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Juve-Inter showdown marks end of Italy’s Covid emergency


Milan (AFP) – 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.

Key stats

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)

Saturday

Spezia v Venezia (1300), Lazio v Sassuolo (1600), Salernitana v Torino (1845)

Sunday

Fiorentina v Empoli (1030), Atalanta v Napoli, Udinese v Cagliari (both 1300), Sampdoria v Roma (1600), Juventus v Inter (1845)

Monday

Verona v Genoa (1630), AC Milan v Bologna (1845)

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