Italian football will return on 12 June, kick-starting with a Coppa Italia clash between Juventus and Milan.
It’s coming up to the three-month mark since we last saw any Italian football. Fans have been waiting eagerly as we watch the world unfold around us, but life is slowly regaining a form of normality. The Bundesliga has already returned and shown the way for its neighboring leagues, and now we’re closing in on some domestic Italian action too.
All eyes then will be on the Semi-Final clash between Juventus and Milan. Juve will be going in search of their 14th Coppa Italia come next week. The current league leaders have once again been the dominant force in Italy and will take a one-point lead over 2nd-place Lazio when we get league action back underway, whilst Stefano Pioli’s Milan currently sit in 7th-place and are at risk of missing out on next season’s European competitions.
The Coppa Italia then has extra meaning for Milan, but they’ve not got a great recent history against the Old Lady. Pioli’s side have beaten Juve just once in the last six years – they lost 1-0 at the Allianz Stadium earlier in the season – and held out for a 1-1 draw when they visited San Siro in February – the first-leg of the Coppa Italia Semi-Finals. It was the main man, Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored an injury-time equalizer for Juve last time they faced Milan, and fans around the world will be itching to see him back on the pitch.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is going in search of the all-important sixth which will take him to level with Lionel Messi, and he has this season been in prolific form for the Italian giants. He recorded 21 goals in his Serie A debut season last year, taking 31 games to do so. This year, Ronaldo has already matched his previous record of 21 Serie A goals, doing so in just 22 games. He’s been in scintillating form for Juve this season and he could well be the match-winner next week.
Whilst Juve have recorded 50 Serie A goals in just 26 games this season, Milan have been somewhat goal-shy. Pioli’s side have managed just 28 and have lacked an out-and-out goalscorer in their side but, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic ruled out by an injury, their best hope against Juve next week will be Ante Rebic. The Croatian international is on-loan from Eintracht Frankfurt for this season and has so far scored 6 goals in 15 league games, 7 in all competitions including the opener against Juve in the first leg.
The break in football came at a particularly bad time for him as well. He was starting to pick up form in the league after scoring six goals in his last nine going into the temporary halt in football. He will be Milan’s main hope for goals during the remainder of the season, but he’ll need some help from his teammates if Milan are to close a three-point gap on Napoli and break into the European spots.
Maurizio Sarri has so far enjoyed a strong start to life as Juve manager. The ex-Napoli and Chelsea boss has so far guided Juve to victory in 27 of his 37 games in charge, and could yet bring home the domestic double starting with a Coppa Italia victory over Milan next week. They have the home advantage after holding out for a draw at the San Siro in the first-leg.
Inter will host Napoli in the other Semi-Final fixture, and it’s the Naples side who take 1-0 aggregate lead into the game at the San Paolo Stadium. Carlo Ancelotti had endured a tough first half of the season with Napoli before being sacked and eventually moving onto Everton. But ex-Milan player and manager, Gennaro Gattuso, has since turned their season around with a record of 9 wins from 15 games so far.
Napoli have won the Coppa Italia five times in their history with the last coming in 2014. They went into the temporary halt in the football in good form though, having lost just one of their last nine in all competitions and winning eight, including two wins over Lazio to reach the Coppa Italia Semi-Finals – they currently sit in 6th-place of the Serie A table, 15 points behind 3rd-place Inter.
Gattuso will be hoping his side can pick up where they left off. It could be a difficult summer for him too as the club looks set to lose Kalidou Koulibaly after years of speculation, and with the likes of Dries Mertens, José Callejon, and Fernando Llorente all aging, and all having had relatively poor seasons in-front of goal.
So despite scoring 41 Serie A goals this season, Napoli are still lacking an out-and-out goalscorer. They could find it hard against an Inter side who’ve conceded just 24 times in 25 Serie A games this season, but Gattuso’s main focus could well be in achieving a European finish in the league. An appearance in the cup Final though, and causing a potentially big upset by winning it would be a huge achievement for the Italian in his first half-season at the club.
Inter have also experienced an upturn in form following their last managerial appointment. The former manager of the Italian national team, Antonio Conte, began his spell at Inter in the summer and has brought about a new “system” at the club. They’ve since raided the Premier League to bring in all of Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen, Ashley Young, Victor Moses, and Alexis Sanchez.
This new-look Inter side has so far paid dividends. Conte’s side sit just behind the runaway leaders of Juve and Lazio and look set for a Champions League spot, and they’ll be looking to win their eighth Coppa Italia this season, with their last coming back in 2011. To do so they’ll need their new main man to help them through – Lukaku.
Conte was desperate to bring the ex-Manchester United man to Italy and fans have quickly seen why. He’s already scored 23 goals in all competitions this season and has again proved that he is and has been one of the most prolific strikers in Europe over the past few years. At 28-years-old he looks to be coming into his prime years under Conte, whose side focus their play around the big Belgian.
The return of Italian football with the Coppa Italia then will be an exciting insight into how the teams have fared over the past few months. League football is due to return on June 20th but several clubs have long been opposing the decision, with Italy being one of the worst-hit countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet the decision still lies in place, and all four teams featuring in the Coppa Italia will have at least an extra game to reorganize and try to pick up where they left the season in time for the return to league affairs. With all of Juve, Milan, Inter, and Napoli it’s bound to make for a classic Coppa Italia finale. Sarri will be expecting his team to go all the way this year, but he has Conte’s reformed Inter to contend with, Gattuso’s rejuvenated Napoli, and first a testing tie against Milan on the 12th – a date for all Italian football fans to look forward to.
Feature Photo: Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images