Still plenty to chew over in the ti­tle race

Metro (UK) - - MATCH ZONE -

DE­SPITE all the un­cer­tain­ties caused by the coro­n­avirus shut­down, Italy’s top flight is play­ing out and head­ing to­wards an in­trigu­ing con­clu­sion.

The con­densed Serie A fix­ture list is be­ing ful­filled and the Scud­etto will now be pre­sented, which is a sce­nario that seemed highly un­likely at the height of the cri­sis ear­lier this year.

Ju­ven­tus look favourites again – de­spite this week’s show of fal­li­bil­ity against AC Mi­lan – es­pe­cially af­ter near­est ri­vals Lazio be­gan fluff­ing their lines just when it mat­tered most.

Lazio slumped to a sec­ond straight de­feat and their third in five games af­ter im­plod­ing 2-1 at rel­e­ga­tion­haunted Lecce on Tues­day, their emo­tions boil­ing over with de­fender

Pa­tric red-carded for chew­ing the arm of Lecce player Gi­ulio Donati.

Ju­ven­tus knew a vic­tory over Mi­lan later that night would have put them ten points clear but some­how the hosts came from two goals down in the sec­ond half for a 4-2 win.

The Old Lady still boast a sev­en­point lead as they chase a ninth straight ti­tle, but their nerves will be tested to­mor­row against Ata­lanta.

The Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal­ists boosted their hopes of re­turn­ing to Europe’s top ta­ble with a 2-0 win over Sam­p­do­ria on Wed­nes­day. That saw Gian Piero Gasperini’s side move above In­ter (who played Verona last night) into third, just two points be­hind Lazio, who are now look­ing over their shoul­ders as much as above.

Mi­lan’s win leaves them sixth but even a Europa League berth may not be enough to save coach Ste­fano Pi­oli, who in­sists he ‘can’t waste en­ergy’ on ru­mours a deal has been inked to re­place him with for­mer Leipzig boss Ralf Rang­nick. Like Lazio, Mi­lan’s city ri­vals In­ter are also stew­ing on a lost op­por­tu­nity. Hav­ing led the ta­ble ear­lier in the sea­son, An­to­nio Conte seems to ac­cept he is un­likely to land the big prize. The for­mer Chelsea boss strug­gled to hide his frus­tra­tions af­ter sur­ren­der­ing an early lead in Sun­day’s 2-1 home de­feat to ten-man Bologna.

Conte is said to be al­ready plan­ning for a ti­tle as­sault next sea­son, with Chelsea de­fender Emer­son Palmieri and Barcelona mid­fielder Ar­turo Vi­dal re­port­edly among his tar­gets.

As for Lazio, who led the ta­ble at the end of Fe­bru­ary, their post-shut­down dip has been hard to stom­ach for boss Si­mone In­za­ghi. He too has been promised funds to take the fight to Juve again, but the cham­pi­ons will not stand still ei­ther. Napoli striker Arka­diusz Mi­lik is said to be high up boss Mau­r­izio Sarri’s wish­list.

Much more Ital­ian theatre to come then, both on and off the field, but if you re­flect on the once som­bre lock­down mood amid the depths of the Covid out­break in mid-March, all this is drama and ex­cite­ment is prob­a­bly just what this cal­cio-crazy coun­try needs right now.

THE FRONT-RUN­NERS KEEP FLUFF­ING THEIR LINES IN AN EN­THRALLING CAM­PAIGN

Bit­ing the dust: Pa­tric heads off

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