MILAN, Italy, Dec 28 – Inter Milan travel to Tuscany side Empoli on Saturday without their fans after racism and violence overshadowed Christmas football in the Italian league.
Police in Florence said that visiting Inter supporters would not be allowed to attend this weekend’s match against promoted Empoli with the away stand closed.
It follows violence before Wednesday’s clash against Napoli at the San Siro which resulted in a fan’s death, with the game overshadowed by racist chanting towards Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
For the second consecutive year Serie A has broken with tradition, playing matches over Christmas and the New Year like the English Premier League.
The initiative has proved a big hit with the public attracting fans en masse to stadiums.
But the worst was reserved for the game which should have been the highlight of the Boxing Day fixture list in Italy between title-chasing Napoli and Inter Milan at the San Siro.
An Inter supporter was killed after being struck by a car amid brawling between rival fans before the game with tensions high on the pitch after Koulibaly was repeatedly subjected to monkey chants.
Napoli asked for the match to be halted, without success, and the team finished with nine men as Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne were both sent off late on.
Substitute Lautaro Martinez struck in the 91st minute to give Inter a 1-0 victory, a result that meant Napoli failed to capitalise on Juventus dropping points in a 2-2 draw at Atalanta.
Inter insisted that the club has “always said no to any form of discrimination,” but tensions are now running high going into the final round of matches before a three-week winter break in Italy.
Inter have been ordered to play two matches behind closed doors and another game with their North Stand closed.
As for second-placed Napoli, five points clear of Inter despite the ill-tempered defeat, they host Bologna without Koulibaly.
The Senegalese defender will serve a two-match ban for his sending off, after seeing a second yellow card for sarcastically applauding the referee.
Insigne is also suspended while captain Marek Hamsik is expected to miss the game with a thigh injury he sustained against Inter.
– Juve face Samp test –
Unbeaten Juventus face a tricky test in their final game of 2018 as they host in-form Sampdoria, in fifth, with the Genoa club looking for a fourth consecutive league win.
The seven-time reigning champions have dropped points just twice this season, being held by Genoa at home and Atalanta midweek.
Ronaldo will start Saturday’s game after coming off the bench to score a late equaliser as 10-man Juventus salvaged a draw in Bergamo to move nine points clear of Napoli.
But Sampdoria striker Fabio Quagliarella will be looking to test himself against Ronaldo, having scored 11 goals this season, including nine in the past eight games.
Lazio, in fourth, host Europa League hopefuls Torino, with AC Milan, who have slipped to sixth, desperate for a win at home against struggling SPAL.
Milan’s push for a top-four finish took a hit as Gennaro Gattuso’s side were held to an uneventful 0-0 draw at struggling Frosinone.
The seven-time European champions have now failed to score in four consecutive league games for the first time since 1984.
“Three days ago we were one point from our Scudetto, which is the Champions League,” said Gattuso.
“Mistakes happen, the important thing is to remedy them and make yourself available again. I think it’s a mental issue … fear has taken over.”
Roma, in seventh but just four points off the Champions League places, travel to promoted Parma looking to build on their 3-1 win over Sassuolo.
Elsewhere bottom club Chievo will be targeting their first top-flight win when they host Frosinone, just above them in the table.
Juventus v Sampdoria (2:30pm), Chievo v Frosinone, Empoli v Inter Milan, Genoa v Fiorentina, Lazio v Torino, Parma v AS Roma, Sassuolo v Atalanta, Udinese v Cagliari (all 1400), Napoli v Bologna (8pm), AC Milan v SPAL (10:30pm)