After an absence of three months and uncertainty as to whether the season would actually be continued, Italian football will be back on our screens on Friday.
Okay, so it’s only the Coppa Italia, but you’d take that after months of watching the Belarusian league and re-watching matches you already know the result to. The first couple of games are absolute crackers as well, with Juventus playing Milan and Inter facing SSC Napoli.
The empty, echoey stadiums will take some getting used to, unless you watch Sassuolo when they play at the Mapei, in which case it’s business as usual.
Here are the six things to look out for as football returns to the peninsula.
A good ol’ fashioned relegation battle is one of the many things that was missed during May – scrappy games, boos at full-time and Twitter users making memes about their rival teams’ demise. Thankfully – bar having to get relegated in front of your supporters – this will all be back.
Brescia and SPAL are virtually down, with the pair nine points and seven points off safety respectively. Who eventually occupies the final relegation spot, however, is anyone’s guess. Just three points separate 14th and 18th, with Udinese, Torino, Sampdoria, Genoa and Lecce all facing the threat of demotion to Serie B.
Similar to last season, it’ll probably be a tight one. Fixtures to watch out for will be: Lecce-Sampdoria, Genoa-Lecce, Udinese-Lecce, Torino-Udinese, Torino-Genoa, Sampdoria-Genoa, Udinese-Genoa and Udinese-Sampdoria, as these games could be the difference between which of these teams stay up and which one of them goes down.
After nearly a decade in the footballing wilderness, Inter are once again one of the powerhouses of Italian football.
They had made some progress under Luciano Spalletti, re-establishing them as a side capable of qualifying for the Champions League. It was clear, however, that if Inter wanted to compete for titles, Spalletti had to go. His replacement was Antonio Conte, a manager with a world-class reputation and a brimming trophy cabinet.
Under Conte, Inter won their first six league games and had spent significant parts of the season at the summit of Serie A. He also put together one of the deadliest strike forces in the league – with marquee signing Romelu Lukaku and youngster Lautaro Martinez forming a prolific partnership, scoring 39 goals between them.
Though they have failed to keep-up-the-pace with Lazio and Juventus in the title race, I Nerazzurri are set to have their best league season since 2010/11 and have become a genuine pleasure to watch.
A little over a year ago, Hellas Verona had sealed their return to the Italian top-flight. It wasn’t easy, I Gialloblu could only finish fifth in Serie B and had to go up through the play-offs. Naturally, it was predicted that they would go straight back down.
Under the management of Ivan Juric however, Verona have defied all expectations. They currently sit in eighth, just one place below the final Europa League spot and one point below Milan – with a game in hand too. Parma are on the same points tally as I Gialloblu, and also have a game in hand, while Bologna are also in with a shout of securing a Europa League place.
It looks set to be a close contest, and knowing this Milan side, they are liable to slipping up. Meaning Verona, Parma and Bologna would each feel that they would have a decent chance of getting that much-coveted final European place.
This Lazio team is one that will be reminisced about for generations, regardless of whether they manage to win the league come the end of the season.
With Simone Inzaghi at the helm – a man who has been employed by the club both as player and coach for over 20 years – Lazio play an exciting brand of football, using a team that has been relatively unchanged since the Italian took charge. After winning the Coppa Italia last year, Le Aquile have taken the next step-up and now find themselves competing for a Scudetto.
Inzaghi couldn’t do it without a team of excellent individuals: Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Francesco Acerbi, to name just a few. The team seem incredibly close, and that is reflected in how they play and the look on their faces when they celebrate with each other – which they’ve had to do often this season, scoring 60 goals, the second highest in the league.
Oh yeah, and they’re also unbeaten in their last 21 league matches.
Before Gian Piero Gasperini took charge in 2016, Atalanta were an especially unremarkable Serie A team; the Crystal Palace of Italy, if you will. But now, they are a formidable force in both Italy and Europe, and seem to be getting stronger and stronger with each passing season.
They play an entertaining, attack-focused style of football too and are the league’s top scorers, with 70 goals scored. Josip Ilicic, Duvan Zapata, Alejandro Gomez and Luis Muriel stand out in particular, with 44 Serie A goals between them.
La Dea look set to qualify for the Champions League for the second consecutive year, an astounding achievement for a club of their size. Gasperini’s side are evidence that, with the right philosophy, the right manager and the right players, you can achieve anything, regardless of budget.
Just one point separates Juventus and Lazio at the top of the table, with Le Aquile a surprise contender for this season’s Scudetto – which would be their first since 2000 and only the third in their entire history.
It’s difficult to see any team other than Juventus winning the title – we’ve seen Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli do this before only to the fall away. But there’s something different about this La Vecchia Signora side, they don’t seem as assured, or as dominant and there’ll be genuine fear that Lazio – who have been unbeaten in the league since September – could well prevent Juventus from winning a ninth consecutive title.
There’ll be no room for error on Juventus’ or Lazio’s part. A mere dropped point could signal the end for either of these teams. Pay particular attention to their clash on the 20th July and keep in mind that La Aquile have beaten La Vecchia Signora twice this season.