Milan (AFP) – Juventus and Inter Milan can get their seasons back on track with Italian Cup semi-final return-legs midweek, which take place amid Serie A fixture chaos caused by the coronavirus.
Locked in a battle for the league title the pair have been overtaken by surprise package Lazio as the city of Rome remains relatively untouched by COVID-19, which has caused havoc in the north of the country, killing 52 people.
Inter, who travel to Napoli on Thursday hoping to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg at the San Siro, haven’t played in Italy since being beaten at Lazio on February 16 as the virus concentrated in the Lombardy and Veneto regions.
Their home match against Sampdoria and the weekend’s schedule title clash with Juve were both postponed, provoking a furious reaction from the club’s CEO Beppe Marotta, who wanted the match played behind closed doors.
Two Europa League last 32 matches against Ludogorets is all Inter have had for preparation in that time, and their disrupted schedule comes in the midst of a dip in domestic form that has left the former league leaders third behind Lazio and traditional rivals Juve.
– Gattuso cracks Napoli whip –
They face stiff opposition in Napoli, who look a side reborn since Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti as coach in December.
They have surged up the Serie A table into sixth and impressed when they held Barcelona to a draw at the Stadio San Paolo in midweek.
The reigning league champions meanwhile host AC Milan in the other semi-final on Wednesday in a match that will be open to the public, or at least a portion of it.
The Italian government decreed a halt to sports events in the regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and provinces in Liguria and Le Marche badly hit by the virus until March 8, unless the event is held behind closed doors.
The decree also bans fans from those areas from making away trips.
Juventus announced that only fans from from areas not named by the government would be able to travel to Turin (in Piedmont) to watch the match.
They face a Milan side whose only defeat in 2020 so far came against Inter in a thrilling derby last month and who were unlucky to come away from the first leg with only a 1-1 draw.
However Maurizio Sarri’s side will be favourites despite ropey recent form that has seen them lose to Napoli and Hellas Verona and scrape past relegation fodder Brescia and SPAL.
Their 1-0 defeat to Lyon in the Champions League led to questions over Sarri’s future on the Juve bench, and should Milan reach the final with a first ever win at the Allianz Stadium the calls for his dismissal will only become louder.
Fixtures (times GMT; first leg scores in brackets):
Juventus v AC Milan (1945) (1-1)
Napoli v Inter Milan (1945) (1-0)