Coronavirus Outbreak Nullifies Home-Field Advantage

The 237th instalment of the Derby d’Italia will be a defining moment in the season for both sides. On one hand, Inter desperately needs the three points to maintain the pace with Lazio and Juve at the top, while the bianconeri, by contrast, would like to keep Antonio Conte’s men at arm’s length. After all, a win against their fierce rivals would extend their lead to nine over the nerazzurri, with just one game in hand. With Lazio in fine form, three points are of paramount importance for Sarri’s men ahead of their crucial Champions League return leg against Lyon.

The game was initially set to be played last week in Turin, in front of their usual 40,000 spectators. With former Juventus captain Antonio Conte returning as an opponent for the first time since switching allegiances, the Allianz Stadium promised to be hostile. Many fans have even petitioned for Conte’s star to be removed at the Allianz Stadium after he joined Inter.

However, with the coronavirus spreading across the nation, the Italian Government ruled that all sporting events until April 3 would need to be played behind closed doors. As a result, Conte and Marotta will have to wait until next season to receive their “warm” welcomes.

While the game promises to be an evenly-matched tilt, the ruling puts Inter at a slight advantage. For one, the deafening home crowd won’t be present to distract them and they’ll be able to lock in like never before. On the other hand, Conte excels at motivating his men for one-off battles as we have seen throughout his young managerial career and will benefit from the relatively quiet, empty stadium. There may not be fans present, but one thing’s for sure: Conte’s voice will be heard, whereas Sarri is far more observant on the touchline.

In a game like this, Conte gets the advantage and will likely be motivating his men full throttle. With everything on the line tomorrow, expect Inter to come out firing from all cylinders. The stadium ban is an unprecedented situation that nullifies Juve’s home advantage, and Inter will be looking to fully capitalize on it.

For Sarri, the challenge is unique. After seeing his side underperform after the new year, Juve have fallen behind in the title race for the first time. Simply put, a reaction is needed or they may be in for a rough finish to the end of the season. Juve may have the game in hand on Lazio, but the biancocelesti have been in sensational form and have shown no signs of stopping. In many ways, they’ve been the best side in Italy this past season. Anything but a win against Inter and Juventus will find themselves in second place by tomorrow night; a worrying prospect indeed.

With Inzaghi’s men focusing solely on the league, it will be quite the uphill battle to climb if they fall behind, especially with no fans to support them. Factor in Juventus’ narrow deficit in the Champions League and the bianconeri’s minds may just be on their European exploits.

On the bright side, the last week has allowed Sarri’s men to regain energy and rest ahead of a crucial stretch. Due to injuries and a lack of depth in key areas, a majority of Juventus’ squad needed this.

No matter which way you put it, tomorrow’s derby d’Italia will be an awkward affair. The contrast of having massive title implications but no fans present make it so, there’s no way around it. While Sarri will be eager to prove he’s the right man for the job after coming under fire, Conte and his men are more than happy to play spoiler and throw their name in the hat for the Scudetto. For now, it’s advantage Conte.

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What does the Serie A fixture chaos mean for Lazio?

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The worst, it seems, is over.

After a maddening week of indecision, bickering and downright incompetence from Italy’s football authorities, some answers have finally been delivered as to how Serie A will deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian government have issued a decree confirming that all sporting events in the country are to be played behind closed doors until 3 April.

Up until this point, Lazio’s superb season has been unaffected by the public health crisis.

But after a week of contradicting statements and last-minute U-turns, now is the time to answer some of the key questions surrounding the new reality in Italian football. Continue reading

Three Things to Watch in the Derby d’Italia

With the Derby d’Italia coming up, albeit behind closed doors, the implications couldn’t be bigger. With a win, Inter pull themselves within three of Juve with a game in hand on the Italian champions. A loss for the nerazzurri, however, could spell the end of their title challenge. Juventus, by contrast, will be looking to bounce back after a tough defeat against Lyon and will be keen on keeping Lazio at a distance.

The biancocelesti are in fine form and are currently just one point behind Juventus. Without further ado, here are three things to look out for in the latest iteration of the Derby d’Italia.

1) Where is Christian Eriksen?

Since joining Inter, Eriksen has been eased into Conte’s set-up and often comes on as a super-sub. Against Milan, the former Tottenham man started on the bench and impacted the proceedings from a more advanced role in the second half. Considering Conte’s rigid 3-5-2 formation, it will be interesting to see if the veteran tactician deploys Eriksen from the start against Juve.

