The 2019-20 Serie A campaign resumes this weekend, with almost one-third of the season still to complete. There are plenty of storylines which need closure, from Juventus’ toughest title race in years to the chase for European qualification.
Despite two sides lagging behind, a tense relegation battle remains possible for the final relegation place while last week’s Coppa Italia semi-finals have served to whet our appetite for Italian football to return. Without further ado…
A fierce title race
Everyone is quick to dismiss the Bundesliga’s competitiveness as a credible barometer of player ability, given Bayern’s dominance over the past decade.
At the time of writing, they’ve already earned an eighth successive league title – a record Juventus achieved 13 months ago. They’ve been run close on a few occasions by Napoli and Roma in recent seasons, but neither have been able to break their Scudetto streak.
Lazio, spearheaded by a fearless young coach in Simone Inzaghi, sit just a point adrift of the Bianconeri after 26 games with more goals (60) and less conceded (23) than the leaders.
After years where promising title challengers fizzle out when the going gets tough, will this year go against the norm? Ciro Immobile leads the division’s scoring charts with 27 goals, while no player leaguewide has more than Luis Alberto’s 12 assists. That’s ignoring third-placed Inter, who are nine points adrift but also played a game fewer.
They look an increasingly difficult side to beat under Antonio Conte, boasting a fearsome attacking duo in Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, who’ve combined for 31 goals this term. The pair are supported by the likes of Marcelo Brozovic and a motivated Christian Eriksen, keen to make his mark in Milan.
Despite their undeniable quality and depth, Juventus have been far from perfect this term. Five defeats across all competitions – two to Lazio – haven’t helped matters, while questions remain over Maurizio Sarri’s ability to get the best from an ambitious crop of players headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
Battle for European places await
While some teams have played a game less, there’s as many as six or seven teams outside the current top six who will believe they can push for European qualification this term.
Fourth-placed Atalanta have been excellent across all competitions, exceeding expectations and silencing critics along the way. That leaves Roma (45pts) and Napoli (39) directly below them facing a fight to finish the campaign strongly and potentially break into the UCL places.
Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli cannot afford any late season inconsistency, with a number of key players being monitored should they underperform between now and early August.
Although Dries Mertens – the club’s new record goalscorer – is close to signing a new deal, other stars like defender Kalidou Koulibaly and playmaker Fabian Ruiz remain enticing prospects for Europe’s top brass. After all, they can guarantee UCL football next term.
Even still, both have to look over their shoulder too. Only nine points separate Napoli in sixth and 13th-placed Fiorentina, meaning there will be multiple mid-table clashes over the next two months which could significantly impact the standings this summer.
An example relates to sleeping giants AC Milan, who could drop two places into ninth before they take to the field again on Saturday. Verona and Parma (both 35pts) have a game in hand, so feature to kick off this weekend’s action against Torino and Cagliari respectively. This will be interesting.
Battle at the bottom, can Tonali drag Brescia to safety?
As previously mentioned, there are two sides seriously lagging behind in the fight against relegation. SPAL (18pts) and Brescia (16) are those two teams, who currently look destined for a Serie B return in 2020-21. Genoa (25) sit outside the drop zone on goal difference because 18th-placed Leece have conceded a league-high 56 goals to date.
The mid-table teams, from Sassuolo to Fiorentina and more besides, are too good to go down. A clichéd phrase perhaps, but it’s highly unlikely SPAL or Brescia claw back such a deficit at this stage of the campaign given their hectic fixture schedules.
SPAL’s top scorer Andrea Petagna will need to contribute at a remarkable rate before departing for Napoli this summer, while Brescia have one of Europe’s hottest prospects in their possession – but inevitably not for much longer.
Sandro Tonali, who turned 20 last month, is wanted by most of Europe’s elite and has been their best player this season. The young playmaker wouldn’t have enjoyed reading the latest developments surrounding their top goalscorer Mario Balotelli (five goals, one assist), who is having legal action taken against him by the club.
Serie B update
In the country’s second division, there are some notable teams to watch out for too: all three sides relegated from last year’s top-flight have a good chance of returning at the first attempt.
Frosinone (47pts) lead the playoff teams in third, just two points behind Crotone who occupy the final automatic promotion berth. Meanwhile, Chievo (41) sit bottom of the playoff picture, just a point above Empoli.
With a 20-point lead over their closest rivals, it’s fair to say Benevento have all but secured their place in next season’s Serie A with ten matches still to play.
Although bottom club Livorno (18pt) seem doomed for relegation, it’ll also be interesting to see how the final fixtures play out – six points separate 10th and 16th place, where Venezia (32) currently sit in one of the division’s two relegation play-off positions.