Italy sea­son de­liv­ers highs


THE usual Ju­ven­tus ti­tle tri­umph, Ciro Im­mo­bile’s goal record, and great scor­ing per­for­mances from Ata­lanta and AC Mi­lan were the high­lights of a Serie A sea­son that last week­end reached its con­clu­sion de­spite the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

As Italy recorded more than 35 000 Covid-19 deaths, 23 top-flight foot­ballers suf­fered con­ta­gion dur­ing the early March lock­down that stopped the sea­son with 12 games re­main­ing.

At that point, Juve were lead­ing but not con­vinc­ing, with a buoy­ant Lazio one point adrift af­ter hav­ing twice beaten the Bian­coneri 3-1 in De­cem­ber, at home in the league and in the Su­per Cup.

But when ac­tion re­sumed with­out fans in June, Ju­ven­tus found four straight wins and went on to clinch a recordex­tend­ing ninth suc­ces­sive ti­tle with two games left.

Lazio, on the con­trary, lost their mo­men­tum, suf­fer­ing five de­feats in the first eight games back, and dropped to fourth at the end of a gru­elling, heat­plagued sched­ule that packed 12 rounds into six weeks.

Juve, how­ever, had the worst sea­son in their win­ning run, with seven to­tal losses, three of which were in the last four games, and an unim­pres­sive 76-43 goal record.

For many, the blame for the lack­lus­tre game of the Bian­coneri was on new coach Mau­r­izio Sarri.

The vet­eran tac­ti­cian, who lifted his first Scud­etto, brushed off crit­i­cism and noted that “few ac­tive coaches have won both in Italy and in Europe”, re­call­ing his Europa League suc­cess with Chelsea in the past sea­son.

Lazio, al­beit dis­ap­pointed, se­cured a Cham­pi­ons League place they had missed for 13 years and cel­e­brated their striker Im­mo­bile as he won the Euro­pean Golden Boot, while equalling the 36-goal over­all Serie A record of Gon­zalo Higuain.

Juve star Cris­tiano Ron­aldo closed the sea­son on 31 goals and ded­i­cated the Scud­etto “to all those who have suf­fered dur­ing the pan­demic that caught all of us by sur­prise and up­set the world”.

In­ter Mi­lan fin­ished sec­ond, one point be­hind the dis­arm­ing Bian­coneri and will also play the next Cham­pi­ons League along with third-place Ata­lanta.

The Berga­m­aschi lost the clos­ing game 2-0 against In­ter, but dis­played the best foot­ball since Jan­uary and im­pressed with their 98 goals.

Coach An­to­nio Conte closed his first sea­son at In­ter with shock­ing re­marks about al­leged lack of sup­port from the club, which is owned by Chi­nese busi­ness­man Steven Zhang, dur­ing the dif­fi­cult mo­ments of the cam­paign.

“You must be strong also off the pitch and in this re­spect there is a lot to im­prove,” Conte said. “I see peo­ple jump­ing on the band­wagon, while in­stead they should al­ways have been there. They are on to­day, but it was I and the play­ers who ear­lier took the heat.”

In­ter and Roma are to play the Europa League quar­ter-fi­nals this week, while Ata­lanta have a quar­ter-fi­nal against Paris Sain­tGer­main on Au­gust 12 in their first ever Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign.

Juve and sev­enth-place Napoli and are also still in the elite event and have to com­plete the last-16 round this week. The Neapoli­tans clinched an Europa League slot with fifth-place Roma and AC Mi­lan, who are to go through the play-offs.

The Dev­ils were the only un­beaten side af­ter the lock­down, scor­ing 35 goals, seven of which from vet­eran star Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, who, at 38, looks set to play one more sea­son.

In the lower reaches, Bres­cia and Lecce re­turned to Serie B af­ter last year’s pro­mo­tion as SPAL ended a three-year top-flight stint.

CRIS­TIANO Ron­aldo of Ju­ven­tus with the Serie A tro­phy. |

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