Serie A Returns: The Title Race, Champions League Battle, Relegation Fight & Big Games to Look Forward to

Cristiano Ronaldo
Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

When Serie A returns on June 20, over three months will have passed since we were treated to the delights of Italian football.

And the hiatus couldn’t have come at a worse time. More often than not in recent years, Juventus have had the title sewn up by now – but that couldn’t be further from the truth this season; the title race is open, Champions League football is up for grabs, the relegation battle is going down to the wire.

Absolutely nothing has been rubber stamped yet, meaning everything is up for grabs as we enter the home straight. Let’s take a look at the league’s current standings and where the battles at both ends of the table will be won and lost.

Maurizio SarriMaurizio Sarri
Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

What had been a three-horse race has now been narrowed down to just two thanks to Inter’s collapse prior to the postponement of the league.

Antonio Conte’s men had been hot on the heels of Lazio and Juventus, however, having been beaten away from home by both of them in their last two league outings, their nine-point deficit seems too much to claw back, though they do hold a game in hand over their rivals.

Juventus currently lead the way on 63 points with Lazio just a point behind on 62, and with the two still due to face each at the Allianz Stadium, this one could go right down to the wire.

Simone Inzaghi’s men have arguably the most favourable run-in of the two, but that’s not to say their remaining fixtures are easy. Lazio host AC Milan as well as facing the prospect of a tantalising final day trip to Napoli in what could be a crucial last game of the season.

For Maurizio Sarri’s men, they also face Milan, as well as fourth-placed Atalanta, before a mouth-watering final day clash with Champions League hopefuls Roma.

UEFA Europa League"KAA Gent v AS Roma"UEFA Europa League"KAA Gent v AS Roma"
UEFA Europa League”KAA Gent v AS Roma” | ANP Sport/Getty Images

With Juventus, Lazio and Inter looking to have a place in next year’s Champions League in the bag, just one spot remains.

Fourth spot is currently occupied by Atalanta, with Roma just three points behind. A further six points behind Roma are Napoli, but a nine-point gap looks a tall order to bridge at this stage of the season.

The bad news for Roma is Atalanta have a game in hand, the worse news for Roma is Atalanta were absolutely flying prior to the league’s postponement. Four wins in their last five league games, including two seven-goal hauls.

The pair have similar run-ins, with both facing Milan, Inter, and Juventus before the season is out. Atalanta’s first game back sees them face title-challengers Lazio, while Roma host Sampdoria.

Claudio RanieriClaudio Ranieri
Torino FC v UC Sampdoria – Serie A | Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Similar to the battle for the Champions League, it looks as though only one spot is left to be decided in the relegation scrap.

Both Brescia and S.P.A.L have looked lost causes for some time now, with the former nine points adrift and the latter seven points adrift, and both harbouring a shocking goal difference.

The final spot in the relegation zone could go to any of about seven teams. Lecce currently occupy said spot on 25 points, though only by virtue of goal difference, with Genoa on the same points tally, Sampdoria just a point ahead and Torino a further point ahead.

With all still due to play teams towards the top end of Serie A, it’ll be fixtures between teams around them that will decide who avoids the drop.

A final day clash between Sampdoria and Brescia may well decide whether Claudio Ranieri’s men retain their top-flight status. Elsewhere, Sampdoria travel to Lecce before hosting Genoa.

For Lecce, they face the unenviable task of clashes with Milan and Juventus in their first two games back. Life gets a little easier after that, with an away day at Genoa before two vital home games against Brescia and Sampdoria.

Despite only goal difference separating them from the bottom three, Genoa are in the enviable position of still having to play all three teams below them. With both Sampdoria and Genoa also to come, Davide Nicola’s men know their future is well and truly in their hands.

Torino may well be two points off the drop with a game in hand, but their fixture list offers little comfort. With clashes against Juventus, Lazio, Inter and Roma to come, their home games against Brescia and Genoa could be crucial in their bid for survival.

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Moussa Dembele: The Contenders to Sign the Lyon Striker and Where He Might End Up

Moussa Dembele
Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

In a rich and wonderful world of many footballing Dembele’s, the one creating the most column inches of late is Moussa.

No, not Tottenham’s former midfield destroyer, nor the 19-year-old forward who plays in Austria’s third tier, nor is it the midfielder currently plying his trade for Senegalese side AS Pikine.

It’s the fella who plays up front for Lyon. He used to play for Fulham and Celtic. With the beard?

Have you got it? Good.

After impressing in Ligue 1 this season with 16 goals in 27 games, the striker is attracting the interest of some well known clubs. But which of them is he most likely to end up signing for? 90min gazed into our crystal ball to try and find out.

Granit XhakaGranit Xhaka
Arsenal FC v Olympiacos FC – UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Several things would need to happen before Arsenal contemplated bringing Dembele to the Emirates Stadium in the summer.

The board have already implicitly conceded that any incoming transfers would have to be funded through player sales and, to be honest, the club already boasts impressive strength in depth up front.

For the Frenchman to arrive then, either Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette would have to be sold as this would create money to spend and positions in the starting XI to fill. The perfect storm for a Dembele shaped transfer saga.

