Things are gradually returning to normal for football fans and one of the next milestones on that journey sees Serie A resume next weekend, following a tantalising pair of curtain-raising Coppa Italia clashes over the coming days.
As we left it, Juventus were a point ahead of Lazio at the summit in hot pursuit of a ninth consecutive Scudetto. But with 12 rounds left to play for the top two, this is as tight a title race as Italy has seen in some time.
So as we build up to next Saturday’s opening league fixtures, we’ve profiled five under-the-radar stars of the season so far. If you haven’t been following the Calcio closely up until now, these are just a few of the players to keep an eye on…
Joao Pedro (Cagliari)
The race to be Capocannoniere reads like a who’s who of Serie A goalscoring nobility. Lazio’s Ciro Immobile leads the way with 27 strikes, followed by Cristiano Ronaldo (21) and Internazionale‘s Romelu Lukaku (17). The fourth player on that list, with 16 goals, isn’t a household name.
Cagliari striker João Pedro is currently enjoying the most prolific season of his career. In fact, he’s only hit double figures once before, netting 13 times in 2015/16.
Pedro’s 16 league strikes come against an expected goals (xG) total of 10.5 – enough to rank seventh in the league. Measuring just his post-shot xG, – that’s on-target efforts only – his seasonal tally stands at 10.95. Which means he’s running a little hot. Particularly for someone who has just a single shot on target per 90.
What stands out when watching the 28-year-old is the variety of the Brazilian’s goals. Against Roma in March he controlled a ball over the top on his thigh before lobbing home from the edge of the box with his second touch. Strong, good in the air and reliable from the spot, Pedro comes alive inside the box.
A flop at Liverpool, Luis Alberto has enjoyed a renaissance in Italy. Signed from the Reds in 2016 after spending the previous two seasons on loan at Málaga and Deportivo La Coruña, the €4million fee looks like a snip.
Part of a Lazio side which has defied all expectation to soar in second place, the 27-year-old is the creative fulcrum of Simone Inzaghi’s upstarts and has even outshone the highly rated Sergej Milinković-Savić in midfield.
No-one in Serie A can match Alberto’s 12 league assists this season while he has also created more Big Chances (16) and chances (75) than anyone else. The Spaniard’s importance to the Biancocelesti is underlined further by the fact he’s completed more passes in the final third per 90 than anyone else (23.89).
Those numbers aren’t a one-off though. Far from it, in fact. Over the last three seasons, Alberto leads the way in Serie A assists (31), final-third passes attempted (2,241) and completed (1,689), as well as through balls attempted (67) and completed (28). He’s also second for Big Chances created (41) and chances created (241).
If you thought La Viola were all about wonderkid Federico Chiesa, think again.
It’s been a season to forget for the Florence outfit with Guiseppe Iachini replacing Vincenzo Montella four days before Christmas. But Vlahović has provided no little impetus. The Serbian striker, 20, leads the goalscoring charts in Florence with eight strikes in all competitions.
Signed from Partizan Belgrade in 2017, Vlahović has had to be patient. His move could not be made official until he turned 18 on January 28 the following year and he was unable to make his debut until the new season.
Now Vlahović is showing why Fiorentina were prepared to wait for him. Scoring at a rate of 0.47 goals per 90, the left-footer has scored some impressive goals this season. Not least his run-and-finish to bag a stoppage-time point at home to Internazionale or a curling effort in victory over Napoli.
It looks increasingly likely Jérémie Boga will leave Sassuolo this summer. But if he does, the Neroverdi will already have someone in their squad who can fill the void he leaves behind.
In the first year of a two-season loan deal from Empoli with an option to buy, Traoré is another Ivorian who loves to dribble. No-one in Serie A has completed more take-ons (per 90) than Boga with 5.09. Traoré, with 1.78 completions, has some way to go but the skillset is there.
The 20-year-old can play a variety of positions – in central midfield, out wide or as a No.10. At 6ft he is tall for a player in his position but that only makes him harder to dispossess.
Intelligent movement and a coolness in the penalty area which belies his age and relative lack of experience only add to Traoré’s arsenal. The smart money says it won’t be long before he leaves the Emilia-Romagna-based side in a big-money move either.
There has been plenty to admire about Gian Piero Gasperini’s side this season. La Dea have left an indelible mark on the UEFA Champions League in their first campaign in Europe’s premier competition and are fourth in Serie A.
Muriel arrived in Italy in 2010 when he joined Udinese from Deportivo Cali in his homeland. Since then he’s bounced around Europe with Granada (loan), Lecce (loan), Sampdoria, Sevilla and Fiorentina (loan). But it’s at Atalanta where he’s found a home.
With his combination of pace, strength and intelligent movement, Muriel is a difficult player to stop and lives on the shoulder of the last defender. A tricky dribbler to boot, his stunning debut strike for Fiorentina against Sampdoria last year is testament to that.