It is perhaps a testament to the power and status of Juventus that this weekend’s reaction proved so shocking.
The result against Benevento did not raise eyebrows. It shook the foundations of what a generation of fans believes. The Old Lady is losing her grip on domestic dominance.
Andrea Pirlo was heavily criticised and in his pre-match interview, he had tried to suggest that his rivals Inter had been lucky due to an outbreak of Covid-19. But is this the case?
La Gazzetta dello Sport reported last week that Inter were unimpressed with remarks made by the Juventus coach. He suggested that the Nerazzurri’s COVID-19 outbreak happened at the right moment for them.
“It happens during a positive moment for Inter, who will also be able to keep hold of their players rather than send them on international duty. In that sense, they were fortunate,” he claimed.
Antonio Conte has seen his side forced into self-isolation, a measure that saw the match against Sassuolo postponed. Juventus had the chance to claw back the gap but remarkably lost to lowly Benevento, causing much an explosive reaction amongst Serie A fans.
Surely, Inter would have instead played this game against the Neroverdi as it now moves this into what they see as a crowded fixture list in April. Was this fortunate?
Just how little this has affected Inter has now been seen as the teams move into the international break. Last week it did seem worse as the local health authority had banned any Nerazzurri player from travelling abroad so that they would not risk spreading the disease.
This then changed in the past days as the swab tests for the rest of the team came back negative, allowing the non-internationals to train.
The players called up could travel. In particular, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic and Milan Skriniar travelled abroad and will play some part in the fixtures.
The question is: is there too much hype around fixture congestion? For instance, when teams claimed that Inter going out of Europe made a huge difference to the title race, did it?
Juventus played three more games because of this, and if you allow travelling around this, then that is approximately nine days off the training field.
Inter could not train during this weekend, so maybe they are slightly more rested but is that even a good thing when momentum is needed at this part of the campaign? Sassuolo, apart from a couple of seven-goal hammerings, is a tricky fixture for Inter and it would have been better if it had been played, also because they had took the pitch three days before against Torino.
This is not just a slant on Pirlo’s comments. It questioning the fuss made by the Italian media as a whole.
Inter have five games in April and five games in May, with the Sassuolo fixture added to make it 11.
Juventus have six games in April and five in May and the Coppa against Atalanta adds on one in that month. Milan, in turn, have five in each of the two remaining months but have they a considerable advantage with this?
Perhaps the answer is that no team is lucky or unlucky from having an outbreak of COVID-19. No team benefits from crashing out of Europe or the Coppa Italia and the Italian media’s fixation with this is unhealthy.
Inter, Milan and Juventus want to be elite clubs and should therefore have elite squads that are good enough to sustain any eventuality. Look at Inter’s treble winners, look at Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or any of the teams that have dominated for any length of time, albeit a season or a decade.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about mind games like this is that we live in a world that is turned on its head by a pandemic.
There are so many parameters affecting football right now, including the fact that players are constantly out due to COVID.
These are constant issues and they are no surprise, so perhaps the coaches and the media should just accept this.