Italy’s Serie A resumes at the weekend, with matches played without spectators because of the coronavirus outbreak, after a turbulent fortnight of last-minute postponements, U-turns and squabbling.
The heavyweight Derby d’Italia clash between second-placed Juventus and third-placed Inter Milan, postponed from last Sunday, is one of six games which will be played on Sunday and Monday amid what is likely to be a surreal atmosphere.
The Italian government banned all sports events and matches nationwide on Wednesday in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus which has claimed 107 lives in Italy, with more than 3,000 confirmed cases. However, it said the events could go ahead without spectators.
Before then, the ban had only applied to the three most affected regions of the country. Serie A had initially agreed to play in empty stadiums in those regions, then changed its mind at the last minute last Saturday when it called the games off.
Ten Serie A games have been postponed altogether while others have gone ahead, leading to what some coaches and officials have described as a “distorted” competition.
In-form Lazio have played twice since the crisis began, won both games and gone top with 62 points from 26 games. Second-placed Juventus have had one game called off and are two points behind while third-placed Inter have had two games postponed and have dropped six points behind Juve.
The teams will face a host of precautions which include not drinking from the same bottle, avoiding handshakes, using disposable wipes for turning on and off taps, disinfecting microphones before giving television interviews and avoiding selfies and autographs with fans.
Players will also be asked to avoid public places such as restaurants on their days off, according a report in Corriere dello Sport.
Serie A said on Thursday that it will re-start with the six matches postponed last weekend, including Juventus v Inter Milan, which will be played in the prime Sunday night slot.
Other games will include AC Milan at home to Genoa and relegation-threatened Sampdoria at home to Verona on Sunday. There will be no games on Saturday evening.
The 27th round of matches, which was originally scheduled for this weekend, will be put off to a future date, possibly May 13th.
Several coaches last week expressed their dislike for playing in empty stadiums with Sampdoria's Claudio Ranieri saying it was "the death of football".
Yet Inter president Steven Zhang said on Thursday that there was no other way forward.
“It’s difficult from many points of view and nobody likes it, but it’s necessary to go ahead with the calendar and all the activities, while putting public health above everything else,” he said. “It’s currently the only viable option.”