The only stumbling block would be convincing the 23-year-old to sacrifice Champions League football as Arsenal seem unlikely to break into the top four before the end of the season.

As stumbling blocks go, this is a biggie. Good thing Mikel Arteta seems like such as dashing, sweet talker then. The Spaniard is going to need to pull out his best schmoozing to broker this deal.

Liklihood Rating: 4/10

Antonio ConteAntonio Conte
SS Lazio v FC Internazionale – Serie A | Silvia Lore/Getty Images

One of the reports doing the rounds of late suggested that Lautaro Martinez’s likely departure for Barcelona in the summer would spark a chain reaction of transfers across the continent.

The story goes…Inter’s desire to replace Martinez would lead to them raiding Arsenal for Lacazette, who in turn would plunder Lyon for Dembele. But hey, what if Antonio Conte just skips a step and snaps up Dembele himself?

He doesn’t quite the fit the bill of the sort of signing that Conte has fancied since taking over at Inter – mainly because he’s not a slightly washed up Premier League full-back – but he did enjoy a brief spell in the English top flight which is bound to get the Italian’s heart beating quicker.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that Dembele would be a well suited replacement for Martinez either. Key to Inter’s success during the first half of the season was the partnership the Argentine struck up with Romelu Lukaku.

Though Dembele has largely played as a loan striker during his career so far, he been deployed in a front two on occasion. Lukaku as the link man and the Frenchman as the penalty box prowler is an exciting concept that could take Serie A by storm. Will it happen though? Maybe, maybe not.

Likelihood Rating (If Martinez Stays): 4/10

Likelihood Rating (If Martinez Leaves): 6/10

Frank LampardFrank Lampard
Chelsea FC v Everton FC – Premier League | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

Chelsea were desperate to secure Dembele’s signature back in January with their fervorous interest leading Lyon to take the unprecedented step of issuing a public ‘hands-off’ statement – that was almost certainly aimed at the Blues.

It seems Frank Lampard has not been deterred by this setback though with the club continuing to sniff around the striker.

It’s easy to see why Chelsea are so keen on the 24-year-old as well. Though Tammy Abraham has been a revelation this season, the club lacks depth at striker. Olivier Giroud may have performed the U-turn of the century by penning new terms at Stamford Bridge but Michy Batshuayi’s days are surely numbered at the club.

Dembele would be a perfect complement for Abraham. He is equally strong in the air, possess a similar willingness to work hard for the team and is also adept at operating as a lone striker. Like we said before, it’s easy to see will Chelsea are so enamored.

Likelihood Rating: 7/10

Although it has largely worked out okay, Manchester United’s mad deadline day dash to sign Odion Ighalo back in January starkly exposed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s need for offensive reinforcements.

While a deal for Jadon Sancho is quite likely – and quite exciting – United could do with a more conventional forward to relieve some of the pressure from Marcus Rashford and an unproven Mason Greenwood.

This is where Dembele comes in. There’s talk that a €70m (£61.9m) deal has already been agreed between the two clubs and while this seems to be a little bit premature, negotiations are believed to be at an advanced stage.

The Frenchman finishes better than any of the current crop of United forwards and his goal numbers have improved year after year. He also fits the Solskjaer blueprint of being young with a point to prove, making this a very intriguing and likely match.

Likelihood Rating: 8/10

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Inter vs Juventus: 6 of the Best Games in the Derby d’Italia’s History

Juventus FC v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A
Juventus FC v FC Internazionale Milano – Serie A | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It’s inevitable for there to have been some memorable games between two rivals who constantly compete for league titles in their division. This easily applies for the rivalry between Inter and Juventus. The derby has a name, for crying out loud.

These two teams have produced some entertaining clashes over the years, with high quality and high stakes. Having read the overview for the derby (you have read the overview, right?) here’s a list of six memorable Derby d’Italia clashes over the years that have made this game a special one to watch.

This crushing rout remains La Vecchia Signora’s biggest victory to date, and their fans must be glad the game was even held to begin with.

With Inter furious that their 2-0 victory in the original clash had been overturned by the Italian football federation in favour of a replay, club president Angelo Moratti instructed head coach Helenio Herrera to field a youth team in protest. In his mind, they had already lost the title to their rivals thanks to this ruling.

And as experienced and tactically intelligent as Herrera was, he could not overcome I Bianconeri with a team of youngsters. The Turin side ran riot and put nine into the Inter goal. Striker Omar Sívori, who went on to win the Ballon d’Or that year, was clearly the star of the show, scoring six goals himself.

This crushing victory remains long in the memory of Juve fans, and is seen as the game that sparked the birth of the rivalry between the two clubs.

The 1998 title race looked too tight to call, as Juventus led their counterparts by a single point, with just four games to play in the campaign.

Alessandro Del Piero put the hosts in front in the first half, with no further goals scored before half time (…obviously, you’ve seen the score).

Inter striker Ronaldo burst in on goal, and was fouled by Mark Iuliano inside the box, only for referee Piero Ceccarini to wave away the away side’s claims for a spot-kick. Only seconds later, La Vecchia Signora were given a penalty themselves, sparking fury amongst the Neruzzurri.