While he has used him in the hole behind Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Conte is not exactly a risk-taker and typically opts for defensive solidity. Against Juventus, expect Eriksen to play a crucial role, however, it remains to be seen whether it’s off the bench or from the start. As the season wears on, the Danish international will see his influence on the side slowly increase, but hopefully for Inter, it won’t be too late.

For now, Eriksen’s progression is definitely something to keep an eye on.

2) Juventus’ midfield dilemma continues. 

You could have written this section three years ago and it still would have been true. Since Pogba and Vidal left Juve, their midfield has not been the same, an issue the bianconeri are yet to address. Beyond bosman signings, reinforcements in the middle of the park have been few and far between, something which has come to haunt Juventus today.

We’re going into match-day 26 and it still seems Sarri is unsure of his best midfield trio. Does it include Ramsey and Rabiot? Is Pjanic the bianconeri’s best option at regista or is it Rodrigo Bentancur? Questions that as of right now have no answers, which is deeply concerning. After fielding Rabiot and Bentancur alongside Pjanic in mid-week, expect Sarri to shuffle his deck once more in hopes of finally establishing his preferred midfield.

The Derby d’Italia is as good an opportunity as any for a midfielder to stake a claim for a starting role and Sarri will be hoping the enormity of the game will spur on his uninspired midfield. Until now, they’ve been lackluster and that needs to change.

3) Will the lack of fans impact the game? 

After the Coronavirus spread to Italy, it was announced that most games in Northern Italy will be played behind closed doors. While the logic makes sense and avoids further pandemic, it will undoubtedly be odd in this clash. The whole season has been building up to this Derby d’Italia and now the fans won’t even be able to be there.

Fans play a crucial role at establishing atmosphere in a stadium and spurring their team onto victory. Without them at the Allianz Stadium, it will be interesting to see just how the game will be affected. Will it still feel like a title race? Does it give Inter the advantage or will the calm give Juve the upper hand?

While it will definitely be strange to see an empty Derby d’Italia, the game itself promises to be an enthralling affair between two of Italy’s best sides. Lazio will be looking on eagerly.

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Dangers, banana skins and must-wins: Plotting Lazio’s route to an improbable Scudetto

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Lazio’s stunning win over Inter last weekend made it difficult for even the most hardened cynic to deny their involvement in this year’s Serie A title race.

The come-from-behind victory demonstrated the infectious belief and confidence of Simone Inzaghi’s side yet again, not to mention their quality, as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic impressed and Ciro Immobile bagged his 26th goal of the season.

With 24 rounds of the Serie A season played, Lazio are one point behind Juventus in second, and two points ahead of Inter.

Although Inzaghi and his players continue to trot out the cliched “one game at a time” line on a regular basis, the temptation of looking ahead has proven too much for others to resist. Continue reading

Paul Pogba or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: Who would you take?

After his most recent man-of-the-match performance against Inter, Sergej Milinkovic Savic is drawing comparisons to Europe’s elite midfielders and rightfully so. Many are even making the case that the 24-year-old is the best midfielder in the league right now. After all, the Serbian international is as well-rounded as they come. He can score goals, he dominates aerial duels both in his own half and in the final third and is slick in possession.

It’s since been reported that Italy’s elite are queuing up for the Lazio man, including the likes of Juventus and Inter. Whether Lazio will sell the player is a completely different story; especially if they go on to win the Scudetto.

It’s also recently been reported that Paul Pogba is on his way out of Manchester United and will be available this summer. His agent, the infamous Mino Raiola, is currently hard at work and is trying his best at wedging himself between his client and the club. Considering both are of similar age and will command the same price, which player would you go with? Let’s have a look.

Both players are similar in the sense that they operate best from a mezz’ala role, and enjoy making late runs into the back post, where they can use their physical presence to create space. In addition to their aerial prowess, both Pogba and Milinkovic-Savic are equally capable at firing from range and don’t have to be asked twice to shoot. When it comes to scoring goals, however, I might have to give the Frenchman the slight advantage. Pogba has demonstrated more consistency in this respect over the years.

Defensively, it’s another close call as both players are increasingly involved in their own third, be it through tackles and interceptions. While Pogba has improved in this respect in recent seasons and has become defensively responsible, Milinkovic-Savic currently has the upper hand. The Lazio man is currently averaging 1.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game, and makes his presence felt inside his eighteen-yard box. Advantage SMS.

