Rescheduling games this season is going to be a real pain, eh.
Coronavirus has hit the world hard, particularly in Italy where the government has enforced a suspension to all sporting events in the country until April 3 in a bid to contain the pandemic. That, of course, includes Serie A.
And instead of something halting a campaign where Juventus were 1783 points clear at the top by March, it’s only gone and disrupted one of the most hotly contested Scudetto races in years – with Lazio and Inter both vying to grind Juve’s stranglehold over the division to a much-needed halt.
But Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gavina has outlined a possible alternative to ensure the 2019/20 season reaches a somewhat ‘fair’ conclusion: a playoff.
While the details are yet to be ironed out, a playoff would likely see Serie A‘s top four compete in two semi-finals and a final – with first against fourth and second against third making up the two semis.
Here’s how the top of the table stands as of 12/03/20…
So in a play-off between Italy’s finest four, who’d come out on top? Here’s our prediction.
Juventus vs Atalanta
The first semi-final would be between the table-topping Bianconeri and Gian Pieri Gasperini’s remarkable Atalanta side, who currently occupy fourth in Serie A.
Juventus have looked far from their imperious best this season, with Maurizio Sarri’s current iteration of ‘Sarriball’ at the Allianz Stadium being like the ugly cousin of the Napoli side from the 2017/18 campaign.
Nevertheless, they put in arguably their finest performance of the season in their 2-0 Derby d’Italia win over Inter last Sunday – with Aaron Ramsey starring in a number eight role and Paulo Dybala running the show as a second-half substitute. They looked like a competent attacking force for the first time in a while.
But they may have their work cut out against La Dea, who epitomise the meaning of ‘free-flowing’. With Robin Gosens and Hans Hateboer marauding down the flanks, Duvan Zapata rediscovering his goalscoring touch and Josip Iličić looking like the most confident footballer on the planet this season, Atalanta are nothing short of a joy to watch and would fancy their chances against this Juve side over two legs.
The victory over Inter, however, showed what this Juve outfit are capable of when Sarri finds the right balance in his starting XI. Atalanta would certainly run them close, but Juve should just about pull through against a vulnerable backline in a high-scoring tie.
Prediction: Juventus 5-4 Atalanta (agg)
Lazio vs Inter
These two played out an enthralling contest just a month ago, with Lazio running out 2-1 winners in a tense tactical battle between Simone Inzaghi and Antonio Conte.
With both managers so keen on shutting out each other’s prominent threat, the two sides’ ‘x-factor’s’ proved key at the Stadio Olimpico as Inter’s wing-backs caused trouble, while Sergej Milinkovic-Savic put in a match-winning display.
Inter have played just once in Serie A since their defeat at Lazio – which was the loss in the Derby d’Italia – while the Biancocelesti have continued their sensational run with victories over Genoa and Bologna to leave them just a point adrift of the summit.
Despite all the signs pointing towards a Lazio victory in this tie, you just can’t write off the genius of Conte. His pragmatic style has worked a treat at San Siro this season, with his ability to rally this tight-knitted Inter unit persistently on display.
Nevertheless, with two fantastic defences going at it in what’ll be another battle of 3-5-2 formations, a pair of low-scoring contests are likely, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a penalty shootout decide the victor.
Prediction: Lazio 2-2 Inter (agg), Inter to progress on penalties
Final: Juventus vs Inter
What a way for the season to end, eh.
The two sides who looked destined to battle it out in a historic two-horse race when Italy returned from its winter break will have the chance to slug it out for the Scudetto in a one-off duel for the title.
Juventus have put in two tremendous displays to overcome Conte’s men this season and they’d certainly need to be at their best to overcome this mightily organised unit for the third time.
And although another close contest would be expected, could you seriously write off the side that boasts the most clutch player of all time within their ranks?
Inter will dominate, Romelu Lukaku will spurn chances and Conte will be wondering how his side haven’t ended Juve’s decade of domination in normal time before, of course, the inevitable happens.
Cristiano Ronaldo – idle all game – sees a delicate Juan Cuadrado cross coming his way before towering over Stefan de Vrij to meet it, thumping his header past Samir Handanovic to gift Juve a slender victory in extra time.
Shirt into the empty stands, “SIUUUUU”, ‘Ronaldo > Messi’ trending on Twitter. It’s written in the stars. The Serie A crown returns to Turin. Great…
Prediction: Juventus 1-0 Inter (AET)