Serie A's title race could be decided by a play-off as the ongoing coronavirus crisis threatens an early conclusion to the 2019-20 football season, the Italian Football Federation has confirmed.

Following a government decree issued on Monday, Italy is on lockdown and all public gatherings are banned until April 3.

This development also means all sporting events in that timeframe have been postponed, throwing Serie A – which had previously been due to continue behind closed doors – into doubt.

Should Serie A resume on April 4, teams will have between 12 and 14 matches to cram in before the end of May, while some sides also have European ties to contend with.

FIGC has a limited amount of time to work with too, given Euro 2020 is set to begin in Rome on June 12, meaning facilities will need to be handed over to UEFA well in advance.

Italy's governing body is considering its options, accepting Serie A could either: finish early; be decided by play-offs; or simply halted and the title would go to no one.

A statement on the FIGC website read: "With reference to the recovery of Serie A matches, taking into account that the other leagues [Serie B, Serie C et cetera] have no international deadlines and therefore a wider margin of programming, the federal president proposed to the Serie A league to take advantage of all the dates available until May 31.

"If the COVID-19 emergency does not allow the conclusion of the championships, president Gabriele Gravina has submitted to the attention of the leagues concerned some hypotheses on which to discuss in the meeting of the Federal Council on 23 March.

"Without any order of priority, a hypothesis could be the non-assignment of the title of Campione of Italy and consequent communication to UEFA of the teams that qualified for the European competitions [Champions League and Europa League]; another would be to refer to the rankings accrued up to the moment of interruption; third and last hypothesis, to play only the play-offs for the title of Campione d'Italia and the play-offs for relegation to Serie B."

As it stands, Juventus are top of Serie A with 63 points – one clear of Lazio. Brescia, SPAL and Lecce occupy the three relegation spots, with the latter tied on 25 points with 17th-placed Genoa.

As of Tuesday, Italy is the most-affected European nation, with 9,172 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Parma's game against SPAL proceeded on Sunday despite confusion before kick-off, when it appeared Serie A could be suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Players from both teams were in the tunnel at the Ennio Tardini but were ordered back into the changing rooms to await a final decision over whether the match would go ahead.

Kick-off was initially delayed by half an hour before being rescheduled for 13:45 local time (12:45 GMT), over an hour after the intended start time.

The incident came about as Italian authorities apparently considered whether all Serie A matches should be cancelled amid the ongoing spread of the virus in the country.

Speaking on Sunday, Italy's minister for sport Vincenzo Spadafora confirmed he was recommending an immediate halt to the top-flight season.

He said: "It makes no sense right now, as we ask citizens to make huge sacrifices to prevent the spread of the disease, to put at risk the health of players, referees, coaches and fans, who will surely gather together to watch the games, just to protect the interests that revolve around the sport.

"Other federations have wisely decided to suspend football for the next few days. I think it is the duty of the FIGC [the Italian Football Federation] president, Gabriele Gravina, to reflect again, without waiting for the first case of a Serie A player to be infected, before taking on this very serious responsibility."

Authorities had already ordered all sporting events to be played behind closed doors until at least the start of April to limit the risk of infection.

On Saturday, the Italian government locked down the northern region of Lombardy in an attempt to contain the proliferation of COVID-19, which has infected 5,883 people in the country and claimed 234 lives.

People face fines if they are caught entering or leaving the region unless they have a serious reason to do so. All public events, including weddings and funerals, have been banned.

Valencia's Champions League last-16 second leg at home to Atalanta is due to be played on Tuesday without fans present at Mestalla, while traditional pre-match media duties have been cancelled.

Speaking last week, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin insisted it is not the right time to consider "dark scenarios" such as postponing domestic and European competitions or the Euro 2020 finals this year.

"We are dealing with it and we are confident we can deal with it," Ceferin said. "You don't know how many big concerns we have: we have security concerns, political instability and one is also the virus.

"Let's try to be optimistic, not think about dark scenarios – there's time for that later."

Atalanta were in seventh heaven for a third time this season after hammering Lecce 7-2 in a one-sided Serie A clash at the Stadio Via del Mare.