Despite Del Piero’s miss, the hosts held on for a 1-0 victory. Post-game, the game was debated intensely, with members of Italy’s parliament even verbally arguing with each other over the result. The game remains a sore spot for fans of the Milan team, who saw this as an example of the Bianconeri being favoured by the football authorities.

Tempers flare during the Serie ATempers flare during the Serie A
The game had a frenetic finish that saw Inter rescue a point | Grazia Neri/Getty Images

While there wasn’t a goal for 89 minutes, this game came alive in the dying moments, with dramatic acts that couldn’t have been scripted earlier.

A controversial penalty (see a theme developing?) was awarded to the visitors, which was converted successfully by Del Piero. In the aftermath, his teammate Antonio Conte and Inter’s Dominic Morfeo were sent off for their part in instigating a fight between both sets of players on the pitch.

But it didn’t end there, and Inter won a corner in the 95th minute. Up came goalkeeper Francesco Toldo, who managed to deflect the ball towards striker Christian Vieri, who fired it past Gianluigi Buffon to rescue a draw at San Siro.

It remains one of the most remarkable finishes to a Derby d’Italia that we’ve ever seen.

Inter Milan's Brazilian midfielder ThiagInter Milan's Brazilian midfielder Thiag
Motta and Buffon square up during this fiery clash in 2009 | AFP/Getty Images

You knew this would be a hotly contested game when the Inter team bus arrived in Turin to be pelted by eggs thrown by the home support.

After just 20 minutes, the visitors’ manager José Mourinho was sent to the stands following his sarcastic applause of Massimiliano Saccani’s decision to award a free kick to La Vecchia Signora, who scored from the set piece through Giorgio Chiellini’s header.

It was a heated game, shown by the multiple bookings and the sending off of Juve’s Felipe Melo, as well as a on-field clash between Thiago Motta and Buffon. But after Samuel Eto’o equalised for I Nerazzurri, it was Claudio Marchisio who cleverly finished past Júlio César to hand the Turin side the win.

Diego Milito, Antonio CassanoDiego Milito, Antonio Cassano
Diego Milito celebrates his goal during the win over Juventus | Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Having gone 49 games unbeaten in the league, I Bianconeri were in a confident mood for their home encounter with their rivals.

And it looked to be another victory for the hosts when Arturo Vidal put them in front just 20 seconds after kickoff. But Andrea Stramaccioni’s side improved as the game went on, and drew level after the break thanks to a Diego Milito penalty for a foul by Marchisio.

The Argentine striker doubled the lead with 15 minutes to go, quickly reacting and sliding in to send the ball into the back of the net after Buffon had saved Fredy Guarín’s strike. After Juve sent men forward in a desperate attempt to find an equaliser, Rodrigo Palacio finished them off on the counter-attack to seal a famous win.

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With Napoli hot on their heels, La Vecchia Signora needed a win badly to maintain their slender lead at the top of Serie A.

Winger Douglas Costa opened the scoring for the visitors, and it got better for them when opposing midfielder Matías Vecino was sent off for a foul on Mario Mandžukić. Even with that advantage, the closest they got to a second goal was Blaise Matuidi’s strike; which was ruled out for offside.

The hosts roared back to life after half time, and turned the game around completely. First it was Mauro Icardi who nodded in to level the score, before an own goal from Andrea Barzagli meant that the Nerazzurri’s ten men led for the first time.

But disaster struck for the home side when Milan Škriniar put the ball in his own net to give the visitors a way back into the game – which they took with both hands, Gonzalo Higuaín nabbing a late winner to ensure the three points (and eventually the title) headed back to Turin.

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Inter Sporting Director Provides Updates on Futures of Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young & Ivan Perisic

Alexis Sanchez
Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Inter’s sporting director Piero Ausilio has provided updates on the futures of three of the club’s loan stars – Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez and Ivan Perisic.

Issues regarding the contracts of players across the continent have been prevalent since COVID-19 brought football to a standstill, as clubs were left unsure over how, and if, certain deals could be extended.

Those deals involved players whose contracts will expire in the summer, as well as those out on loan in some capacity.

It appears as if Inter have made inroads in regards to three of their players involved in such instances, after Ausilio spoke to Sky Sport Italia to discuss how the club would deal with Sanchez, Young and Perisic.

Having flopped rather catastrophically since joining Manchester United, the Red Devils managed to find a taker for the misfiring Sanchez last summer.

Alexis SanchezAlexis Sanchez
Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Inter decided to take the Chilean on loan for the entire 2019/20 season, a deal that did not include an option to buy upon its completion, but saw the Italian side pay £6m worth of his wages. Injuries and a lack of form meant he struggled to nail down a starting berth at San Siro, making just 15 outings across all competitions and netting only one goal.

That hasn’t deterred Inter from keeping him, as Ausilio confirmed Sanchez would remain in Milan for the duration of the 2019/20 campaign.

“Alexis Sanchez will stay until the end of the season,” he said. “Then we’ll decide about his future with Manchester United. Now he’ll have the opportunity to show his skill.”

With Serie A set to resume on 20 June, Sanchez could have a vital part to play in Antonio Conte’s side as they aim to wrestle the title away from Juventus, who currently sit top of the table.

