The resumption of the Serie A following the coronavirus or COVID-19 stoppage might have gone much better fort the titleholders Juventus who registered a victory in the opening match and saw rivals Lazio and Inter Milan both slip up.
As Juve extended the lead over Lazio by four points, it was hard to avoid the familiar feeling that the Italian former champions were about to ride off into the distance, just as they did in the previous seasons while claiming a ninth successive title.
"This defeat complicates the road towards the title," said Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi, after his side squandered a two-goal lead and lost 3-2 at Atalanta on Wednesday. "We hadn't lost for 21 games but Atalanta were one of the worst opponents we could have faced on our restart. Now we have to get our energy back and make sure the players recover. We haven't even been lucky with the fixture list."
Juventus on Way to Register League Title
Looking at the weekend's fixtures, Inzaghi's gloom may seem justified. Juve's match is at home to relegation-threatened Lecce (Friday, 1945 GMT) who have shipped 15 goals on their way to losing their last three games. Lazio have a tougher proposition at home to Fiorentina on Saturday (1945) while Inter Milan, eight points behind Juve in third after their 3-3 draw at home to Sassuolo on Wednesday, visit seventh-placed Parma on Sunday.
Yet it is far from over. Even though the Serie A season ends in just over one month's time, there are still eleven matches each still to play — which in terms of games is almost one-third of the season. And there are plenty of chances for Juventus to slip up — they have to visit AC Milan and must host Lazio, free-scoring Atalanta, their neighbours Torino and fifth-placed AS Roma.
Juve have already lost twice to Lazio this season, been held by Milan and always find Atalanta a tough nut to crack. They are not as ruthless as they were under Massimiliano Allegri when they had an uncanny knack of grinding out results without dominating games.
Maurizio Sarri was brought in this season to make them more exciting to watch. But the chain-smoking 61-year-old has never won a league title, is still trying to impose his high-tempo passing style and is under huge pressure to deliver another title. It is likely to be a fascinating finale.
(With agency inputs)