10 talking points in Serie A as the season reaches its climax

Can Inter hold off rivals AC Milan in thrilling title race, will Parma fall to Serie B… and is this Cristiano Ronaldo’s farewell to Juventus? 10 talking points as the Serie A season edges towards its finale

  • There is still plenty to play for as the 2020-21 Serie A season reaches its climax
  • Andrea Pirlo is under pressure and Cristiano Ronaldo’s future at Juve is uncertain
  • Boss Antonio Conte is trying to guide Inter to their first Serie A title in 11 years 
  • At the bottom, Parma are battling desperately to retain their top-flight place 
  • There is also still a battle on for a Champions League place in the coming weeks 

The Serie A season concludes on May 23 but most clubs still have it all to play for as the behind-closed-doors 2020-21 campaign concludes. 

At the top, Inter are six points ahead of city rivals AC Milan, as ex-Juventus boss Antonio Conte chases the Serie A title once again. 

The futures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Andrea Pirlo remain uncertain, with the Juve boss in particular under intense pressure ahead of the derby against Torino this weekend – Champions League football is far from guaranteed next season for the champions of the last nine years. 

The title race between Inter and AC Milan could come down to the wire in the coming weeks (pictured: AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic confronting Inter’s Romelu Lukaku in January) 

Meanwhile at the bottom, it’s looking bleak for Parma and Crotone while Torino look to stay ahead of Cagliari in avoiding relegation to Serie B in the coming weeks. 

With plenty of intriguing stories surrounding teams in mid-table too, Sportsmail narrows down the rest of the season to 10 major talking points.  

Can Conte and his band of ex-Premier League players win the title? 

With 11 games to go this season Inter Milan are undoubtedly now the favourites for the Scudetto.

Why are Inter six points clear of rivals AC Milan with a game in hand? A combination of a band of quality former Premier League players and the absence of European competition in 2021. 

Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Christian Eriksen, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young have brought much-needed quality and experience to Inter, with ex-Man Utd forward Lukaku in particular producing a stellar season up front. 

Meanwhile, coming fourth as opposed to third in their Champions League group was actually a blessing in disguise for Inter’s title hopes, as missing out on the Europa League has given them adequate time to focus on domestic matters. 

Inter boss Antonio Conte’s future is uncertain – but his priority is to secure a coveted Scudetto

Further down the line, the long-term future of Conte is up in the air, especially given the club’s precarious change of ownership and uncertainty surrounding funds available this summer. 

Not only that, but the future of players such as Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez hinges on what Conte decides to do.

Before all that though, a first Serie A title in 11 years is the priority. 

Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up AC Milan for a thrilling finale? 

Having been knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United, it’s now all guns blazing for AC Milan in Serie A as they look to hunt down Inter. 

Leading the table for the majority of the season, 2021 has seen Stefano Pioli’s side slip away, with a 1-0 loss at home to Napoli on March 14 particularly damaging. 

But star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back match-fit and with influential players such as Hakan Calhanoglu and Theo Hernandez in training following injuries, one last push is needed to capitalise on any mistakes from Inter. 

The gap is currently six points. Anything within three by May, and the title race will go down to the wire.  

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is match-fit as Milan look to capitalise on any Inter mistakes in the title race

Is this Cristiano Ronaldo’s farewell to Juventus? 

As for Cristiano Ronaldo’s future, nobody knows. 

Brought in to guide Juve to a highly-coveted Champions League triumph, the Portuguese legend has seen that dream die this season after a damaging last-16 defeat to Porto. 

A return to Real Madrid has been mooted, but Ronaldo’s return is not seen as a priority by president Florentino Perez, according to reports in Italy.  

Madrid are more focused on securing either Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe this summer, with a dramatic Ronaldo reunion only entertained as a back-up option. 

Cristiano Ronaldo and Andrea Pirlo’s long-term future at Juventus is also currently up in the air

From Ronaldo’s viewpoint, now aged 36 he will only opt to leave Turin if he believes he is no longer capable of his maximum level. 

Further reports emanating from Italy state there is an agreement between Ronaldo and club chairman Andrea Agnelli for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to stay at the club for at least another 12 months. 

But that is also dependent on assurances that Juve can strengthen this summer. With uncertainty surrounding Pirlo’s future, a new appointment could be the deciding factor for Ronaldo too. 

Should any of the chasing pack of Atalanta, Napoli, Roma and Lazio pip Juve to a Champions League place, Pirlo would surely be gone. 

Will Ribery choose to end his career in Florence or opt for a new challenge? 

After Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, ex-Bayern Munich Franck Ribery is the third European star to be at a Serie A club after turning 35. 

The Frenchman has been at Fiorentina since 2019, but club and player could separate at the end of the season.

Ribery has two options: he could either opt to stay in Florence but have no realistic opportunities of major silverware as he closes out an illustrious career; or he could look for a top international club which can give him one last goal for another 12 months. 

