Inter Milan and Juventus face off on Sunday with their title hopes in the balance as Italy fully opens its doors to supporters for the first time in two years and fans focus on domestic concerns following the national team’s World Cup flop.
The so-called ‘Derby of Italy’ in Turin will be one of the first matches to be played in front of a full house after also being one of the first to be played behind closed doors back in March 2020, and the return to 100 percent capacity grounds comes for a match which could be crucial in deciding who claims the Scudetto.
With eight matches remaining, Inter’s grip on the their league crown has slipped after a collapse in form which leaves them third, six points behind leaders and local rivals AC Milan, who have a chance to slip further ahead when they host Bologna on Monday.
Juve, who at the start of February were 11 points behind Inter — then four points clear at the top — have surged to within a point of their old rivals thanks to a 16-match unbeaten run which has almost guaranteed them a place in the Champions League and also made them dark horses for the run-in.
Since losing at home to Atalanta in late November Juve have picked up 38 points from a possible 48 despite never really performing to the standards coach Massimiliano Allegri set during his first spell at the Allianz Stadium.
Allegri, who has been heavily criticised for his team’s often turgid style of football, revealed in an interview with magazine GQ that he went back on an agreement with Florentino Perez to succeed Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid to rejoin his old team.
“I’d already signed an agreement with Real Madrid, but in the morning I called the president and I told him that I wasn’t going to Madrid because I’d chosen Juventus,” Allegri said.
“I’ve not had any doubts at all ever since Juve called me in May.”
Italy might have ended its Covid-19 state of emergency but the virus still looms over the league as on Thursday the Italian Football Federation said Napoli, chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis and the club doctor have been referred to its tribunal over three players not being kept in quarantine for the match with Juve in January.
Meanwhile the five matches stopped by the winter spike in cases have all been rescheduled, with Inter’s unplayed January fixture at Bologna now to be played on April 27 — just four weeks from the end of the season.
Napoli are having a difficult week ahead of their trip to Atalanta, as suspensions and a raft of injury doubts leave Milan’s closest rivals without a host of key players.
Star striker Victor Osimhen and starting centre-back Amir Rrahmani are both suspended while Osimhen’s replacement Andrea Petagna, Italy right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo and goalkeeper Alex Meret will all be absent with injury.
And coach Luciano Spalletti, whose side are three points off top spot, is also sweating on midfielders Andre Franck Zambo Anguissa, Fabian Ruiz, Adam Ounas and Piotr Zielinski.
Working in their favour is Atalanta’s abysmal home record this season, with just four home wins and 18 points collected from their 14 matches at the Gewiss Stadium.
Player to watch – Gianluca Scamacca
Italy’s shock World Cup play-off defeat to North Macedonia has led to coach Roberto Mancini taking a look at a younger crop of players in view of the next European Championship in two years’ time.
Sassuolo striker Scamacca is the number one candidate to replace striker Ciro Immobile — who has been heavily criticised for the massive gap between his form for Lazio and the national team — and is set to face off against the league’s leading scorer at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
10 – The points swing between Juve and Inter in the last two months
1 – Inter have fallen off their perch thanks to just one win in that time.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Spezia v Venezia (13:00), Lazio v Sassuolo (16:00), Salernitana v Torino (18:45)
Fiorentina v Empoli (1030), Atalanta v Napoli, Udinese v Cagliari (both 1300), Sampdoria v Roma (16:00), Juventus v Inter (18:45)
Verona v Genoa (1630), AC Milan v Bologna (18:45)
Barnsley managerial update emerges amid reported League One boss approach
Championship side Barnsley are currently considering Cheltenham Town boss Michael Duff as a potential option but other candidates are at a similar stage of the process to the 44-year-old, according to journalist Doug O’Kane.
The Tykes are still on the prowl for a permanent successor to Poya Asbaghi, who was unable to guide the club to safety following a poor start to the 2021/22 campaign under Markus Schopp.
Martin Devaney took charge of the relegated side’s last three games of the season following the departure of the Iranian – and is one name thought to be in the frame for the top job despite not managing to record a single point whilst in caretaker charge.
Quiz: Can you name which club Barnsley sold these 23 players to from the last decade?
However, it looked as though Duff was the favourite to take the role following Gloucestershire Live’s report yesterday afternoon, with the outlet revealing that the South Yorkshire outfit had made a formal approach in their potential bid to lure the ex-Burnley player to Oakwell.
The 44-year-old managed to guide Cheltenham to a respectable 15th-place finish following their promotion from League Two at the end of the 2020/21 season – and their supporters will be hoping to continue benefitting from his expertise in the coming years.
In a boost for them, Duff isn’t guaranteed to leave the Jonny-Rocks Stadium with reporter O’Kane revealing that other managers are at a similar stage of the process as the Northern Irishman.
On one hand, it’s good that the Tykes are taking their time in their quest to find a new manager because this appointment could be crucial for years to come if they manage to get it right, with a return to the second tier at the first time of asking needing to be the main aim needing next term.
However, this task won’t be simple with Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town, MK Dons, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle and other accomplished teams set to return to the third tier – and one of Sunderland and Wycombe Wanderers will also remain in their current division.
The Owls and the Tractor Boys look particularly strong on paper and with MK under the stewardship of Liam Manning, you would certainly bet on all three to give the Tykes a run for their money, so they will need their new manager to hit the ground running.
But Asbaghi’s successor will only be able to do this if he is given sufficient time to plan for the summer window, with other teams already stealing a march on the South Yorkshire side in the free-agent market.
This is why a new man ideally needs to be in place within the next week, giving them the very best chance of being successful in the transfer market, something that will be important following an underwhelming summer window last year.
“We are very tired” – Injured Liverpool star on squad state, and own fitness situation
Liverpool have once again had a packed season, which has obviously had an impact on several players.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have been in a battle for the Premier League title the whole campaign, won two cups, and are also in the Champions League final. It really couldn’t have been much harder for the Reds, and the side put out against Southampton showed the issues the club are facing.
One of Klopp’s biggest worries right now is Fabinho, with the key midfielder picking up an injury. There’s hope he’ll make it back to face Real Madrid in the final, but there’s no certainty for the Brazilian just yet.
Ahead of that match against Los Blancos, Fabinho has been speaking to AS.
As part of the conversation, the Spanish newspaper asked what physical state the Liverpool squad is currently in: “I think I can speak a little generally: We are very tired. It’s true because we’ve been playing on weekends and during the week for a month now, always game after game and important games; which makes you physically and mentally tired as well, but this team worked very hard to get here, to this point in the season with a chance of winning all four trophies.
“There are few games left, there is a final sprint and the coach will have a bit of a headache to form a team because 120 minutes at this point in the season (for the FA Cup final) is not easy. I hope that those who play are well, prepared, because it will be very hard.”
Fabinho was then asked about his own situation, after Klopp insisted the player will be in contention for the Real Madrid game: “Yes, I’ll be there… to play. We are working and recovering to be ready for that final. I am very calm and very confident that I will be there, so we have to keep working and resting to be at the best physical level for May 28th.”
Liverpool fans will certainly hope that Klopp and Fabinho are correct, and that the midfielder will be available.