Calcio d’Agosto. The words translate simply to ‘August football’ but in the Italian sporting lexicon they have a specific place: deployed every summer to stop fans from getting carried away. Your team just beat Barcelona in a friendly, conceded six goals to a team of local lumberjacks at training camp, or even lost the league opener to newly-promoted opponents? Calm down, forget about it, it’s only ‘calcio d’Agosto’. The games that matter won’t come until the spring.
Or at least, that’s how it normally goes. Not in 2020. Instead of gearing up for a new season, Serie A teams spent the first weekend of this August bringing down the curtain on a campaign that launched 49 weeks ago. Yet the mood was similar. Of the 20 teams in action, only two had a meaningful objective left to play for.
The destination of the title and all seven European places had already been settled. So had two out of three relegation spots. That left only Genoa and Lecce fighting for top-flight survival. If Genoa, who began the weekend one point ahead in 17th place, could beat Verona, then Lecce’s result against Parma would not matter.
They were 3-0 up by half-time. Verona’s marking on the first two goals, scored by Antonio Sanabria, certainly fit the ‘calcio d’Agosto’ archetype. There was never any suggestion of a fightback, though both teams collected a pair of red cards – including one for Hellas’s manager, Ivan Juric – during an ill-tempered second-half.
Lecce would lose, in any case. They did at least put on a more compelling spectacle, falling two goals behind by the 24th minute, then dragging themselves level before half-time only to still wind up on the wrong side of a 4-3 final score.
It felt like a fitting finale for Lecce, who scored 52 goals this season – the most of any side relegated from Serie A since the league moved to three points for a win in 1994 – but also conceded 85, a figure that only four teams have ever exceeded.
The lasting regret will be for their defeat in July’s head-to-head with Genoa, when they missed a penalty before the game was decided by an own-goal, a shot that rebounded off the post and on to the back of their goalkeeper, Gabriel, before rolling over the line. Sunday’s game began with a near-repeat. The only difference this time was that the ball ricocheted in off a defender, Fabio Lucioni, instead.
Mixed motivations diminished the spectacle of what could have been a thrilling final round elsewhere. Saturday night had six of Serie A’s top seven teams going head-to-head.
Juventus and Roma fielded much-changed sides for their game in Turin. The visitors prevailed, coming from behind to win 3-1 while Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala watched from the stands. There was little to be learned from the game itself beyond the names of some debutants on either side, with Roma’s Riccardo Calafiori, scorer of a fine disallowed goal, especially catching the eye.
After a surreal trophy presentation in an empty Allianz Stadium, though, Juventus must now look ahead to Friday’s Champions League last-16 second leg against Lyon. Resting key starters made sense, with that appointment in mind, but will the Bianconeri still know how to change gears? They have won just two of their last eight Serie A games.
Napoli took the opposite approach, and paid a price for it. A full-strength XI beat Lazio 3-1, setting an encouraging tone for their trip to Barcelona, but suffered a potentially catastrophic blow when Lorenzo Insigne left the game late on with a groin injury. His availability for Saturday is in doubt.
His former Pescara team-mate Ciro Immobile was able to equal, but not break Gonzalo Higuaín’s scoring record, netting his 36th goal of the season with a first-time finish at the near post. The Lazio striker also secured the European Golden Shoe, finishing two goals ahead of Robert Lewandowski and five ahead of Ronaldo.
Yet the headlines were stolen in Bergamo, where Inter Milan signed off with a 2-0 win over Atalanta – an impressive result against opponents who had not lost a game since January, and had not been held goalless since November. Victory ensured that Inter would finish second in the table, just one point behind a Juventus side that was 31 ahead of them last year, but that was not the real story.
Instead, once again, it was Antonio Conte who demanded our attention, tearing into his own club’s leadership in post-game interviews. “This has been a very intense year for me, especially on a personal level,” he told Italy’s Sky Sport. “It was not simple. Neither my work, nor that of the players has been recognised, I found scarce protection from the club in our regard.
“If you want to reduce the gap with Juventus, you need to be strong on the pitch but above all off it … if you are weak, it’s hard to protect the team and the manager.”
His words suggested a rift that will not easily be healed. Conte insisted that his comments had nothing to do with the club’s transfer policy. Instead his frustration stems from negative media coverage and a feeling that Inter were not making their presence felt in league offices – a subject he touched on previously when discussing a post-lockdown schedule that he believed to have favoured their rivals.
On Sky Sport, the veteran analyst Paolo Condò highlighted recent incidents involving Marcelo Brozovic as evidence to support Conte’s claim. The midfielder had his driving licence suspended after running a red light while over the legal drinking limit last month, and over the weekend it was reported that police were called to calm him down after he got into an argument with staff in a hospital emergency room. “In Milan, this story leaks out,” reflected Condò. “In Turin, it doesn’t.”
Inter are still competing in the Europa League, with a last-16 game against Getafe coming up on Wednesday. Conte insisted he will leave final assessments about what needs to happen next until their involvement in that competition is complete. The possibility that he will not be back as manager next term, however, feels more real than ever. There is speculation already that he could be replaced by Massimiliano Allegri, the same man who succeeded him at Juventus.
That was six years ago. Conte walked out on the first day of off-season training camp in July 2014, disillusioned by a perceived lack of support from a club that expected greater progress in Europe after three consecutive league titles. At least, if history repeats itself this summer, he will have had the chance to enjoy some calcio d’Agosto first.