Italian football fans are in for a footballing feast as the country is the latest to resume the Beautiful Game this Friday, as Juventus take on Milan in Turin in their return leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final. On Saturday Milan’s city rivals, Inter is away to Napoli in their second leg.
Both Milan sides will have their work cut out for them if they want to proceed to a 15th (AC Milan) and 14th (Inter) cup final, as neither managed to win their home legs in the San Siro. Inter were beaten 1-0 at home by Napoli, while AC Milan was looking on track for a 1-0 win against Juventus after Ante Rebić gave them a second-half lead. Still, a last-gasp Ronaldo penalty gave the visitors an all-important away draw.
Under normal circumstances, Juventus and Napoli would be considered the favourites to advance to the final, which is being played just four days after the second semi-final in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. But then few would argue that these are normal circumstances and like football in most parts of the world – if it is taking place at all – the matches will be played behind closed doors. And as the statistics from the Bundesliga have shown away, teams have a much higher chance to win if the home side does not have an enthusiastic crowd behind them.
The number of away wins in five rounds of ‘closed door’ Bundesliga matches has seen away teams winning nearly twice as many games as home sides. That is something that the four teams in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia will be very aware of. Both coaches could be missing several regulars in the Juventus v AC Milan side, with Juventus’ coach Maurizio Sarri worried about the availability of Aaron Ramsey, Giorgio Chiellini, Gonzalo Higuain and Merih Demiral. All of them did not train with the team in the first sessions after the lock-down.
Demiral will certainly be out after suffering an ACL injury a while ago. One player Sarri can count on is superstar Ronaldo, who spent much of the lockdown in Portugal, but came back fighting fit. “He is a super athlete, a great professional. He told me what he did to keep fit during the quarantine. He presented himself in perfect condition. He cannot amaze, he is a champion, from all points of view,” team-mate Leonardo Bonucci told Italian media.
Inter coach Antonio Conte, meanwhile, could give Christian Eriksen, who joined from Tottenham Hotspur in the winter break, a place in the starting line-up behind strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. The Dane had a slow start to life at Inter but is said to have impressed Conte since the team has been training again and could be rewarded with only his second start in domestic football for Inter. All the Coppa Italia matches will be broadcast live and exclusive on the football channels of StarTimes, Africa’s leading digital-TV operator.
By: Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top-flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.
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