Serie A Returns: The Title Race, Champions League Battle, Relegation Fight & Big Games to Look Forward to

Cristiano Ronaldo
Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

When Serie A returns on June 20, over three months will have passed since we were treated to the delights of Italian football.

And the hiatus couldn’t have come at a worse time. More often than not in recent years, Juventus have had the title sewn up by now – but that couldn’t be further from the truth this season; the title race is open, Champions League football is up for grabs, the relegation battle is going down to the wire.

Absolutely nothing has been rubber stamped yet, meaning everything is up for grabs as we enter the home straight. Let’s take a look at the league’s current standings and where the battles at both ends of the table will be won and lost.

Maurizio SarriMaurizio Sarri
Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

What had been a three-horse race has now been narrowed down to just two thanks to Inter’s collapse prior to the postponement of the league.

Antonio Conte’s men had been hot on the heels of Lazio and Juventus, however, having been beaten away from home by both of them in their last two league outings, their nine-point deficit seems too much to claw back, though they do hold a game in hand over their rivals.

Juventus currently lead the way on 63 points with Lazio just a point behind on 62, and with the two still due to face each at the Allianz Stadium, this one could go right down to the wire.

Simone Inzaghi’s men have arguably the most favourable run-in of the two, but that’s not to say their remaining fixtures are easy. Lazio host AC Milan as well as facing the prospect of a tantalising final day trip to Napoli in what could be a crucial last game of the season.

For Maurizio Sarri’s men, they also face Milan, as well as fourth-placed Atalanta, before a mouth-watering final day clash with Champions League hopefuls Roma.

UEFA Europa League"KAA Gent v AS Roma"UEFA Europa League"KAA Gent v AS Roma"
UEFA Europa League”KAA Gent v AS Roma” | ANP Sport/Getty Images

With Juventus, Lazio and Inter looking to have a place in next year’s Champions League in the bag, just one spot remains.

Fourth spot is currently occupied by Atalanta, with Roma just three points behind. A further six points behind Roma are Napoli, but a nine-point gap looks a tall order to bridge at this stage of the season.

The bad news for Roma is Atalanta have a game in hand, the worse news for Roma is Atalanta were absolutely flying prior to the league’s postponement. Four wins in their last five league games, including two seven-goal hauls.

The pair have similar run-ins, with both facing Milan, Inter, and Juventus before the season is out. Atalanta’s first game back sees them face title-challengers Lazio, while Roma host Sampdoria.

Claudio RanieriClaudio Ranieri
Torino FC v UC Sampdoria – Serie A | Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Similar to the battle for the Champions League, it looks as though only one spot is left to be decided in the relegation scrap.

Both Brescia and S.P.A.L have looked lost causes for some time now, with the former nine points adrift and the latter seven points adrift, and both harbouring a shocking goal difference.

The final spot in the relegation zone could go to any of about seven teams. Lecce currently occupy said spot on 25 points, though only by virtue of goal difference, with Genoa on the same points tally, Sampdoria just a point ahead and Torino a further point ahead.

With all still due to play teams towards the top end of Serie A, it’ll be fixtures between teams around them that will decide who avoids the drop.

A final day clash between Sampdoria and Brescia may well decide whether Claudio Ranieri’s men retain their top-flight status. Elsewhere, Sampdoria travel to Lecce before hosting Genoa.

For Lecce, they face the unenviable task of clashes with Milan and Juventus in their first two games back. Life gets a little easier after that, with an away day at Genoa before two vital home games against Brescia and Sampdoria.

Despite only goal difference separating them from the bottom three, Genoa are in the enviable position of still having to play all three teams below them. With both Sampdoria and Genoa also to come, Davide Nicola’s men know their future is well and truly in their hands.

Torino may well be two points off the drop with a game in hand, but their fixture list offers little comfort. With clashes against Juventus, Lazio, Inter and Roma to come, their home games against Brescia and Genoa could be crucial in their bid for survival.

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FA Threaten Legal Action Against Saudi Arabia’s KSA Sports Over Newcastle Broadcasts

Newcastle Fans
Newcastle Fans | Stu Forster/Getty Images

The FA have threatened Saudi Arabian-owned sports channel KSA Sports with legal action, should they fail to stop showing re-runs of Newcastle United’s FA Cup games.

