Ronaldo's back! How Juventus, Inter & every Serie A club are shaping up for return of Italian football

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  1. Balotelli Brescia Udinese

    Brescia

    The build-up to Brescia's Serie A restart has been dominated by two individuals at very different stages of their respective careers: Mario Balotelli and Sandro Tonali.

    The enigmatic Balotelli, who will turn 30 in August, has once again found himself at the centre of controversy, having become embroiled in a rather unseemly spat with his employers that is almost certain to lead to him leaving his hometown club.

    Tonali, meanwhile, is the subject of a transfer tug-of-war between Juventus and Inter, with the latest reports suggesting that the gifted 20-year-old playmaker has decided to move to San Siro.

    Amid all of this transfer talk, Brescia must somehow try to focus on saving themselves from relegation. Their task looks close to impossible, given they currently sit bottom of the table, nine points from safety with just 12 games remaining.

    Given Brescia still have to play four of Serie A's top five, Diego Lopez's side look bound for Serie B.

  2. Andrea Petagna SPAL
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    SPAL

    SPAL were involved in one of the most bizarre stories of the lockdown, with striker Andrea Petagna posting a video on Instagram featuring basketball legend Dennis Rodman. Subsequently, it transpired that the former Chicago Bulls star had been paid to send it.

    It was all rather strange but Petagna and SPAL need all the support they can get right now, with the Ferrara-based side currently sitting 19th in Serie A, seven points adrift of Genoa in 17th.

    A great escape looks unlikely for a team that struggles terribly to score goals. Indeed, were it not for Petagna, SPAL would already been doomed.

    They have netted just 20 times in 26 Serie A games, with their on-loan Napoli forward accounting for more than half of their tally (11), while their lack of strength in depth is underlined by the fact that not a single substitute has scored for SPAL this season.

    Relegation, therefore, looks a formality, although three consecutive wins over fellow strugglers Sampdoria, Udinese and Genoa in early July would significantly boost their hopes of survival.

  3. Lapadula Lecce Sassuolo Serie A
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    Lecce

    It's easy to understand why Lecce president Saverio Sticchi Damiani would favour relegating just two teams from Serie A should Serie B be unable to run the end-of-season play-offs it usually uses to determine its third promotion place.

    The Pugliese presently occupy 18th spot in the top-flight standings.

    However, Lecce may not need extraordinary circumstances to bail them out of jail, as they are only separated from 17th-placed Genoa by goal difference.

    Fabio Liverani's side also have enough about them going forward to secure the wins they need to avoid an immediate return to the second division, having scored 34 goals this season – which is six more than AC Milan in seventh.

    Lecce, though, will need to sort out the most porous defence in Serie A – they've conceded a whopping 56 times – if they are to get themselves out of the drop zone.

  4. Pandev Genoa Cagliari
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    Genoa

    Genoa only sit outside the drop zone because of their superior goal difference to Lecce yet club president Enrico Preziosi said earlier this week, "We do not fear relegation."

    In fairness, there are legitimate grounds for optimism at the Luigi Ferraris. The Ligurians may be on their third coach of the season already but current incumbent Davide Nicola was doing a fine job before the suspension of play.

    Indeed, when Nicola took over, Genoa were rock bottom but they are now 17th after winning three of their last four fixtures.

    The worry, of course, is that the break will have ruined their momentum but with the likes of Domenico Criscito and Goran Pandev on board, they should have the experience and quality to stay up.

  5. Fabio Quagliarella Sampdoria
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    Sampdoria

    Sampdoria endured a dreadful start to the season, losing six of their first seven Serie A fixtures, resulting in the dismissal of Eusebio Di Francesco.

    Thankfully, their fortunes have improved under Claudio Ranieri, a man renowned for coming to the rescue of teams in trouble.

    The former Chelsea boss lifted Samp off the foot of the table and they now lie 16th. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, with the Ligurians just a point above the relegation zone.

    Samp were one of the teams worst affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, with club president Massimo Ferrero recently revealing that 15 members of staff contracted the virus.

    However, Ranieri's team are now raring to go ahead of the restart and will be relying on veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella and resurgent attacking midfielder Gaston Ramirez to lead them to safety.