Gian Piero Gasperini's great entertainers put on another ruthless show to extend their winning run to five matches in all competitions, Duvan Zapata helping himself to a hat-trick.

It was the third time this season that Atalanta have scored seven in Serie A, having thumped Udinese 7-1 in October and thrashed Torino 7-0 away from home in January and have now amassed 70 goals in 25 matches.

They also become the first team since Milan way back in 1958-59 to score five or more goals in five Serie A encounters in the same season.

Zapata's treble ensured fourth-placed Atalanta have three players with a double-figure goal tally in the current campaign.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are the other only sides in the top-five European leagues to have three players with at least 10 goals this season.

Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte revealed all of Serie A's Week 26 fixtures, including the blockbuster showdown between Juventus and Inter, could be postponed due to coronavirus fears.

The outbreak of coronavirus in Italy forced four top-flight matches to be postponed over the weekend, including Sunday's clash between Scudetto hopefuls Inter and Sampdoria.

Italy's move came as part of preventative measures against the spread of the coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 which originated in China, after two people died and dozens more reportedly tested positive.

Now, upcoming fixtures across Italy's leagues are in doubt, with Serie A leaders Juve scheduled to host Inter in Turin on March 1.

"I don't think that in just one week we'd be able to slow down the contagion so much that we could resume sporting events," Conte told Rai.

"We are constantly monitoring the situation and will evaluate. We'll see the evolution of the contagion and evaluate postponing all next week's matches."

Juve are a point clear atop the table following Saturday's 2-1 victory away at bottom side SPAL.

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 1,000th career appearance with a goal, scoring in an 11th consecutive top-flight match – matching a feat previously achieved by Gabriel Batistuta and Fabio Quagliarella.

In-form Lazio were also in action on Saturday and edged Genoa 3-2 to extend their unbeaten streak to 20 games, while Inter are six points off the pace with a game in hand.

Inter have confirmed Marcelo Brozovic sustained a sprained ankle in the 1-1 Serie A draw with Lecce on Sunday.

The midfielder was substituted with eight minutes of normal time remaining at the Via Del Mare after a clash with Alessandro Deiola.

The Croatia international had an MRI scan on Tuesday, with Inter confirming: "The tests revealed a sprain to his left ankle. The player will be assessed on a day-by-day basis."

Brozovic's injury is said to be part of the reason Inter have stepped up plans to sign Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen this month.

Sporting director Piero Ausilio said on Monday that a bid for the playmaker had been lodged, although Spurs boss Jose Mourinho intends to have Eriksen in his squad for Wednesday's Premier League game against Norwich City.

Brozovic has played in all but one of Inter's 27 matches in all competitions this season, scoring twice.

Antonio Conte's side are second in Serie A, four points behind champions Juventus.

Antonio Conte felt Inter were sluggish in a 1-1 draw at Lecce and warned the Nerazzurri cannot afford to dip below 200 kilometres per hour in their intensity.

Inter had the opportunity to return to the top of Serie A, at least until Juventus played later on Sunday, but toiled to a second successive league draw.

Substitute Alessandro Bastoni scored his first Nerazzurri goal to seemingly set the away side on course for a scrappy win 19 minutes from time, only for Marco Mancosu to hit back.

Conte was disappointed with the lack of vigour in his side's display, claiming they are merely "a normal team" when playing at that level.

"The draw stems from the fact that we must always go at 200 [km] an hour," he said.

"When someone is below that, we cannot afford it. Then the level of the team drops and it can happen that you draw a game that you should have taken three points from.

"We are not a team that manages to bring home the victory going at an average speed. We must always go to the maximum - we have done so in all the matches of the first half of the season.

"When we can't get to the maximum, we are a normal team."

Conte was called out by Jose Mourinho earlier in the week amid the perception he had openly discussed Inter's interest in Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen.

Inter chief Giuseppe Marotta spoke about Eriksen on Sunday, but Conte was not willing to follow suit.

"This month is difficult to manage. I think I have been very clear - even if sometimes the things I say are then exploited," he said. "I don't want to talk about the market.