In regard to players currently plying their trade away from the club, Perisic’s name has been mentioned on a number occasions with it not known whether Bayern would exercise the option to make his loan stint in Bavaria permanent.

He’s currently on a season-long loan at the Bundesliga side, but his move over to Germany did include an option to buy upon the deal’s completion.

Ivan Perisic - Bayern MunichIvan Perisic - Bayern Munich
Ivan Perisic – Bayern Munich | TF-Images/Getty Images

In total he’s appeared 25 times for the club since, scoring five times, and is one of two forwards the club have brought in on loan this term. Philippe Coutinho is also at the Allianz Arena, but the substantial fee it would take to make his loan move a permanent one has seen Die Roten back off.

Instead, Ausilio has confirmed the strong relationship between Bayern and Inter has come into effect, with the pair to discuss the terms of signing Perisic beyond the season in the coming weeks.

Ausilio said: “We’ve a gentlemen agreement with Bayern Münich for Ivan Perisic, our relationship with them is so good so we can negotiate about his buy-back clause on next weeks.”

Perisic looks set to claim a league title in his third stint in German football, with Bayern sitting pretty at the Bundesliga summit, boasting a seven-point lead over their nearest rivals.

Another player who Conte has benefited from having on loan this season alongside Sanchez is Young, who has enjoyed something of a renaissance since making his first delve into Serie A.

Ashley Young - InterAshley Young - Inter
Ashley Young – Inter | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

His initial deal from United was a six-month loan move signed in January for a fee of roughly £1.3m, but that included an option to extend that loan by another 12 months at the end of the campaign.

Young has been in and out of the side since joining, but made an impressive start to life by assisting Lautaro Martínez in a 1–1 draw against Cagliari.

He’s clearly impressed Conte enough, as Ausilio insisted ‘he’ll stay here for sure’.

There was no word on fellow loanee Victor Moses, who joined from Chelsea on an initial six-month loan with an option to buy, but progress has been made in three departments already – being of aid to Inter but also to both Bayern and United.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

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Inter vs Juventus: Picking a Combined XI of Derby d’Italia Icons

Gianluigi Buffon, Javier Zanetti
Juventus FC v FC Internazionale Milano – Serie A | Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Inter and Juventus. Il derby d’Italia. The derby of Italy.

The two Goliath’s of Italian football have put on some of the greatest games in Serie A history over the years – and the derby has seen some of the sport’s elite stars do battle on the biggest stage. 

Unfortunately, we can’t squeeze all of the legends into our star-studded first team, so prepare to be angered and puzzled at one stage or another – and no, Zinedine Zidane hasn’t made the cut. And obviously Cristiano Ronaldo is nowhere near the lineup. Deal with it.

With all of the fine print out of the way, let’s get on with 90min’s Inter and Juve all-time combined XI.

Juventus's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon gJuventus's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon g
Juventus’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon g | GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

Gianluigi Buffon joined Juventus in 2001, and apart from one brief love affair with Paris, the Italian giant has remained in Turin ever since. A mainstay in I Bianconeri’s defence, Buffon has won everything on offer at club level – except the mischievous Champions League, of course. 

A nine-time scudetto winner, Gigi pips fellow Bianconeri shot-stopper Dino Zoff to the number one spot in our combined XI. One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time – and he’s still going, too.

Javier ZanettiJavier Zanetti
FC Internazionale Milano v Cagliari Calcio – Serie A | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

A bandiera of the modern day Inter, Javier Zanetti made over 600 appearances for I Nerazzurri during his time in Milan, and grew to become one of the greatest players in the club’s history. The Argentine star lifted five Serie A titles while at San Siro, and was part of José Mourinho’s 2010 Champions League winning side. 

Bags of energy, pace and class on the ball, Zanetti gets the nod to patrol our right flank. 

​​Gaetano Scirea was a winner. There’s no other way of putting it. Widely considered one of the very best, the World Cup winner lifted every trophy on offer during his 14 years at ​Juventus, claiming seven Serie A titles and a clean sweep of European prizes. 

A complete defender – and one who rightly earned his place in Juve’s all-time greatest XI – he has also worked his way into 90min’s combined XI, too. I’m not sure which is more prestigious, really.

Walter SamuelWalter Samuel
Inter Milan v CSKA Moscow – UEFA Champions League | Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

The Wall. You don’t just get handed the nickname ‘The Wall’, you’ve gotta earn it. And that’s exactly what Walter Samuel did. The Argentine was a ruthless defender, whose presence alone was enough to put any striker off their scoring appetite. 

A proper hard man, Samuel makes up one of the most fearsome centre-back partnerships of all time.

Another Inter legend completes our backline. A one-club man, and a legend also for the Italian national side, Giacinto Facchetti was one of the first – and very best – attacking full-backs in football history.

The Nerazzurri hero was openly considered a genuine sensation both defensively and offensively, so much so that he came second in the 1965 Ballon d’Or awards. Four Serie A titles are enough to allow Facchetti the freedom of our left flank.