The news will come as yet another blow to the Saudi-backed consortium currently seeking FA approval, ahead of their proposed takeover of the Tyneside outfit.

Dietmar HamannDietmar Hamann
Dietmar Hamann | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Times report that the governing body’s lawyers have written to KSA Sports, informing them that their practice of broadcasting the club’s FA Cup re-runs is ‘illegal’, claiming that they are infringing the FA’s property rights – even though the broadcasts are of archived footage.

The letter reads: ‘It has come to our attention that KSA Sports is engaged in the unauthorised and illegal broadcast of extracts from the matches (amongst other sports content) in the territory of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

‘As you have neither sought nor obtained permission from the FA or any of its authorised licensees to use this content on your channels, your present use is an infringement of the FA’s rights. 

‘Broadcast piracy is a significant concern for all rights holders and content providers and failure to promptly take affirmative steps will cause significant financial and reputational harm to us.’

With the Amanda Staveley-fronted takeover bid of Newcastle hanging in the balance, it remains to be seen whether this latest development will have a negative impact on the bid.

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Match Day At St James Park | Tom Jenkins/Getty Images

The proposed £300m takeover of the Premier League club was thrown into jeopardy in early March, after the World Trade Organisation presented the FA with a 123-page document, detailing how the Saudi state was behind the illegal streaming of sports in its country.

Were the takeover be approved by English football’s governing body, it would see current-owner Mike Ashley hand over control of the club to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

The Saudi owned sports channel has been given a deadline of 2 June to ensure all broadcasts of Newcastle’s FA Cup games are cancelled.

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Nick Pope Outlines England Ambition & Reflects on Challenges of Being a Goalkeeper

Nick Pope
Burnley FC’s Nick Pope. | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

Nick Pope has admitted that although not a priority, he’d like to establish himself as England’s number one goalkeeper.

The 28-year-old has been impressive for Burnley this season, reclaiming his place in Gareth Southgate’s England setup after injury had derailed his development and progress.

Nick PopeNick Pope
Pope in action for Burnley. | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Having ousted Tom Heaton as Burnley’s number one, as well as seeing off competition from former England goalkeeper Joe Hart, Pope has proven that he’s capable of rising to a challenge, though he’s admitted that he’s not getting carried away with looking into the future.

Speaking to The Guardian, Pope said: “One of my main things is not to look too far ahead. I’m really looking after myself at Burnley. England is so far away, even though being the [number] 1 is something that I want.

“It’s a real dream of mine to play at Wembley and to represent England as many times as possible.”

Pope made his England debut in June 2018, coming off the bench in England’s 2-0 friendly win over Costa Rica. He earned his second cap last November, playing the full 90 minutes as the Three Lions cruised to a 4-0 win in Kosovo in EURO 2020 qualifying.

Nick PopeNick Pope
Pope on his England debut against Costa Rica. | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

He was also part of the squad that reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, though he didn’t play any minutes as England’s campaign ended in heartbreak once more – an experience that he still recalls as “one of the greatest things of my life.”

While he currently has two caps to his name, the 28-year-old could earn more gametime if he continues his current form. Pope faces competition from England’s current first choice, Jordan Pickford, and on loan Sheffield United keeper Dean Henderson, however.

Nick Pope, Jordan Pickford, Jack ButlandNick Pope, Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland
Pope training with the England goalkeepers at the 2018 World Cup. | Alex Morton/Getty Images

This season, he’s played every minute of Burnley’s Premier League campaign, helping the Clarets to a respectable 10th in the table. With 11 clean sheets in 29 appearances, he tops the league for shutouts – clear of the likes of Alisson and David de Gea.

Burnley are unbeaten in their last seven league games, keeping four clean sheets in the process. They will be eager to extend their unbeaten run next month, when the Premier League is set to return on 17 June – three months after it was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For more from Nischal Schwager-Patel, follow him on Twitter here!

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Jadon Sancho’s Contract Situation & the Latest on Interest From Manchester United

Jadon Sancho - Borussia Dortmund
Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Exclusive – Manchester United remain confident that they will sign Jadon Sancho before next season, despite Borussia Dortmund’s attempts to tie the England forward down to a new contract.