"That is for the club - I am the coach and I have to try to bring out the best in my players."

Inter were held for the second consecutive Serie A match as a 1-1 draw at Lecce handed reigning champions Juventus an unexpected boost in the title race.

Antonio Conte's men started 2020 with an impressive defeat of Napoli, but they only took a point against Atalanta last week and again failed to register a victory on Sunday.

It had briefly appeared as though 20-year-old defender Alessandro Bastoni would prove the unlikely hero when he headed in the opener - his first goal for the club - three minutes after arriving from the bench.

However, Lecce captain Marco Mancosu steered past Samir Handanovic with 13 minutes remaining, meaning Juve can go four points clear at the summit by beating Parma later in the day.

Inter made a bright start but Mancosu was guilty of a glaring miss with seven minutes on the clock, blazing over after reaching Khouma Babacar's stooping header uncontested at the far post.

The busy Romelu Lukaku saw an opener ruled out for a foul and then teed up Marcelo Brozovic, whose curling effort wrongfooted Gabriel but bounced away off the right-hand post.

Lecce were frustrated in the final moments of the first half when a penalty decision in their favour was overturned, referee Piero Giacomelli visiting the pitchside monitor before deciding Stefano Sensi's arm was in a natural position at his side as he handled in the area.

An open, entertaining spell following the interval was punctuated only by routine stops at either end and Inter were slow to reclaim full control of the contest.

But Diego Godin was replaced by Bastoni 22 minutes from time and the new man directed a header from Cristiano Biraghi's left-wing cross inside the near post.

Lecce's response was strong, however, and Mancosu got in front of Bastoni to finish coolly from substitute Zan Majer's delivery.

Filippo Falco - another introduction from the bench - could have stolen all three points, but his 81st-minute free-kick hit the outside of the post.

 

What does it mean? Standards slipping for Inter

Inter won 14 of their first 18 Serie A games this season but have now drawn two in a row. While there was certainly no shame in coming up short against Atalanta, victory was expected here. The Nerazzurri struggled to break down Lecce, and perhaps Conte will look to the transfer market for creative inspiration - potentially in the form of Christian Eriksen.

Babacar battles

The Lecce striker failed to add to his Serie A tally of four goals against Inter - his joint-best such record in the competition - but worked manfully up front, having a hand in several of the hosts' best moments.

Martinez muted

Lautaro Martinez has formed one half of one of the most exciting, effective strike partnerships in European football this season, but this was not his day. The Argentina forward had little say in proceedings early on, and belated efforts in the second period came from distance and scarcely troubled Gabriel.

What's next?

There is a clear week for both sides before Serie A action continues next weekend. Inter host Cagliari on Sunday shortly before Lecce visit Hellas Verona.

Maurizio Sarri confirmed Gonzalo Higuain was conscious and lucid after a blow to the head left the Juventus striker needing a stretcher at full-time in a 1-1 draw with Lecce.

Higuain came off worse in an aerial collision with goalkeeper Gabriel late in Saturday's entertaining Serie A match at Stadio Via del Mare.

Medical staff applied bandages to the Argentinian's bloodied head and he completed the match as normal, unleashing multiple shots as the visitors attempted to reclaim the lead.

His condition reportedly worsened after the final whistle and he had to be carried from the pitch.

"Gonzalo is having stitches, then they will decide whether to take him to the hospital," Sarri said in a post-match interview with Sky Sport Italia.

"He is conscious and responding clearly. I think he will come back with us [to Turin]."

Juve earlier lost Miralem Pjanic to a muscle problem on a costly day.

Sarri's decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo from the matchday squad backfired badly as the Bianconeri wasted numerous chances either side of Paulo Dybala's 50th-minute penalty.

Matthijs de Ligt's inadvertent handball allowed Marco Mancosu to equalise from the spot six minutes later and Lecce held firm under pressure to register their first home point of the season.

Sarri said: "Ronaldo was tired physically and mentally. Bringing him here would not have allowed him to recover.