Michel Platini, Mario Faccenda, Giuseppe CortiMichel Platini, Mario Faccenda, Giuseppe Corti
Juventus French midfielder Michel Platini (C) stru | STF/Getty Images

Bit of a ‘Paul Scholes playing left-midfield for England’ vibe to this one, but needs must. Michel Platini has suffered a huge fall from grace with his dodgy dealings at FIFA in recent years, but we mustn’t forget that this man was absolutely unstoppable during his five-year spell at Juventus.

Although his time with I Bianconeri turned out to be the final years of his career, Platini still managed to bag two Serie A titles, a European Cup, and three Capocannoniere awards. I feel like I’m missing something…

Oh yeah, and three successive Ballon d’Or awards. A proper baller.

Esteban CambiassoEsteban Cambiasso
FC Internazionale Milano v Bologna FC – Serie A | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Every top side needs an unsung hero. For every Frank Lampard, there’s a Claude Makelele. For every Mesut Ozil, there’s a Granit Xha…maybe that example is a bit weaker. Anyway, Esteban Cambiasso was Inter through and through, and his impact on the team can never be underestimated.

The Argentine spent a decade at the heart of I Nerazzurri’s side, winning five scudetti and the aforementioned 2010 Champions League. A man who was never afraid of doing the dirty work, Cambiasso sits at the base of our midfield. Ready to get stuck in.

An oldie but a goldie, Giampiero Boniperti joins Cambiasso in the centre of the park. Boniperti picked up over 400 senior appearances during his career- and all for I Bianconeri. The Juve legend played as a striker for many years and became the club’s leading scorer – until a certain striker pinched that crown off him (more on that later).

But Boniperti was moved back into the midfield when I Bianconeri signed John Charles and Omar Sivori, and he made up the magical trio, which helped fire his beloved club to three Serie A titles.

Juventus Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved cJuventus Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved c
Juventus Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved c | GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

A proper Juventus legend. ​Those bouncing, flowing locks. That wicked left peg. Pavel Nedved took Turin by storm upon his arrival, winning two scudetti, and he even remained loyal to the club when they were relegated from Serie A during the Calciopoli scandal.

Nedved was cruelly robbed of a 2003 Champions League final appearance for a yellow card he collected in the semi-final, but it was us who were truly robbed of seeing the genius on the biggest stage of all. If it’s any consolation to Nedved though, he’s made the cut with 90min.

Ronaldo Nazario - Soccer PlayerRonaldo Nazario - Soccer Player
Claudio Villa Archive | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A generational talent. A boy who burst onto the scene, and sat every goalkeeper down on their bum in an instant. Ronaldo was one of football’s greatest ever stars. Il Fenomeno. It’s unbelievable to think ​Barcelona allowed the Brazilian starlet to leave after only one season in Catalonia, but ​Inter broke the bank to sign the superstar – and they certainly reaped the benefits.

Ronaldo destroyed every defence in Serie A claiming his first Ballon d’Or success while at the club. The only sour note of his time in Italy was the knee injury he suffered against Lecce, and subsequently aggravated against Lazio, which would recur heartbreakingly throughout his career.

What a player, though.

Alexandro Del PieroAlexandro Del Piero
UEFA Champions League – Bayern Munich v Juventus | Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

One of the most​ talented strikers in world football, Alessandro Del Piero was always destined for greatness. His lightning quick feet, his ability to ghost beyond players, and of course, his clinical finishing. The Italian forward was the best in the business, but his brilliant career was sadly ravaged by injuries.

The fact Del Piero recovered from crippling knee problems and continued to break records speaks volumes of the character of the man, although he never reached the heights that were initially expected of him. But he changed his game to mask his deficiencies and he eventually became Juve’s highest ever scorer. But more importantly, he completes our unbeatable XI.

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Serie A Confirms Return Date of 20 June, Coppa Italia to Kick Things Off in Italy

logo of the Serie A
AS Roma v US Lecce – Serie A | Silvia Lore/Getty Images

It has been confirmed that Serie A will restart on 20 June, with the Coppa Italia semi finals being contested a week prior.

Italian football was halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak back in March, with the country being one of the worst affected by the virus.

Logo Serie ALogo Serie A
AS Roma v Brescia Calcio – Serie A | Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Since then, plans have been afoot to secure Serie A’s return and – as reported by Football Italia – Serie A will finally resume on 20 June, following a meeting between club directors, medical professional and players on Thursday.

Prior to league action kicking off again, the second legs of the Coppa Italia semi finals will be played with both ties finely poised. Napoli beat Inter 1-0 back in February, while Milan and Juventus played out a 1-1 draw.

Things are similarly tight at the top of the Serie A table. Leaders Juventus are holding onto top spot by just one point with surprise package Lazio breathing down the Old Lady’s neck. Third placed Inter are nine points adrift after fading badly following their promising start to the season.

News of calcio‘s return has been greeted enthusiastically by Italy’s minister of sport Vincenzo Spadafora who featured prominently in Thursday’s discussions.

“It was a very useful meeting and, as we had said from the start, football was always going to resume when we had the conditions to ensure safety and the CTS gave the all-clear to the protocols,” he said in a statement.

Vincenzo Spadafora Portrait SessionVincenzo Spadafora Portrait Session
Vincenzo Spadafora Portrait Session | Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images

“Italy is getting back on its feet and it is only right that football should do the same. The CTS agreed with the medical protocol, but confirmed the absolute necessity for a quarantine period if a player were to test positive.

