x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lippi bugged by goal-shy strikers

Those who returned to Serie A from the internationals arrived with their energies or with a contagion of the Italian team's goallessness.

Some people in club football call it the "Fifa virus". They mean the condition where a break in the season for internationals has a weakening effect on the metabolism of the leagues. National squads assembled last week and, in many cases, coaches had their last look at players in action together before they name their 23-man squad for the World Cup. Those who returned to Serie A afterwards arrived with their energies either spent, or, in the case of the Azzurri players, with a contagion of the Italian team's goallessness.

After Italy drew 0-0 with Cameroon in Monte Carlo, the top of Serie A followed suit. Roma against AC Milan, the eagerly awaited meeting of second and third in the table, finished in a non-scoring stalemate, despite a stack of chances. Inter Milan, the leaders, then failed to take advantage of an opportunity to extend the four-point gap above AC Milan by drawing 0-0 with Genoa Even Udinese, the club with the perplexing distinction of having the division's highest scorer, Antonio Di Natale, and the lowest number of clean sheets, drew 0-0 at Atalanta.

Inter's impasse broke a long-standing record at the club. Not since 1998 had they failed to score in consecutive home fixtures. What will concern Jose Mourinho, their coach, is not so much that anecdote but that Sunday's was their fourth Serie A draw in five matches. In the course of the second half, Mourinho sent instructions - he was not on the bench, but serving the second game of his three match suspension in the stands - for the introduction of substitutes Samuel Eto'o and Ricardo Quaresma, this after lining up Mario Balotelli, Diego Milito, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneijder in his starting XI. This is not a good time for a goal drought among Italian football's elite. Tonight Fiorentina, who lost 2-1 at home to Juventus on Saturday, meet Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the Bavaria meeting.

Shorn of Adrian Mutu due to his ban, Fiorentina need more punch up front. Alberto Gilardino returned to the team on Saturday after injury, but was denied two good chances to get back into the scoring groove by Juve's stand-in goalkeeper Alex Manninger. Milan, without Alexandre Pato - who remains doubtful for the Champions League match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in which Milan must score at least twice to progress - attacked with gusto in Rome, but ended up with just a point.

Marcello Lippi, the Italy national coach, would app-reciate more emphatic form from his best strikers, too. Apart from the lively Di Natale, who has 19 goals this season, the candidates to lead Italy's attack in South Africa all carry worries about form or fitness. Gilardino has 11 goals this season, though only two from his last 12 outings. Milan's Marco Boriello, who started for Italy last week, still raises suspicions that the long injury he suffered last year has not fully healed despite his nine Serie A goals since October.

Boriello has completed 90 minutes only six times in his last 22 outings. Luca Toni, who has two goals in five games for Roma, has yet to do a full 90 for the club he joined on loan in January from Bayern. At least Lippi will be pleased that Sampdoria's Giampaolo Pazzini did not take the Fifa virus home with him. Pazzini scored his 13th of the campaign in Samp's 2-1 win over Lazio. Andrea Cossu, the Sardinian striker, meanwhile, celebrated coming back from his Italy debut with a goal for Cagliari in the 2-2 draw with Catania, the highest-scoring game of a rather goal-shy weekend.