"When a player becomes fatigued, then it's right to let him rest. It was something he also felt. The fact remains we produced 10 scoring opportunities and didn't finish them."

The draw marked the second time Juve have dropped points under Sarri in Serie A, the champions having settled for a stalemate against Fiorentina in September.

Maurizio Sarri's decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo backfired as Juventus were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at promoted Lecce.

Matthijs de Ligt's handball enabled Marco Mancosu to score from the spot in the 56th minute and earn the hosts their first home point of the Serie A season at Stadio Via del Mare.

Paulo Dybala, the hero of Juve's midweek Champions League win over Lokomotiv Moscow, had not long earlier opened the scoring with a spot kick of his own.

But there was no late saviour for Sarri's men on this occasion, the loss of Miralem Pjanic to a muscle problem compounding a result that will force them back into second place if Inter beat Parma later on Saturday.

Juve felt aggrieved not to be awarded an early penalty for Panagiotis Tachtsidis' trip on Emre Can.

Further appeals were waved away when Danilo went down under close attention from Marco Calderoni.

Gonzalo Higuain did turn home Alex Sandro's angled drive in the 15th minute, but the goal was disallowed for offside following a VAR review.

The striker then guided a low shot across the face before Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel denied Dybala amid sustained Juve pressure.

There was no stopping the Argentina international from 12 yards five minutes after the interval, referee Paolo Valeri having finally pointed to the spot after replays confirmed Jacopo Petriccione's challenge on Pjanic took place in the box.

A second spot-kick quickly followed as Calderoni's cross from the left fizzed against De Ligt's arm.

Lecce captain Mancosu made no mistake and the Bianconeri's problems soon grew greater, with Federico Bernardeschi's failure to score after rounding Gabriel preceding Pjanic's forced withdrawal.

An injury issue for Mancosu effectively left Lecce, who had used up their substitutes, to defend with 10 men for the final 15 minutes.

But Leonardo Bonucci's errant volley was the closest Juve came to capitalising, the point ultimately edging them two ahead of second-placed Inter.

 

Miralem Pjanic limped off midway through Juventus' Serie A game at Lecce on Saturday with a suspected hamstring injury.

The playmaker pulled up sharply before requiring medical attention and left the field very gingerly 67 minutes in.

Serie A champions had been pegged back to 1-1 after Marco Mancosu's 56th-minute penalty cancelled out Paulo Dybala's own successful conversion from 12 yards.

Pjanic has featured in every competitive game for Juventus this season, proving himself to be pivotal during the early stages of Maurizio Sarri's reign.

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli bemoaned his team's mistakes in a disappointing last-gasp draw at home to lowly Lecce, though he believes the Rossoneri can learn from the result.

Pioli's reign as Milan coach got off to an underwhelming start following Sunday's 2-2 draw with Lecce at San Siro, where the visitors scored a stunning 92nd-minute equaliser.

The appointment of former Inter boss Pioli to replace Marco Giampaolo was an already unpopular decision among fans and the 54-year-old's debut in the Milan dugout did little to endear himself to the Rossoneri faithful.

Reflecting on his bow, which looked on track thanks to goals from Hakan Calhanoglu and substitute Krzysztof Piatek before Marco Calderoni's stoppage-time leveller, birthday boy Pioli told Sky Sport Italia: "It's a pity, there were positives, but we wanted the win and didn't get it because of our mistakes. I saw some good moves, quality and spirit, but if you leave the game open, you can have a nasty surprise at the end.

"Milan players are well aware of their capabilities and the fact they are wearing a prestigious jersey. They will be able to judge their own performances and we'll analyse them carefully, but in a way we paid for our generosity, as we ran after the ball and didn't keep an eye on other players. I think we had deserved to win it.

"Some of the positions we took were positive, others not so much. We tried to build from the back with a three-man defence, but that can change with a different opponent such as Roma next week.

"After only a few days of training, I did see some of the ideas we had worked on and that bodes well for the future, even if there is a lot of work to be done. I had hoped for a gift this evening for my birthday, but I saw some good things and I hope we can learn from these mistakes."

