Zlatan Ibrahimovic prepares to return in Saturday’s Milan derby but Juventus will be without Cristiano Ronaldo as Serie A swings back into action after the international break in the shadow of coronavirus.
In a week where Napoli were deducted a point and handed a 3-0 defeat to Juventus for failing to turn up for their match because of two virus cases, Covid-19 looks set to be a game-changer in a season already in turmoil going into round four.
“The real victory is to finish the championship, the result is secondary,” said Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini as his team headed back into isolation after Weston McKennie tested positive with Ronaldo returning with the virus from international duty in Portugal.
But Ibrhahimovic has recovered and is keen to pick up where he left off after a double against Bologna before his illness, but also to make up for AC Milan’s defeat against Inter last season.
Ibrahimovic scored back in February only for Inter to power back and win a pulsating derby 4-2 in the San Siro.
The Swede has not played a game since September 21, but the 39-year-old continued to train intensely during quarantine.
In spite of his absence, Milan have made a decent start to the season, having climbed to second, with three wins from three games and reaching the group stages of the Europa League.
Stefano Pioli’s side are second behind Atalanta who also have three wins, but an impressive 13 goals scored.
Inter Milan, meanwhile, have six players in isolation — Ashley Young, Alessandro Bastoni, Milan Skriniar, Radja Nainggolan, Roberto Gagliardini and Ionut Radu — as they chase a fifth straight derby win.
Antonio Conte’s side have seven points from three matches, with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez hitting six of Inter’s ten goals so far.
Conte has never lost to Pioli in Serie A.
Atalanta face a fiery trip to a Napoli side furious at the “injustice” of their punishment which pushed them down to eighth after winning their first two matches.
Napoli are appealing the decision, and are boosted with all players having tested negative in the latest round of tests.
Champions Juventus head south to promoted Crotone without Ronaldo, having moved up to fourth position after being handed the win over Napoli.
Despite his team being in isolation Juventus president Andrea Agnelli is confident the season can “finish smoothly” even if he believes everyone is waiting for new coach Andrea Pirlo to fall flat.
“Everone can’t wait for a couple of defeats,” said Agnelli. “As soon as we stumble they will try to hit Juventus.”
That looks unlikely for the nine-time reigning champions against Crotone who are rock bottom with ten goals conceded in three games.
Genoa, with 10 players still isolating of 18 infected, head for Verona on Monday, after their last game against Torino was postponed.
The north-western port side fell 6-0 defeat in Naples last time out before the virus engulfed the team.
One to watch
Italy winger Federico Chiesa could make his first league start for Juventus since his 60 million euros ($71 million) move from Fiorentina.
The 22-year-old is considered one of Italy’s hottest prospects and scored 11 times and made seven assists in 37 appearances in all competitions for Fiorentina in the 2019/20 campaign.
13 – Atalanta’s goals in three games
6 – Antonio Conte’s derby wins in Italy
1 – Napoli’s point deduction
Napoli v Atalanta (1300GMT), Inter Milan v AC Milan (1600), Sampdoria v Lazio (1600), Crotone v Juventus (1845GMT).
Bologna v Sassuolo (1030GMT), Spezia v Fiorentina (1300), Torino v Cagliari (1300), Udinese v Parma (1600), Roma v Benevento (1845GMT).
Verona v Genoa (1845GMT)