“We also received guarantees the process of swabs for players must not affect or detract from the general population’s access to testing in any way.”

Spadafora added that the league would be suspended again if it was deemed unsafe and options to determine final league positions through a play off or using the existing table can be used at the FIGC’s discretion.

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The 10 Worst Serie A Managerial Appointments of the Past Decade – Ranked

Filippo Inzaghi
Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Serie A clubs have something of a reputation for chopping and changing managers. Indeed, in this season alone, ten clubs have opted to make a change in the dugout, with two of those clubs (Brescia and Genoa) having three separate managers.

So the argument might be that these clubs aren’t giving their managers enough time to impose their philosophy on their new squads, and those arguments are probably justifiable. However, we’re not here to discuss whether these managers should’ve been given more of chance, we’re here to discuss how badly these managers performed, regardless of whether one thinks they should’ve been given more time.

Eusebio Di FrancescoEusebio Di Francesco
Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

In truth, Eusebio Di Francesco could’ve landed himself a better job than Sampdoria.

Coming off the back of a unfair sacking at Roma (less than a year after leading them to the Champions League semi-finals), Di Francesco was appointed as manager of Sampdoria. A solid top-half side, but one that was never realistically going to challenge for a European place. On the surface, it was a coup, a shrewd appointment, but it would turn to be anything but.

Di Francesco lost six of the seven league games he had in charge of I Blucerchiati and were rock bottom of Serie A when he was finally sacked. Ironically, it was Claudio Ranieri, the man who replaced him at Roma, who replaced him at Sampdoria too.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A former youth coach at Inter, Andrea Stramaccioni was initially appointed as caretaker manager at San Siro towards the end of 2011/12. He led them from eighth place to sixth place, and he was confirmed as I Nerazzurri’s permanent manager for the following season.

What followed was nothing short of a disaster. A solid start to the season left them in third at Christmas, but a poor second half of the season (they lost ten out of a possible 19 games) meant they finished in ninth place. The result of this was that Inter had failed to qualify for a European competition for the first time in 15 seasons.

Safe to say, Stramaccioni was sacked, and he’s become something a journeyman since, managing clubs in Greece, the Czech Republic and Iran.

Marco GiampaoloMarco Giampaolo
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Reflecting back on this appointment, it was pretty strange one. Marco Giampaolo had been manager of Sampdoria, leading them to top-half finishes for three consecutive seasons before Milan came calling. A talented manager, sure, but one who could arrest I Rossoneri’s decline?

It didn’t seem like the two really fit – Giampaolo was a journeyman manager, who, just four years earlier, had been managing Serie C side Cremonese and Milan were a club hoping to break back into the top four.

This odd pairing became quite evident as Milan started playing matches. I Rossoneri seemed bereft of creativity and energy, struggling to score goals. By the time Giampaolo was sacked, Milan had lost four of their seven opening games, and sat in 13th place.

Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Following a disastrous year in charge of the Italian national team, in which he failed to ensure their qualification to the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, Gian Piero Ventura was public enemy number one in Italy.

Chievo were able to look past that when they appointed him as their new coach in October 2018. I Gialloblu were in last place at the time, and they would’ve been hoping that Ventura – who had a decent record in the Italian top flight – could rescue their season.

Instead, he plunged them into more chaos. He was in charge for just four matches, of which he lost three and drew one, before resigning. Chievo were relegated at the end of the season and Ventura is now in charge of Serie B outfit Salernitana.

Luigi Del NeriLuigi Del Neri
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

An experienced coach, Luigi Delneri was selected to manage Juventus in May 2010, following a successful campaign at Sampdoria in which he led to them into the Champions League places.

It would turn out to be misguided appointment. They would draw every game in their Europa League group, failing to qualify to for the next round, and finished seventh in Serie A, meaning they didn’t qualify for Europe for the following season.

Delneri was sacked after just one season, and the Juventus board gambled on Antonio Conte, who would subsequently lead them to three consecutive Scudetti.

Filippo InzaghiFilippo Inzaghi
Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

At the time of Filippo Inzaghi’s appointment in 2014, Milan were already in decline. They had finished eighth the previous season, and their choice to appoint Inzaghi, who had only had spells in charge of Milan’s youth teams, seemed a big risk.

It was a risk that didn’t pay off. I Rossoneri finished the season in tenth place, their lowest position since 1998. Inzaghi was not retained for the following season, being replaced by Sinisa Mihajlovic, who didn’t fare much better.

Inzaghi seems to have resurrected his managerial career, however. His current team, Benevento, are top of the Serie B table by a margin of 20 points.

Alberto MalesaniAlberto Malesani
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Something of a cult figure due to his successful time at Parma and a notorious press conference he gave while in charge of Panathinaikos, Alberto Malesani was an experienced Serie A coach who was brought in rescue the relegation threatened Sassuolo in January 2014.

I Neroverdi were 18th when Malesani took charge. Five matches and five defeats later, Sassuolo were bottom of the table, four points away from safety, and Malesani was dismissed.