The German side have been looking to entice the 20-year-old to pen a second ‘double-your-money’ deal in the space of 12 months following his excellent spell in the Bundesliga, though attached with a promise that they will agree to a sale in the summer of 2021.

United, as previously reported, have been at the head of the queue for most of the past year. Though the coronavirus pandemic, suspension of football and subsequent financial impact has meant most of Europe’s big clubs are not looking to – or able to, in some cases – make massive transfer market statements in 2020.

What follows is a rundown of Sancho’s contract, where it leaves Dortmund, and what 90min understands of the situation on the whole.

Sancho’s current deal at Dortmund has just over two years to run, and prior to the coronavirus pandemic it had been expected that the Bundesliga club would cash in before next season – if of course his desire was to go.

They had hoped that even if they were to sanction a sale in 2020, that Sancho would have used the European Championships – with its latter rounds held in England – as a tool to not only drive up interest, but his price. The pandemic has meant that not only has the competition has been delayed by a year, but that the pool of suitors has shrunk – for now at least.

90min sources indicate that Dortmund have been ready to appease Sancho by offering him a chance to double his £100,000-a-week basic earnings – he earns far more in bonuses – to stay for another year and until the market picks back up. It would have come with a guarantee that the sale would take place in 2021.

A fresh report from Spox and Goal, however, states that Sancho desire is to leave Dortmund this summer – with the forward not considering the extension to his contract that they have proposed.

The understanding is that Dortmund will not stand in the player’s way if he wishes to leave.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - Manchester UnitedOle Gunnar Solskjaer - Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

United would offer Sancho a bigger financial package than his current club regardless of when the deal goes through, with suggestions being that he could earn £250,000-a-week upon joining. Sancho would be handed the iconic, yet daunting given the performances of more recent incumbents, United number 7 shirt.

Dortmund do have the advantage of likely being able to offer guaranteed Champions League football next season – United sit outside the top four in the Premier League at present – though a source retains that Sancho wants to return to England and that United remain his number one choice as it stands.

United are confident they are building towards a long-term fix following problems since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and there will be big clubs in England each year that miss out on the Champions League, of course. At 20, Sancho has plenty of time left to play in Europe’s biggest competition and wants to be convinced on a long-term project. United believe they can do that.

Ed WoodwardEd Woodward
Ed Woodward – Manchester United | Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

While the pandemic has meant they have had to reassess – Ed Woodward admitted on a conference call last month that “it may not be ‘business as usual’ for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer” – United do remain in a strong position compared to most of their direct rivals when it comes to the 2020 market.

In recent weeks, however, Dortmund and United have been firing shots across the media about their stances on the England winger.

The German side insist they won’t be dropping Sancho’s asking price dramatically despite the current pandemic, they believe this has not impacted on his market value. United feel differently and have made it known they won’t pay over £100m despite their previous plans, and it has led to something of an impasse.

United, however, recognise that this summer is their best chance of signing the player, so are keen to press ahead. He is their number one target and doing a deal while the running is narrowed will make things easier. There’s a strong chance that hesitating for another year will leave an opportunity for their rivals to enter the running, likely in better financial positions than they are at present.

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Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jadon Sancho – England | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Chelsea and Liverpool have made no secret of their interest in the player, while Sancho’s former club Manchester City are likely to lose Leroy Sané to Bayern Munich – with a potential need to fill his position. United have been clear in recent months that they will offer more than their rivals to get the deal done, but the waters could muddy should the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain seriously join the hunt.

A source close to the situation has however explained to 90min: “This is a stand-off between the two clubs, Dortmund are letting United know that they don’t have to sell and won’t be forced into it, whilst United are insistent they won’t pay too much in the current climate.

“Despite the recent waves, the expectation from both sides is that this deal will get done – at some point this summer.”

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Pedro: A Wonderful Chelsea Servant Ready to Leave Stamford Bridge With Pride

Pedro celebrates scoring against Everton.
Pedro celebrates scoring against Everton. | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

When a World Cup-winning Spanish winger arrived at Chelsea in August 2015, the excitement was unreal. £21m was seen as an absolute bargain for a player with such credentials: five La Liga titles, three Champions League victories and a World Cup, to name just a few of his honours.