  6. Andrea Belotti Torino 2019-20

    Torino

    It's fair to say that Torino needed a break.

    Before Serie A was suspended in March, the Granata had suffered six consecutive defeats, including a humiliating 7-0 loss at home to Atalanta.

    A side that began the campaign brightly and aiming for Europe now face a fight for survival, with Torino 15th, just two points clear of the bottom three.

    The fans are obviously hoping that the time off will have done the team some good but speculation is rife that coach Moreno Longo, who has yet to win a game since succeeding Walter Mazarri at the helm after the Atalanta debacle, will be sacked at the end of the season no matter what happens.

    Star striker Andrea Belotti also now seems certain to leave Turin this summer and it is in this climate of uncertainty that the Granata must somehow pull themselves together to avoid relegation.

    It will not be easy.

  7. Rolando Mandragora Udinese Frosinone Serie A
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    Udinese

    It may not be the most glamorous match-up in Serie A but Udinese’s first game back after the break, against fellow strugglers Torino, is of the utmost importance.

    The Friulani have failed to win any of their past seven games, following up three consecutive defeats with four successive draws.

    Udinese netted just four times during that rotten run, which perfectly underlines their primary problem.

    Only SPAL (20) have scored fewer goals than the Zebrette (21), who have been struggling just as badly under Luca Gotti as they were under Igor Tudor, who was dismissed as coach in March.  

    Udinese have some talented players, including the much-coveted midfielder Rolando Mandragora and Argentine attacker Rodrigo De Paul, but they desperately need to rediscover their goalscoring touch – and preferably right away against Torino.

  8. Dusan Vlahovic Federico Chiesa Sampdoria Fiorentina
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    Fiorentina

    In football, they say you should never go back, and Vincenzo Montella would probably agree with that old adage.

    The former Italy striker's second stint as Fiorentina coach proved a disaster, with Montella sacked in December, after a run of seven games without a win.

    Things haven't gone that much better under his successor, Beppe Iachini, but the Viola did go three games undefeated before the lockdown.

    Fiorentina aren't yet safe, of course, as they're still only five points clear of the drop zone.

    However, a squad containing star centre-half Nikola Milenkovic, midfield sensation Gaetano Castrovilli, in-demand winger Federico Chiesa, surprise package Dusan Vlahovic and the soon-to-return Franck Ribery can be expected to finish comfortably in mid-table.

  9. Radja Nainggolan Cagliari Fiorentina
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    Cagliari

    Back in December, Cagliari fans were looking forward to an unexpected battle for Champions League football, after an undefeated run spanning three months and 13 matches.

    Now, they are looking nervously over their shoulders, with their side having slipped from fourth to 12th in the Serie A standings.

    Of course, a squad as small as Cagliari's was never likely to secure European football but their slump in form was understandably deemed unacceptable by Tommaso Giulini, who sacked Rolando Maran in March and replaced him with Walter Zenga.

    With a seven-point cushion, the Sardinians seem unlikely to be dragged into a scrap for survival but their focus could be affected by all of the transfer speculation surrounding on-loan Inter midfielder Radja Nainggolan, top scorer Joao Pedro (16 Serie A goals) and Uruguayan ace Nahitan Nandez.

  10. Jeremie Boga Sassuolo

    Sassuolo

    Given the paltry four-point deficit to seventh-placed AC Milan, Sassuolo will be quietly optimistic about their chances of making a late push for European football.

    After all, before the lockdown began, the perennial over-achievers had reeled off four wins from six games to go from 16th to 11th in the table.

    In addition, Francesco Caputo and Domenico Berardi have contributed 22 Serie A goals between them this term, while Jeremie Boga has become one of the most sought-after players in the league because of his scintillating performances out wide.

    However, Sassuolo face an onerous task, given they still have to face Atalanta, Inter, Lazio, Napoli and Juventus between now and the end of the season.

    If they can achieve another Europa League qualification from here, it would arguably be the Emilia-Romagna club's greatest achievement to date.

  11. Sinisa Mihajlovic Bologna SPAL
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    Bologna

    Bologna had a major scare at the end of last month when a member of staff was suspected of having contracted coronavirus.