Beyond preventing goals, creating them is equally important. In this respect, Pogba is the more accomplished player. Milinkovic-Savic possesses a great range of passing himself, but the Manchester United man simply creates more chances; chances that translate into goals. Last season, Pogba registered ten assists in all competitions and he regularly leads his side in this regard. While Milinkovic-Savic is slowly developing this facet to his game, as illustrated through his four assists this season, he still lags behind the Frenchman when it comes to end-product. Point, Pogba.

All in all, if they’re both available for similar prices, I’d probably take Pogba and even then, it’s too close to call. In my opinion, he’s the better goalscorer and creator and is equally dominant in the air. Wages, agent fees, and availability come into play, but any team looking to bolster their midfield have no choice but to take a flyer on these two.

Now have your say: Who would you take on your team?

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What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 24

Can you believe we are headed into round 24 of the 2019/20 Serie A season? Neither can we.

For this set of fixtures, there is no shortage of action coming our way. Here, we provide you with what you should be watching for in this weekend of calcio.  Continue reading

Inter are the last team to beat Lazio in Serie A – but they face a different beast on Sunday

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Regret was the overwhelming emotion the last time Lazio faced Inter.

Joaquin Correa was guilty of squandering a series of good chances during an excellent performance, but the game was decided by Danilo D’Ambrosio out-jumping Jony for the decisive goal in a 1-0 victory for the Nerazzurri.

Not even the most  mindlessly optimistic Lazio fan would’ve guessed back then, on 25 September 2019, that the Biancocelesti wouldn’t have lost another league game by the time they faced Antonio Conte’s side again.

Last Sunday’s 1-0 win over Parma set a new club record of 18 games unbeaten in Serie A , on a day that the gap between the top three clubs was squeezed to just one point. Continue reading

Would Lautaro Martinez be a good addition for Real Madrid?

Never before has Karim Benzema been such a revered figure at the Santiago Bernabeu. Indeed, the French striker is in the form of his life, currently leading Lionel Messi in the Pichichi standings for La Liga’s top goalscorer. In the post-Cristiano Ronaldo it is Benzema who has stepped into the void left by his former Portuguese teammate.

And yet Real Madrid must face the reality that their first choice centre forward and top scorer is well into the twilight of his career. Benzema is 32 years old and while he has aged well, becoming a wiser, shrewder player in his 30s, there will come a time when the passages of time start to have an effect on the physicality of the Frenchman.

It could be for this reason that Real Madrid are reportedly looking at Lautaro Martinez. The Argentine striker has been a sensation for Inter this season, striking up a partnership with Romelu Lukaku to fire Antonio Conte’s side to the top of Serie A. He is now considered one of the brightest young forwards in the European game at this moment.

Martinez has previously been linked with Barcelona. The Catalans are believed to be in the market for a new striker as they look for a long term replacement for Luis Suarez. Stylistically, it’s easy to see why Barca see Martinez as a suitable fit. There are elements of Suarez’s game to that of the Argentine.

Real Madrid could also use a player like the Inter forward, though. Benzema might still have a few seasons left in the tank, but the signing of Martinez could give Zinedine Zidane the option of using the two up front as a duo. He has tried this with Luka Jovic on occasion this season, but the Serbian has yet to truly prove he belongs in the Santiago Bernabeu since joining from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer.

Whether it happens this summer or in another transfer window, it seems inevitable that Martinez will be the subject of a Europe-wide pursuit involving many of the sport’s biggest clubs. There’s reason to believe the Argentine would be a good fit for Barcelona, a move to England might also appeal with Manchester City mentioned as suitors, but Real Madrid would be foolish not to at least put themselves forward as an option.

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Serie A Match of the Round – Inter vs Milan

The Derby della Madonnina delivered in terms of entertainment value and was a classic tale of two halves, as Milan dominated before the break, but then Inter turned the table and earned a potentially massive win as far as the title race is concerned.

The Nerazzurri were looking to get definitely back on track, as they had won last week versus Udinese, but had tied three times in a row before that. Milan instead, after a three-game winning streak, had equalized with Verona. Continue reading

Inter 4-2 AC Milan: Second half blackout proves costly for the Rossoneri

What started so well for AC Milan, eventually ended in misery as Inter managed to turn things around in the second half, putting four goals past Gigio Donnarumma in goal. For the Rossoneri, it’s the first loss of the year, and one that certainly will hurt for a long time.

As mentioned, Stefano Pioli’s men got off to a very bright start. After applying pressure and more or less dominating the first half, Rebic gave his side the lead with just five minutes to go. Of course, Ibrahimovic was involved in the goal as he assisted the Croatian.  Continue reading