Pedro Rodríguez made the switch from Catalunya to Cobham, leaving the Spanish champions for the English champions in a remarkable piece of business from José Mourinho. He was greeted with open arms in west London – a welcome addition to such a decorated club.

Five years on, it’s clear to see that Pedro has certainly lived up to the initial hype.

A Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League in his time at Chelsea, the Spaniard playing a key role in every single one of those triumphs. Over 200 appearances with 43 goals to his name, numerous big-game goals and priceless moments, all deservedly earning him the recognition as a fantastic servant to the club.

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Chelsea’s Pedro with the Europa League trophy. | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

But for all of his brilliant achievements with the club, his role is changing.

Now 32 years old, Pedro is playing less than ever this year. He played an average of 82.9% of league games in his first four seasons, but has only featured in 31% of Chelsea’s current campaign. Nine league appearances is his lowest tally in 11 years, dating way back to his debut senior season for Barcelona in 2008/09.

It took until March for him to get off the mark in the Premier League, getting a goal and assist in the 4-0 drubbing of Everton. Before that, his only goal for the season had come six months earlier, when he captained the Blues in the Carabao Cup thrashing of Grimsby Town.

These stats show that, with all due respect, Pedro is past his prime at Chelsea.

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Pedro coming on as a substitute for Chelsea. | Clive Mason/Getty Images

He’s had a great career in London, and has been a great player for the club. His goals fantastic, his contributions priceless, and his reputation at Stamford Bridge high, hearing his name chanted in the terraces whenever he takes to the pitch.

But times are beginning to change, starting with the arrival of Frank Lampard. His injection of youth players proves Lampard’s faith and admiration of Chelsea’s youth products, finally sorting out the balance between up and coming youngsters and seasoned veterans in the senior squad.

It’s not to say that Lampard is forcing Pedro out: far from it. Yet, like with fellow winger Willian, who has reached the time to leave Chelsea with a happy ending, the same is the case for Pedro.

His experience has been crucial these last few years, helping younger players like Callum Hudson-Odoi further develop in the early stages of his career. Pedro’s impact is just as important off the pitch, around Cobham where he can use his experience to aid the new wave of youngsters in the first team.

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Pedro (left) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (right). | Visionhaus/Getty Images

With Pedro not even reaching double figures yet for league appearances, his gametime won’t be increasing any time soon.

As well as Hudson-Odoi, there is more and more competition coming from younger talent. Christian Pulisic has just begun his rise to stardom at Stamford Bridge, while Hakim Ziyech’s arrival will need to come at the expense of someone. Mason Mount will also surely be a key part of Chelsea’s attack this decade, wherever he is on the pitch.

When Lampard has younger, fresher options among his ranks, the need for Pedro – and Willian for that matter – gradually decreases. That has already been shown this season, with the Spaniard having to rely on cup competitions as a rotating player for any sign of gametime.

Frank Lampard, Pedro, Izzy BrownFrank Lampard, Pedro, Izzy Brown
Frank Lampard (left) with Pedro (right). | Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Pedro’s contract runs out this summer, and he is yet to sign an extension. Willy Caballero and Olivier Giroud both saw their expiring contracts renewed this month, but there has been no similar luck for the 32-year-old. It is unlikely to be renewed, with the Spaniard even implying that himself.

New youngsters will continue to come through the ranks and into Lampard’s squad, and the more minutes they are getting, the less that are left for players like Pedro. The time has come for him to move on, find a club which will give him regular gametime again before hanging up his boots.

That is important to remember: Pedro is not finished, far from it.

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Pedro celebrates a goal. | Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

His time at Chelsea may be coming to a close, but he still has a good few years left in him. He can still play at a decent level, and remains at the stage of his career where he can still be a valuable asset to someone. A return to Spain would be a great option: a club like UD Las Palmas would be ideal, allowing a return to his native Canary Islands.

Pedro still has a lot to offer, just not at Chelsea. However, should he leave Stamford Bridge this summer after five fruitful years, he will leave with the same pride, respect and admiration he arrived with all those years ago.

The time is now for the Spaniard to move on, but he will always be a blue.

For more from Nischal Schwager-Patel, follow him on Twitter here!

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