The result left Milan with just one win from their past five league fixtures and languishing in 12th position – six points adrift of fourth-placed Napoli.

"We lacked a little collaboration on the final equaliser," Pioli added. "Calderoni hit it well, but we had several opportunities to close that Lecce move earlier and if we had, we'd be here talking about a deserved victory.

"In the news conference yesterday [Saturday], I was asked many questions about how I found the team. I tell you after this match, there are many positives. The big error was that a side like Milan have to kill games off. We could've even held on for 2-1 and kicked it out of play rather than misplace those passes.

"This match will help us learn a great deal, for what we did and what we should've done. On the penalty, there were too many of us going after the ball and we left gaps. We weren't set out well at all."

Stefano Pioli's reign as AC Milan coach got off to an underwhelming start as Marco Calderoni's stunning late equaliser secured struggling Lecce a 2-2 draw in San Siro.

Krzysztof Piatek had seemingly secured former Inter boss Pioli – who replaced Marco Giampaolo during the international break – a debut win with his 81st-minute goal, but Calderoni struck in stoppage time to ensure Milan dropped points for the fifth time in eight games this season.

The impressive Hakan Calhanoglu powered Milan into the lead with a fine strike following Lucas Biglia's pass, but they struggled to maintain their lively start and faded towards half-time.

Khouma Babacar found the net from close range after Gianluigi Donnarumma saved his penalty in the second half, and then Piatek's strike was cancelled out by Calderoni's long-range drive to prevent Milan from moving back into the top half of the table.

Inter star Romelu Lukaku is yet to show his full potential as Antonio Conte warned the former Manchester United striker has room for improvement.

Lukaku enjoyed a goalscoring debut for Inter, who opened their Serie A season with a 4-0 rout of newly promoted 10-man Lecce on Monday.

A club-record signing from Premier League giants United following a drawn-out transfer saga, Lukaku capped his Inter bow by scoring the team's third goal on the hour mark.

Lukaku produced an impressive display at San Siro, where Conte's era in charge started with a win, and the new head coach praised the 26-year-old.

"Let's not forget he is only 26, he's got a potential we can work on a lot; I believe that despite the fact he arrived late, we tried to work and he made himself available with great effort," Conte told reporters.

"Today already Romelu showed what kind of a player he is. And why the club insisted on getting this kind of player. But I am very happy, I knew him as a player, but from a human perspective, I didn't know him. It was a pleasing discovery.

"He really integrated into the team with humility, he made himself available to the team-mates, and everybody loves him.

"He's just 26, has margins for improvement, he's got to work. He must take advantage even more of the skills he has, because in my opinion he's got skills that he hasn't shown yet, he hasn't shown everything yet, in his football career."

Conte added via Sky Sport Italia: "Let's not forget Lukaku cost €65million to be paid over five years, so when people talk about big money spent, it wasn't even that much.

"Tonight, Lukaku showed why we tried so hard to sign him."

Marcelo Brozovic and Antonio Candreva scored stunning goals, while fellow recruit Stefano Sensi was also on target against Lecce in Milan.

Antonio Conte described Romelu Lukaku as a "gentle giant" after Inter's record signing got off the mark on his Serie A debut in a 4-0 thumping of 10-man Lecce.

Lukaku and Stefano Sensi scored on their Inter bows on Monday, while Marcelo Brozovic and Antonio Candreva hit brilliant finishes to open and wrap up the scoring respectively.

The Belgium striker impressed with his high energy levels and sharp build-up play, although he prevented Matteo Politano from adding his name to the scoresheet by being caught offside.

Conte previously wanted to bring Lukaku to Chelsea during his time in charge at Stamford Bridge and he is enjoying finally getting to work with the former Manchester United man.

"Lukaku stepped into the Inter world in the best possible way, with great humility," Conte told DAZN.

"He is a gentle giant, he always has a smile on his face. He is ready to work for the team and is at the disposal of his team-mates.

"I also want to highlight that Lautaro Martinez also played very well and everyone deserves praise.

"It was only the first game, so we can celebrate until midnight, but from tomorrow we have to start thinking about the next match with Cagliari."

