By Brian Homewood
July 24 – Juventus, Lazio and Inter Milan may be have been playing for the Serie A title over the last five weeks but their recent form has been more like teams battling relegation.
One of the oddest title races in recent memory took another twist on Thursday when Juventus, needing to win at lowly Udinese to clinch a ninth successive title with three matches to spare, threw away a halftime lead and lost 2-1.
Having wasted their first “match point”, Juve must wait until at least Sunday, when they host a revived Sampdoria, before they can give coach Maurizio Sarri his first major Italian title.
If that happens, it will be as much thanks to the failings of their rivals as their own merits.
When Serie A resumed in June following the coronavirus stoppage, the scene appeared set for a dramatic finale.
Juventus led with 63 points followed by Lazio — unbeaten in 21 matches — on 62, Inter Milan 57 and Atalanta 51.
In nine matches since, Juventus have taken 17 points, Inter 16, Lazio 10. The only side to have looked like worthy title contenders have been Atalanta who have taken 23 points.
Juve’s have twice squandered two-goal leads in their last five games which have produced one win, two draws and two defeats.
Inter have won two of their last six games and Lazio had taken one point from a possible 15 before Thursday’s 2-1 win over Cagliari.
Like Juventus, Inter have made a habit of letting matches slip from their grasp.
They missed an open goal when they were leading 2-1 at home to Sassuolo and drew 3-3, then missed and a penalty when they were leading Bologna ten-man 1-0 and lost 2-1.
Sarri said everyone had been affected by having to play 12 rounds of matches crammed in six weeks in high summer.
Inter coach Antonio Conte has blamed a lack of killer instinct by his team and Lazio’s Simone Inzaghi says an injury crisis has scuppered their hopes.
Meanwhile Juve’s chief football officer Fabio Paratici pointed out that Inter, Lazio and Atalanta have all talked more about qualifying for the Champions League than winning the title.
“We are Juve, we have this responsibility, this pressure which we enjoy,” he said.
“I see that all the clubs have achieved their goals, but nobody says that their goal was the championship. But we do it every year. If nobody wants to win, we’ll take it.” (Writing by Brian Homewood Editing by Christian Radnedge)