Eusebio Di Francesco would be re-appointed as Sassuolo coach, saving them from relegation and leading them to Europa League qualification two years later. Malesani, meanwhile, hasn’t managed another club since.

Frank de BoerFrank de Boer
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It’s easy to say in retrospect, but Frank de Boer was always an odd choice for Inter.

He had spent six years in charge of Ajax, leading them to four Eredivisie titles. Prior to his appointment at Inter in August 2016, however, he hadn’t won a trophy for two years. De Boer managed just 11 league matches at I Nerazzurri, and were 12th in the league at the time of his dismissal in November.

De Boer would go on to have a forgettable five-match spell with Crystal Palace and now finds himself in charge of MLS side Atlanta United.

Vincenzo MontellaVincenzo Montella
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It seemed like the perfect appointment at the time. Vincenzo Montella previously had a successful three-year spell at Fiorentina between 2012 and 2015, finishing fourth in each of the seasons he had in charge, and would subsequently turn out to be one of the best managers Milan have had in recent years.

He returned to Fiorentina in April 2019 with a reputation and destroyed it in less than a year. Brought in with seven games to go in 2018/19, Montella failed to win a single game and Fiorentina, who were tenth in April, ended up finishing in 16th place, only surviving relegation on the final day of the season.

A new owner came before the start of 2019/20 and decided to keep the faith in Montella. He performed slightly better, but was sacked just before Christmas with Fiorentina in 15th place.

FC Internazionale v Atalanta BC - Serie AFC Internazionale v Atalanta BC - Serie A
MB Media/Getty Images

For context, Inter had won the Champions League a little over a year before Gian Piero Gasperini’s appointment in June 2011.

It was an odd choice from Inter owner Massimo Moratti. He had a successful spell in charge of Genoa, but didn’t quite have the calibre to manage one of the biggest teams in the world. Gasperini lasted just five games, losing four and drawing one, before his sacking in September, with I Nerazzurri in the relegation zone.

Gasperini is now in charge of Atalanta, where he has become, arguably, the greatest manager in Serie A. In his time in Bergamo, he has taken his side from mid-table nobodies to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

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Inter Director Provides Update on Lautaro Martinez’s Future Amid Barcelona Interest

Lautaro Martinez
FC Internazionale v Fiorentina – Coppa Italia: Quarter Final | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio has revealed Barcelona will have to pay Lautaro Martinez’s full
€111m (£97m) release clause if they want to secure the Argentine’s services ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.

Lautaro has enjoyed a stellar season under Antonio Conte at San Siro, scoring 16 times in all competitions and forming one of the most potent strike partnerships on the planet alongside target man Romelu Lukaku.

The 'Lula' tandem have scored 39 goals between them in all competitions this seasonThe 'Lula' tandem have scored 39 goals between them in all competitions this season
The ‘Lula’ tandem have scored 39 goals between them in all competitions this season | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Nevertheless, his breakthrough campaign – following a difficult debut season with Luciano Spalletti at the helm – led to Barcelona taking notice. The Catalans are in search of Luis Suarez’s long-term successor at Camp Nou and view El Toro as that guy.

But despite La Blaugrana previously being hopeful of securing Lautaro in a player-plus-cash deal, Nerazzurri sporting director Ausilio has confirmed the Spanish giants will have to play the Argentine’s full release clause.

“As for as Martinez is concerned, there is only one way he will leave Inter and that is by paying his clause,” Ausilio told Sky Italia, “A clause that everyone knows – there is no point in hiding – is demanding, because it has both deadlines and commitments that must be kept very precise.

“It is a clause that expires in the early part of July so it won’t last for a long time. And it is the only possibility that exists to take Lautaro away from Inter today,” he added.

Ausilio’s demands come after 90min exclusively revealed earlier this month that Barcelona are still confident of securing a deal for their priority target, despite their financial woes.

Antoine GriezmannAntoine Griezmann
Barcelona could offload Antoine Griezmann, who they paid £107m for last summer, to fund the Lautaro Martinez deal | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s understood the Catalans are willing to offload a number of high-profile stars in order to broker a deal.

Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann could still recuperate hefty fees, despite the impact of COVID-19 in regards to player values, and are believed to be available for transfer. Samuel Umtiti, Ivan Rakitić, Arturo Vidal and Martin Braithwaite, meanwhile, are also said to be on the chopping block.

And with Ausilio all but ruling out any potential swap deal, Barcelona will be looking at a staggered payment plan which would see them pay a small amount up front and a large part of the €111m clause in 12 months’ time.

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10 of Mario Balotelli’s Most Controversial Moments

Mario Balotelli
Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Oh Mario, will you ever learn?

After yet another controversy, this time going AWOL for 10 days after a bust-up with Brescia club president Massimo Cellino and earning himself a ride out the exit door with two years still left on his contract, we thought ‘what better time to take a look back at some of his most controversial moments?’

So we’ve done exactly that:

The Celebration vs. Germany

Claudio Marchisio, Mario BalotelliClaudio Marchisio, Mario Balotelli
Mario Baloteeli | Michael Regan/Getty Images

It’s the semi-final of Euro 2012 against Germany, Balotelli has raced in behind the defence and leathered it into the roof of the net. To celebrate he, rather hilariously, rips his top off and stands flexing his muscles like, well, Cristiano Ronaldo probably would.