Fiorentina winger Franck Ribery is not yet considering retirement but he could move on 

Generally the assumption is that Ribery is not yet considering retirement. He is still keen on dazzling with his vast skillset.

Initially it was hoped Fiorentina could build a side capable of qualifying for European competition, with the support of Ribery. But with that idea dead in the water, his long-term future is far from certain.  

Sinisa Mihajlovic’s battle with leukemia – and a story which has moved Bologna and the whole of Italy 

This season will certainly be remembered for the rebirth of Sinisa Mihajlovic, after the serious illness he suffered in 2019. 

The Serbian coach of Bologna overcame acute myeloid leukemia via specific treatment and a complicated transplant. 

Now, at 52, Mihajlovic is impressing at Bologna, with their aggressive play and intense pressing on the pitch keeping them relatively safe at home in mid-table. 

Currently in 11th, Mihajlovic – who is not short of passion on the touchline – should target a top-half finish in the remainder of this season.  

Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic overcame leukemia and has guided his side to Serie A safety

A disastrous season for Torino could end with relegation to Serie B  

The glory of past triumphs for Torino is now a distant memory. 

The club is fighting to stay in Serie A, currently one point clear of the relegation zone and Cagliari in 18th place. 

It is one of the worst periods under club president Urbano Cairo, despite the squad being full of well-established players such as ex-PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, former Juventus forward Simone Zaza and Italy international Andrea Belotti.

Despite striving to qualify for Europe, the bold appointment of Marco Giampaolo last summer backfired and current boss Davide Nicola now has a job on his hands to save the club’s skin.   

Torino keeper Salvatore Sirigu, formerly of PSG, has endured a difficult season in goal 

Can ex-Tottenham forward Fernando Llorente improve Udinese?  

Udinese are going through a tactical revolution and, for the rest of this season, are now relying on ex-Tottenham forward Fernando Llorente up front. 

The Spaniard moved to Udinese in January after requesting more minutes at Napoli, while Kevin Lasagna went on loan to Hellas Verona. 

After a spell previously at Juventus too, 36-year-old Llorente is coming towards the end of a well-travelled European career, with Udinese likely to be his last club as he looks for game-time he couldn’t get under Gennaro Gattuso in Naples. 

Eleven points clear of relegation, Udinese are safe. But Llorente has an opportunity in the next six weeks to prove he can also be the leading man up front next season under Luca Gotti too. 

Forward Fernando Llorente was brought in January to try and fire Udinese up the Serie A table

What next for Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester title hero Claudio Ranieri was fairly to the point when asked what motivated him to continue coaching at the age of 69. 

‘How do I find new stimuli at my age? Simple, they pay me every month!’ 

Ranieri is the oldest coach in Serie A but nevertheless he is likely to continue as Sampdoria manager next season.

The man himself does not want to talk about his future until safety is secured: the famed 40-point mark is just five points away and they sit comfortably in 10th. 

Ranieri, even at his age, would not be short of offers domestically or abroad if club and manager parted ways though, given his illustrious experience across Europe. 

Sampdoria head coach Claudio Ranieri has once again surpassed expectations this season

He could also move to a national team, with Ivory Coast recently linked, and his torrid spell at Greece in 2014 a blot on his CV. 

Having managed 18 clubs and one country, could a 20th job be the final curtain?   

Filippo Inzaghi has transformed Benevento – but they’re not out of trouble yet…

The greatest compliment that can be paid to Filippo Inzaghi’s work at Benevento is that one of the smallest clubs in the division have been notoriously difficult to beat. 

While the coach is young at 47, the squad has the highest average age in Serie A, which shows in managing games late on. 

They also had a productive January window, signing centre forward Adolfo Gaich and goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo, who was heroic in their shock win at Juventus just before the international break. 

President Oreste Vigorito is keen to keep Inzaghi, but believes others will come calling, saying: ‘He is destined for big clubs. He is a coach who loves and lives for football. 

Adolfo Gaich scored the only goal for Benevento in a famous win at champions Juventus

‘In the two days of rest we had, while everyone else was at home, he was at the stadium.’

But Benevento are not home and dry yet. They’re 16th, seven points clear of Cagliari. If Inzaghi does keep them up though, expect the likes of Fiorentina to come calling this summer.  

The once-great Parma now need a miracle…   

Long gone are the days of Gianfranco Zola, Lilian Thuram and Hernan Crespo – Parma are really struggling to retain their Serie A place this season. 

They’re in 19th, four places off Torino, who have a game in hand. In a season which has seen Fabio Liverani dismissed as manager in January, it will take something close to a miracle to save Roberto D’Aversa and his team.  

If they do go down, ex-Arsenal winger Gervinho will certainly be sold, forward Graziano Pelle may decide to move on and the future of the club under American businessman Kyle J. Krause looks uncertain. 

As it so often does, it all hinges on the final 10 games. With one win in their last 19 Serie A games though, things look bleak.    

Parma striker Graziano Pelle could be sold if they are indeed relegated down to Serie B




Share this article

Source: Read Full Article