that when some teams have only faced off once this season. Clubs in the relegation zone will argue they’ve already played the toughest fixtures, whereas the teams above them haven’t got around to Juventus, Inter or Lazio.
No matter how you spin it, someone would be a bigger loser than others. These are the difficulties every federation across Europe faces. The option Italy have dismissed out of hand is to declare the entire campaign null and void, something that was incredibly suggested in the Premier League, the most one-horse race of them all with Liverpool 25 points clear.
The ideal, of course, would be to postpone Euro 2020 and give the leagues time to complete their calendar. Fair and square playing for the points at stake, the ones to take you into Europe and the ones that could help you stay up. The possibility of counting up the points as normal and then move on, closing the chapter on the controversial season, is the one that most would cross their fingers for.
Dates have been suggested, but we still have no idea about the final outcome. We don’t know for how long we will be in isolation and the hypothesis of resuming play on May 2 is still only wishful thinking.
The conclusion of the Coppa Italia would be the least of the problems, because it can wait. Despite having the winner pick up a place in Europe, only Milan are one of the teams currently outside of the top six and they sit seventh. The Coppa Italia is usually carried out in the later stages of the campaign and there would be room to play the last three remaining matches during the first months of the next season.
But the outcome of Serie A 2019-20 will depend on what happens with Euro 2020. When it was just Serie A on lockdown, that was one situation, but now La Liga, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and eventually Premier League have also ground to a halt. There is surely no option now but to postpone the European Championship.