When asked why he didn’t celebrate, he said: “I don’t celebrate goals, I’m just doing my job. Does a postman celebrate when he delivered the mail?” No, he does not.”

I mean, he’s got a point…

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If you say you haven’t done this at least once in your life, then you are a liar. It’s just one of those things that only happens when you’re already in a bad mood. Like catching your clothes on a door handle.

Remember, head first yeah.

FBL-WC-2014-FRIENDLY-ITA-IRLFBL-WC-2014-FRIENDLY-ITA-IRL
GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Back in 2010, Mario and his younger brother Enoch drove into a women’s prison in Brescia because they wanted to have a look around.

“Balotelli has apologised. He spoke in a low voice, he was a little embarrassed,” said the police officer, who had to detained the pair for entering without a permit. We’re all little curious I supoose…

The Fireworks

Old but gold, the time that Mario Balotelli set off fireworks in his own bathroom is always worth a mention.

He later became the face of firework safety adverts in the run up to Bonfire Night. Quite brilliant really.

**Do not try this at home**

The Inter Red Card

Inter Milan's Portuguese coach Jose MourInter Milan's Portuguese coach Jose Mour
GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

” I could write a book of 200 pages of my two years at Inter with Mario, but the book would not be a drama – it would be a comedy,” Mourinho once said.

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one.

“Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

The Trampoline

Mario BalotelliMario Balotelli
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Mario’s mother once sent him to the shops for some milk and he came back with a giant trampoline, a Vespa and a Scaletrix set. Like a very expensive lucky dip.

Why Always Me?

Manchester City's Italian striker MarioManchester City's Italian striker Mario
Manchester City’s Italian striker Mario | ANDREW YATES/Getty Images

Of course this made this list. It’s ICONIC.

Quite an amazing tag-line for quite an amazing person. If you’re going to score in the Manchester derby, then you might as well celebrate it in style.

The Friendly ‘Skill’

Roberto Mancini, Mario BalotelliRoberto Mancini, Mario Balotelli
Inter Milan v Manchester City – Dublin Super Cup | David Rogers/Getty Images

While playing for City in a pre-season friendly against LA Galaxy, Balotelli found himself through on goal with only the keeper to beat. Instead of slotting the ball in the bottom corner, he tried a lackadaisical trick and missed the goal entirely.

Teammates fuming and he was subbed straight after. Proper Sunday League stuff.

The Wrong Kit

Mario BalotelliMario Balotelli
Italy v Uruguay – International Friendly | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Both Italy and Uruguay had new Puma kits to parade for the first time during their friendly in 2011. So what does Balotellit? Yes, he comes out for the second half int he old Italy kit because he ‘likes it better’.

Elite.

Inter Milan's forward Mario Balotelli arInter Milan's forward Mario Balotelli ar
Inter Milan’s forward Mario Balotelli ar | FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/Getty Images

Not that hard to understand why Inter fans were fuming with this one. Never going to end well when you go on TV with the shirt of your biggest rivals on, is it?

Balotelli was handed a gift of a AC Milan shirt with his name on it, so he then pulled it on and checked himself out in the mirror. Stupid or very brave? Maybe both…

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Inter Eyeing Up Summer Move for Hertha Berlin’s Matheus Cunha With Lautaro Martinez Heading for Exit

Matheus Santos Carneiro Da Cunha
Hertha BSC v 1. FC Union Berlin – Bundesliga | Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Inter are lining up Hertha Berlin star Matheus Cunha as Lautaro Martinez’s replacement with the Argentine striker edging closer to the exit door.

Martinez has been in fine form for the Nerazzurri this season, striking up a fine partnership with summer arrival Romelu Lukaku. The 22-year-old has netted 12 goals in 22 Serie A games, also laying on three assists.

Lautaro MartinezLautaro Martinez
SS Lazio v FC Internazionale – Serie A | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

He has been repeatedly touted for a move away from Inter with a host of European clubs including Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona all said to be interested. The latter are leading the race for his signature and Alfredo Pedulla has reported that an agreement is already in place between the two clubs.

This corroborates claims earlier this month that Barcelona had pencilled in a €60m-plus-two-players deal for the striker, and 90min was told back in April that the player favours a move to Camp Nou.

The former Racing Club man’s imminent departure would leave Antonio Conte in the difficult position of having to field an unsettled player when Serie A returns. Italian clubs have already voted to complete the season with 13 or 20 June cited as potential return dates.

With Martinez on his way out, Inter have turned their attentions to finding his replacement with Brazilian Cunha top of their wishlist (via Fabrizio Romano). The 20-year-old has been one of the standout performers since the Bundesliga returned earlier this month, scoring in both of Hertha’s wins against Hoffenheim and city rivals Union Berlin.

Cunha only arrived at the Olympiastadion in January from RB Leipzig after struggling to break into the first team at the Red Bull Arena. He was one of several high-profile arrivals as newly-monied Hertha flexed their financial muscles by bringing in the likes of Lucas Tousart and Tottenham target Krzysztof Piatek.

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