Conte became only the third Inter coach to win his first Serie A game in charge by four goals, following club legends Giuseppe Meazza and Helenio Herrera into the history books as promoted Lecce - who had Diego Farias sent off at 3-0 - were put to the sword.

But perfectionist Conte still feels his side have plenty of room for improvement despite an impressive win sending them top of the table at the end of the opening round of games.

"We started with the right intensity and respected the idea of football that I wanted," the former Juventus and Italy coach said. 

"However, I did not appreciate at all the minutes after we went 2-0 up and I told the lads that. I wanted us to immediately get back on it and not be distracted, or think it was over.

"It was a good performance and you can see the ideas there. It's an excellent result, because Lecce are a good team and there is always the risk of stumbling in these fixtures. We didn't want that for us or our fans.

"We have some more steps to take, such as improving the mental consistency and focus, but I am very satisfied and it is a pleasure to work with these lads.

"This version of 3-5-2 is certainly a more attacking evolution of the old 4-2-4. I think that I have the men suited to this type of system and midfielders ready to push forward.

"We must not be a spark, we have to become dynamite."

Romelu Lukaku scored on his Inter debut as Antonio Conte's reign began with an impressive 4-0 victory over Lecce at San Siro.

Club-record signing Lukaku started up front on Monday with former captain Mauro Icardi left out of Conte's squad amid continued uncertainty over his future at the club.

Marcelo Brozovic and Stefano Sensi struck excellent goals in the space of four first-half minutes then Lukaku snaffled a rebound for his maiden Inter goal.

Promoted Lecce's day went from bad to worse when substitute Diego Farias rightly saw red for a terrible tackle on another new Inter arrival Nicolo Barella, before Antonio Candreva's 84th-minute stunner from range.

Inter, who had to replace Stefan de Vrij with Andrea Ranocchia after the Dutchman's injury in the warm-up, took time to find their feet but scored the first goal of the Conte era in the 21st minute.

Brozovic bent home a beauty from just outside the area and it was soon 2-0 thanks to another excellent strike, as Sensi scored on his first appearance.

The midfielder, who joined Inter on loan from Sassuolo in July, advanced into space and arrowed a 20-yard drive into the bottom-left corner.

Marco Calderoni thumped a shot just wide as Lecce briefly threatened early in the second half but a long-range Lautaro Martinez shot was spilled by debutant goalkeeper Gabriel and former Manchester United striker Lukaku reacted quickest to slot home the loose ball on the hour mark.

Inter were cruising thereafter and Conte replaced Matias Vecino with Barella, who was the victim of an awful lunge that saw Farias dismissed in the 76th minute.

Substitute Matteo Politano had a fine goal ruled out for Lukaku being offside, but Candreva added late gloss to the scoreline with a 30-yard thunderbolt that ripped into the top-left corner.


What does it mean? Good signs for Conte

Inter are being widely backed as the most likely contenders to usurp Juventus thanks to the arrival of Conte - a three-time Scudetto-winning coach with the Bianconeri.

He used his typical system of three at the back and although Inter initially showed signs of nerves they went on to dominate Fabio Liverani's side, who almost certainly face a relegation battle after successive promotions.

Lukaku finds early form

Having lost his place at Old Trafford last term, there were suggestions an old-school style operator like Lukaku could find himself left behind as elite European teams seek more mobile strikers to lead the line.

But Conte has always preferred a strong "reference" point for his attack and Lukaku fits that billing, with the Belgium international impressing when he dropped deep to link the play and showing a poacher's instinct to open his Nerazzurri account.

Gabriel's dream debut falls flat

There was nothing Gabriel could do about Inter's first two goals, but any slim hopes of a Lecce fightback died when he pushed Martinez's effort back into the danger zone. The former AC Milan keeper will not have happy memories of his return to San Siro.

What's next?

Inter return to action on Sunday with a trip to Cagliari, who signed Radja Nainggolan on loan during the close season, while Lecce will hope for a fairer test of their top-flight mettle when they host Verona on the same day.

Page 1 of 2
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.