    Happily, it was a false alarm and the club is now focused on pressing ahead with plans to redevelop its stadium and giving Sinisa Mihajlovic a new, long-term contract.

    Mihajlovic is the inspiration behind Bologna's surprise bid to qualify for Europe, with the Serb having returned to the Dall'Ara bench last September while still battling cancer.

    The Rossoblu may have slipped from seventh to 10th before the suspension of play and face a tough finish to the season on paper, with games against Juventus, Inter and Napoli to come.

    However, given everything they've been through this season, Bologna have nothing to lose, and that makes a side packed with exciting attackers, such as Riccardo Orsolini and Nicola Sansone, a decent outside bet for a Europa League place.

  12. Dejan Kulusevski Juventus Parma
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    Parma

    Roberto D’Aversa was the third Serie A coach after Gian Piero Gasperini and Beppe Iachini to contract coronavirus.

    Thankfully, the Parma boss experienced nothing more than a high temperature before being given the all-clear to return to the training pitch and he says that "to start talking about football again is wonderful".

    D'Aversa has every reason to be feeling optimistic about the remainder of the campaign, too, with Parma ninth, just a point behind seventh-placed Milan.

    In addition, he can still call upon the services of one of the breakout stars of the season, Dejan Kulusevski, who is still at the Tardini despite already agreeing a summer switch to Juventus.

    Gervinho is also available. The controversy caused by his failed attempt to secure a January move to Al Sadd has been forgotten and his partnership with top scorer Andreas Cornelius could propel Parma into a Europa League place.

  13. Pazzini Verona Serie A
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    Verona

    It's been a sensational return to Italy's top flight for Verona, who find themselves in the lofty position of eighth place ahead of the restart.

    European football is, therefore, a realistic target for a team that only secured promotion to the top flight through last year's Serie B play-offs.

    Their surprise success has been founded upon their mean defence, which features the 20-year-old Marash Kumbulla, wanted by Juventus and Inter, and the Napoli-bound Amir Rrahmani.

    Only Juventus, Lazio and Inter have conceded fewer goals this season than Verona (26) but they do have problems in attack. Veteran forward Giampaolo Pazzini is their top scorer, with just four goals. 

    It also remains to be seen whether Verona can regain their momentum after seeing a nine-match unbeaten run come to an end just before the break.

  14. Zlatan Ibrahimovic Hakan Calhanoglu Milan 01292020
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    AC Milan

    Nobody knows what's going on inside AC Milan, so it's hard for those of us on the outside to predict how their campaign will conclude. More chaos is probably the most likely outcome.

    According to Thursday's Corriere dello Sport, Zlatan Ibrahimovic took Ivan Gazidis to task for showing up only 48 hours before Friday's Coppa Italia semi-final against Juventus, telling the CEO: "This is not the Milan it once was."

    Not a single supporter would dispute the Swede's claim. The seven-time European champions are a shadow of their former selves but, after Marco Giampaolo's disastrous reign, Stefano Poli had, at least, steadied the ship before the lockdown.

    Gigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer and Ante Rebic are all good players but Milan remain a painfully average side – they've lost as many Serie A games (10) as they've won this season and concede more goals than they score. 

    The Rossoneri are just three points behind sixth-placed Napoli but holding on to seventh would be an achievement for a team that will be without the injured Ibrahimovic for the restart.

  15. Gattuso Allan Napoli
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    Napoli

    Aurelio De Laurentiis’ surprising decision to sack Carlo Ancelotti and replace him with Gennaro Gattuso has arguably worked out well for everyone concerned.

    Ancelotti was removed from a toxic situation at the San Paolo, where he was caught in the middle of a bitter civil war between his players and his employers, and is now relishing the chance to revolutionise Everton.
     
    Gattuso, meanwhile, has recovered from a rough start at Napoli to put the Partenopei in a position to qualify for the Europa League.

    De Laurentiis is reportedly so happy with the job done to date by the former AC Milan midfielder that he is set to hand Gattuso a contract extension until 2022.

    Champions League football looks beyond Napoli, given they are nine points off fourth-placed Atalanta having played a game more, but they had won five of their previous six Serie A games before lockdown and beaten Inter in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final.

