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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - For once, Juventus might not have it all their own way as Serie A becomes the last major European league to resume.
Juve have won the Scudetto for the last eight seasons in a row, and play their first post-pandemic league game at Bologna on Monday night.
They head the league, but with 12 games remaining Lazio are just one point behind, and I Biancocelesti forward Bobby Adekanye says his teammates are relishing the prospect ending the Turin giants' domination.
"We’re very close to achieving something big – to make history,” said the 21-year-old former Liverpool Under-23 player. “I’m just so glad we have a second chance to end the season.”
Adekanye has been avidly watching the return of German and English action and though he cannot do anything about the missing fans, he is hoping it won’t impact Lazio’s home form in the crucial run-in.
After visiting Atalanta on Wednesday, his side host Fiorentina three days later after having won 11 of their previous 14 home games.
“I’ve watched pretty much every game so far and to be honest it looks very weird, like a training game,” Adikanye said.
“The only thing I can say is that for us it might be difficult playing without fans because we have such a good home record this season – and that’s all because of them. They’re our 12th man.
"We have a big stadium and our supporters make it feel small for us, but now it’s going to be so open and wide; really weird. Hopefully, with the talent and experience we have in the team, we can still push forward.”
With no room for error in trying to prevent Juventus from winning the Scudetto, Adekanye reveals how Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi has used his customary high-intensity in training to ensure they continue to overpower opponents.
“The last 20 minutes in football is when most teams concede or score, so we get ourselves fit for the crunch time,” he said.
“It’s worked pretty well because we’re second in the table by just one point, and to a team that has won the league eight times in a row. We’re giving them a good challenge.
"We beat them 3-1 in the Super Cup and again in the league, so whatever we were doing was working. We'll find out on June 24 if we’re back on track, but it’s looking that way.”
For Adekanye, whose younger brother Hakeem Agboluaje plays for Feyenoord in the Dutch league, the motivation to win the league is real.
But playing first-team football remains his main goal. Offered a contract by Liverpool last summer while playing for the U23s, Adekanye opted to move on. So far, so good.
“Liverpool offered me a three-year contract, but I didn’t really see any plans for me in the future,” he said.
“It felt like they were just saying: ‘just sign the contract and we’ll see’, which didn’t look good to me and my family. I felt like I was ready to join the first team, even though they have a lot of talent.
“Lazio were very ambitious, and they showed me that they wanted me in the team, and that they had some pretty good plans for the future.”
One thing is for sure: when Serie A does return, it offers a welcome distraction not just from the coronavirus, but also worldwide racial tensions.
“When I see the videos going around of people protesting, I can really understand it. You can’t just walk away from it any more,” he said.
Adekanye experienced racism while playing for Liverpool at Spartak Moscow in the UEFA Youth League in 2018. He’s seen it in Italy, too, and he says more needs to be done.
“It’s disgusting to see people still being racist in 2020. I come from a very strong family who tell me to ignore it, that the fans are just trying to get the worst out of you. Italy is getting better, though," he said.
"The incident involving [Mario] Balotelli is the first and last time I saw that here, but if it happens again I’m staying on the pitch until the coach takes me off. It really hurts, though. When you think about all the stuff our grandparents suffered for us … it basically looks like it was all for nothing.”
Whether it’s silencing the minority in the stands or his critics in the dugout, Adekanye is intent on continuing to prove people wrong.
“Scoring my first goal [against SPAL] and showing people that didn’t believe in me was amazing,” he added.
“The more chances you give me, the more you’re going to see and while Lazio are really building something, I’m showing that I’m ready. Hopefully from here, I can achieve something very big here, and maybe be as big as Ciro Immobile one day.”
Updated: June 22, 2020 10:08 AM
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