Serie A will return from its coronavirus hiatus on June 20 -- with all games available live on ESPN+ in the U.S. -- after an agreement was reached last month between league bosses and the Italian government. A ball hasn't been kicked in Serie A since March 9, when Sassuolo beat Brescia 3-0, and much has changed since then. So we tasked Gab Marcotti with reminding us all of the state of play in Italy, and what the country's return to football will look like.
Where were we?
Juventus, gunning for their ninth straight title, have a one-point lead over surprise package Lazio, making Serie A the tightest race in Europe's Big Five leagues. Giant-slaying Atalanta have shocked Europe with their Champions League run to the quarterfinals and Italy with their rise to fourth place, but Roma are pushing them hard (and, behind them, Napoli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's AC Milan are waiting for a slip).
At the bottom end of the table, it's not looking good for Brescia or SPAL, but there's an almighty scrap to avoid the drop with Lecce, Genoa, Sampdoria, Torino and Udinese all separated by three points or fewer.
Oh, and there's also the Coppa Italia to resolve, with Inter, Napoli, Milan and Juventus making up the final four.
How many games are left?
Plenty. There are 12 rounds left, plus four games that were postponed. That's 124 games, plus the three Coppa Italia matches, for a grand total of 127.
So when do we get started and how will it all work?
The plan is to kick things off with the second legs of the Coppa Italia semifinals on June 13 or 14 (exact date to be confirmed soon), with Juventus hosting Milan after their 1-1 first-leg draw and Napoli welcoming Inter, whom they beat 1-0 in the first leg. The Coppa Italia final is scheduled for June 17 and the following weekend, June 20-21, they'll make up the four postponed games. After that, they'll pick up the regular schedule with Matchday 27, beginning on June 22.
When will they play?
The idea is to play the vast majority of games in the evening, with kickoff times at 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. local, although there will be a handful of games at 5:15 p.m. on weekends. There was a lot of concern over the heat, as June and July can get extremely hot in many parts of Italy, which is why they're avoiding early kickoffs.
To complete the schedule they will try to cram in as many matches as they can, with weekend games followed by midweek fixtures every single week. There's a strong possibility that weekend rounds will be spread over three days (one game Friday or Monday, three on Saturday and the rest Sunday) and midweek rounds over three days (two on Tuesday and Thursday, with the remainder on Wednesday). That would effectively mean there would be at least one game six days a week.
What happens if a player or member of staff tests positive?
As of right now, rather than simply having the player go into quarantine, the entire team would have to go into isolation. That could change as medical advice from government changes. Clubs are hopeful that as the situation improves -- the number of average daily new infections is less than 500, representing less than 1% of those tested -- the requirement will be relaxed and only the individual who tests positive will have to quarantine, as is the case in Germany.
Making an entire team quarantine would obviously wreak havoc with the schedule, which is why if it becomes impossible to play out the season, they've pledged to come up with a Plan B (playoffs) and even a Plan C (an algorithm based on sporting merit to decide the title, European places and relegation).
Details on this are yet to be determined, but the playoff scenario would be designed to settle matters on the pitch with as few games played as possible. And the algorithm would be some kind of weighted points average, taking into account schedule strength. Serie A say both will be approved by the time the games restart, but a number of clubs are opposed to it. The hope is that they'll be able to stick to Plan A: finishing the season.
What has Ronaldo been up to?
Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of lockdown in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in his native Madeira, where he trained hard and documented his sessions almost daily on Instagram. He'll have his work cut out for him if he wants to win another top scorer title to go with the ones he won in La Liga and the Premier League: Lazio's Ciro Immobile leads Serie A with 27 goals, six more than Ronaldo.
Anyone returning from pre-pandemic injury who could make a difference?
Juventus will definitely get a boost at the back from the return to full fitness of central defenders Giorgio Chiellini (whose first games back were actually just before the lockdown) and Merih Demiral. Lazio, too, will be strengthened by the return of Lucas Leiva and Senad Lulic, while their crosstown rivals Roma welcome back wunderkind Nicolo Zaniolo. And we'll get another chance to admire 37-year-old Franck Ribery at Fiorentina. He's been out since November.