DPA/ Rome, Italy
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 this 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 the Juventus found four straight wins and went on to clinch a record-extending 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, heat-plagued schedule that packed 12 rounds in 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.
Inter and Roma are to play the Europa League quarter-finals this week, while Atalanta have a quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain 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.
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