We all knew Serie A would be unpredictable this term, but the COVID-19 world crisis and the interruption of the league take the Scudetto battle to a whole different level.
Juventus, Lazio and Inter clearly declared their title ambitions throughout the campaign, but after nearly 90 days without any action, the remaining 12 rounds will be played under unusual circumstances.
Five substitutions, no fans in the stadiums and a tight schedule of games in the summer are only some of the changes that teams must adapt to, so who has the upper hand?
It seems only right to evaluate that question by starting from Juventus. The Bianconeri can still be considered as Scudetto favourites, and do lead by one point, but Maurizio Sarri has a growing list of problems to take care of.
Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Daniele Rugani all tested positive during the stop before shaking off the Coronavirus and recently La Joya confessed that he is not at his best physically. Gonzalo Higuain and Giorgio Chiellini already got hurt only a few days after returning to training, while Douglas Costa had once again failed to feature regularly throughout the season due to various injuries.
Considering that Juventus has the oldest squad in the league, Sarri should be extremely careful with managing the physical condition of his players, as putting Serie A aside, the Bianconeri are also in the hunt for both the Champions League and the Coppa Italia.
However, mentality is just as important, so with several players including Miralem Pjanic, Federico Bernardeschi, Adrien Rabiot and Higuain linked with moves away from Turin, the Juventus management needs to make sure their heads are in the right place.
According to reports, Pjanic has already given his ‘yes’ to Barcelona and is pushing for a move, which is far from ideal for the Bianconeri, considering that there’s still plenty of football to be played until the end of the season.
And while it will be interesting to see how Sarri handles those that are linked with other teams, he’ll need to get into the heads of all players, because it’s easy to lose focus and forget what is at stake when you play after a long pause in an empty stadium in the middle of June.
In all fairness to him, Juventus did brilliantly in the Derby d’Italia and put in arguably one of their best displays during their 2-0 victory over Inter in the empty Allianz Stadium.
Many, including myself, expected Antonio Conte to be able to get more out of the Inter players and take advantage of the Bianconeri’s poor form and the chaos that surrounded the game, but the Juventus players were more motivated, more aggressive and more focused, which gave us a glimpse of what they could do once Serie A returns.
Although it has been almost three months since that game, Sarri would undoubtedly try to build on the performance against the Nerazzurri and rely on the strongest qualities of his club. They might be clichés, but words such as professionalism, organisation and hunger for victory will be more important than ever once action resumes after such a long interruption.
I can’t believe it’s been almost 600 words without mentioning him, but having Cristiano Ronaldo only boosts Juve’s advantage in that regard and the fact that CR7 has improved his physical condition during the quarantine speaks for itself.
Lazio and Inter have excellent players and both teams are giving Juve a run for their money, but neither of them have a player of Ronaldo’s calibre. However, this does not mean that the Aquile or even the Nerazzurri, who currently trail by nine points with a game in hand, can’t triumph in August or whenever the league finishes.
If anything is certain these days, it’s that it will take something extraordinary to end Juve’s domestic dominance, as Sarri failed to dethrone the Bianconeri in Napoli’s best ever season in 2017-18 when the Partenopei finished with 91 points, while Roma also failed to do that one year earlier with 87 points.
However, the extreme circumstances of the current campaign eliminate at least partially Juve’s advantage in terms of experience and know-how, because not even the Bianconeri have encountered a situation like this.
Max Allegri used to say that each campaign can be separated into several mini-seasons and although his words have always made sense, we now understand their meaning to its full extent.
Lazio were arguably the best team in the league before the interruption and Juve’s one-point lead is not nearly enough to make a difference. However, we’re now about to enter a brand new mini-campaign and although the Turin giants look like favourites once again, the conditions for their demise are already there.
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