  16. Edin Dzeko - Roma 2020
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    Roma

    The coronavirus outbreak was poorly timed for many clubs, but particularly Roma.

    The pandemic played a pivotal role in Dan Friedkin's proposed takeover at the Stadio Olimpico and it still remains to be seen how long James Pallotta will remain in power.

    There have also been reports that the Giallorossi will once again have to cash in on at least one top player in order to balance the books and Roma fans are scared stiff by talk of Nicolo Zaniolo leaving for Juventus.

    The good news, at least, is that the attacking midfielder is fit to return to action after suffering an ACL injury in January and his form, along with that of veteran striker Edin Dezko, will be key to Roma's hopes of erasing their three-point deficit to fourth-placed Atalanta before the season's end.

  17. Alejandro Papu Gomez Atalanta 2019-20
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    Atalanta

    No Italian city was hit harder by Covid-19 than Bergamo and the devastating loss of life has been directly linked to Atalanta's Champions League victory over Valencia at San Siro just before lockdown.

    A night of unbridled joy may well have been responsible for the traumatising tragedy which followed.

    As the pride of the city, Atalanta now hope that they can go some way towards aiding the healing process by continuing their remarkable exploits on the football field.

    The most exciting side in Serie A are currently fourth, three points ahead of Roma with a game in hand, and eagerly awaiting the resumption of play in the Champions League. They followed their last-16 victory over Valencia with a rousing win at Mestalla that the players dedicated to the people of Bergamo.

    Certainly, anything is possible for Gian Piero Gasperini’s free-scoring side, which has been elevated to previously unimaginable heights by the genius of Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic, and there would be no more popular European champions given the events of the past few months.

  18. Romelu Lukaku Lautaro Martinez Inter

    Inter

    Inter's preparations for the restart have been completely overshadowed by speculation surrounding the future of striker Lautaro Martinez.

    Barcelona are desperate to sign the Argentine this summer but Lautaro, to his credit, has already assured Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte that he is fully focused on helping Inter drag themselves back into the Scudetto race.

    Back-to-back defeats to their two title rivals, Lazio and Juventus, just before the suspension of play saw the San Siro side slip to third in the table, nine points off top spot.

    Still, Inter do have a game in hand on the two teams above them and will no doubt be buoyed by the fact that dynamic young midfielder Stefano Sensi should now be fit to play a key role in the run-in.

    However, one major question mark remains: will Inter's players be able to cope with the now intensive fixture list, given Conte's highly demanding style of play?

  19. Immobile Lazio Inter Serie A
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    Lazio

    Lazio's desperation to ensure the season was concluded may have come across as insensitive at times, given the horribly high death toll in Italy, but it was wholly unsurprising.

    Club president Claudio Lotito is acutely aware that it could be some time before the Biancocelesti are in such an incredible position to win what would be just their third Serie A title.

    With 12 games to play, the Romans are just a point behind Juventus, who are bidding for a ninth consecutive Scudetto.

    The Bianconeri remain the favourites, given their superior squad, but Lazio have already beaten the champions twice this season and will be looking forward to their upcoming trip to Turin.

    Lazio are also undefeated since last September and, in Ciro Immobile, have a striker in such sensational form that he could break the record for goals across a single Serie A season.

  20. Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus

    Juventus

    Juventus parted company with the hugely successful Max Allegri and replaced him with footballing purist Maurizio Sarri because they wanted to start winning with style.

    The Bianconeri have flattered to deceive for the majority of the 2019-20 campaign, and particularly from December on, but there were signs just before the lockdown that the players might finally be getting to grips with 'Sarriball'.

    Indeed, in their last outing, against Inter, Juve produced arguably their most impressive performance of Sarri's tenure to date.

    Question marks remain over how best to integrate Paulo Dybala into the attack but Aaron Ramsey and Matthijs de Ligt look to have finally settled in Turin, while captain Giorgio Chiellini is now fully fit to lead the team forward.

    Much will depend on Cristiano Ronaldo, of course. The Portuguese embarked upon a record-equalling run of scoring in 11 consecutive games earlier this year and he has reportedly return to training in even better physical condition.

    We look set for a tight title race and Juve will have one eye on the Champions League, their primary objective, but don't be surprised if Ronaldo once again proves decisive.