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Serie A: Fight for Europe

Serie A table 3rd spot

As the Serie A enters in its final phase, every club will try to achieve their objective and finish the season strongly. This period of the season is vital to clubs at opposite ends of the table. Clubs at the bottom of the table fight it out to avoid relegation and hold on to their players, not to mention, their pride. While at the top, teams battle it out to claim a spot to play in the highly lucrative and prestigious competition that is the UEFA Champions League.

One of the most intriguing battles in Serie A has often been the fight for the Champions league spot and much of its intrigue is because on some occasions, an unexpected team would occupy that coveted position by the end of the season (viz. Sampdoria, Udinese). With Italy being leapfrogged by Germany in the UEFA Co-efficient rankings, they have only 3 spots for Europe’s premier competition, The Champions League, hence the competition is stiffer and a lot more intriguing.

With Juventus having a 9 point lead over their closest rival, Napoli, with only 7 games in hand, the league is all but over. But the battle for the last Champions league spot has heated up as the league draws to an end. With Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Inter fighting for that one spot, things are getting pretty tense.

AC Milan currently lead the way, but the other 3 outfits still harbour hopes of reaching the European game’s most prized competition.

The Contenders

AC Milan had a nightmare of a start to their new campaign. Eight games in, Milan were 15th in the league with only 7 points. After the mass exodus last season, the fans were not happy with the new buys and recruits. Their league position was a bit alien to them as they are used to seeing their team dominate Italy and Europe. Many Milan fans were calling for Allegri’s head and were furious with their management. But things have changed and HOW! With an unbeaten run in 2013, Milan sit pretty on 3rd, the last Champions league spot, with a 6 point lead over the 4th placed Fiorentina and 4 points behind Napoli (2nd).

Although Balotelli has been stealing the headlines with his big money-move, the real revival of league form was started by El Shaarawy. His goals have often come at crucial moments. He has caught the eye of football fans all over the world with a stellar display this season.

Considering their current form, Milan are favorites to finish 3rd but they have some tricky fixtures lined up. Games against the current top 2 are up next with a game against difficult oppopents, Roma, at the San Siro as well.

Fiorentina re-ignited their Champions league hopes when they beat Inter 4-1 at Stadio Artemio Franchi back in February and they even defeated their fellow Champions League contenders Lazio in their own back yard. They came back from 2-0 down to draw their match against Milan, with 10 men, last Sunday to stay in contention. They are the closest to Milan with 6 points behind them and they wont let Milan breathe easy.

Montella has been doing quite well this season with the squad he has at his disposal. Jovetic has been quite sensational scoring 12 goals and leading the frontline but Valero has been their back bone with 10 assists.

Viola have an easy fixture list compared to their rivals as they play only 1 team in the top 10. With a game against Roma the most threatening fixture

With a relatively easy fixture list, they might fancy themselves to finish the league strongly as they will pounce on the opportunity if Milan slip-up.

Lazio were one of the front runners to finish 3rd in January but with a string of bad results they lie 7 points off the 3rd placed Milan. Their 2-1 victory over Catania on 30th March was their first since their 2-0 victory over Pescara back in February 25th. They have lost to both Milan and Fiorentina who sit above them in the table now.

Since their victory over Atalanta on 13th January, 2013, they have managed to win just 2 matches, and have lost 6 and drawn 3.
They did manage to knock Juventus out of the Coppa Italia over 2 legs and they now await the winner of Inter-Roma in the finals. Their European journey came to an end on Thursday when Fenerbahce knocked them out of the quarter finals of the Europa League with a 3-1 aggregate over two legs.

Lazio did lose their talisman Klose when a knee injury forced him to be subbed off against Genoa on 3rd February. He is still their leading goal scorer with 10 goals even though he was out for over 2 months.

They have one of the worst attacking record in the league. With only 40 goals scored, they are the second lowest amongst the teams in the top 10 (Parma with 39 Goals).

Lazio will have to replicate their form in the first half to challenge Milan for that 3rd Spot. A game against Juventus is up next and the blue side of Milan later on.

They still have a chance to win some silver ware when they play in the finals of Coppa Italia but with a hectic fixture list, Finishing 3rd seems like a distant possibility and with Roma just 3 points behind them and breathing down their necks, their main objective should be to qualify for Europe next season and finish above their bitter rivals, Roma. A 6th Coppa Italia victory will see them through to the Europa League, a trophy they last won in 2009.

Stramaccioni’s Inter have had a topsy turvy ride so far this term. They halted Juventus’ 49 match unbeaten streak in Serie A when they beat them 3-1 back in November in their own backyard. They looked like they might just challenge Juventus for the title but things have been different in 2013. They started of their new year with a 3-0 thumping at the hands of Udinese and have managed just 2 wins in the first 2 months, one against a lowly Pescara (2-0) and another over a team who is hovering just above the relegation zone, Chievo (3-1).

Their aspirations to finish 3rd were heavily dented when they lost to Atalanta 4-3, at San Siro, despite being 3-1 up. Back to back defeats have left them a massive 8 points behind their bitter cousins, Milan.

Palacio leads the goal scoring chart for Inter with 12 goals but the Argentine picked up an injury during the side’s 2-0 victory over Sampdoria last week. Cassano was forced off during Inter’s 4-3 defeat at home to Atalanta on Sunday, with the club subsequently confirming that he had sustained a grade two hamstring strain.

It is thought that both the strikers will miss at least the next four weeks. They join Diego Milito, who will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury, on the sidelines, leaving Tommaso Rocchi as the club’s only fit senior striker.

Tricky fixtures await Inter and they need to pull their act together if they are to finish 3rd and challenge their rivals, Milan.

Roma are outsiders for the Champions league spot but with all their talent, they have been quite inconsistent. A few results have to go their way if they have to qualify but for now, sadly, the Champions League looks to evade Roma once more.

The Prize

Getting into the Champions League draw is what it is all about for most clubs, it is the holy grail for the modern major football club. It’s not just about pride, the money each club gets for qualifying is quite massive. The financial benefit a club gets for qualifying is huge and not to forget, Champions League attracts big players too.

The 32 clubs which featured in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League group stages pocketed around €8.6m – and the team that goes on to win the trophy might collect €37.4m, not counting the market pool share.

Each of the 32 sides involved in the group stage will collect a base fee of €8.6m. Performance bonuses will also see €1m paid for a win and €500,000 for a draw in the group phase.

These figures are by no means small and it shows why it is important for a club to qualify for the Champions League.

There is a lot at stake for these Italian clubs as their league’s image is deteriorating and if the Italians hope for an Italian renaissance in Europe, then they need their best representatives in Europe’s premier competition to improve their co-efficient rankings.

The Champions League qualification has a lot at stake, the achievement and prestige of playing on the grandest stage, it also provides a profile, broadcast in 220 countries, to which all big clubs aspire, and in turn makes them rich and famous.

That is why, taken together, the three places for which the top clubs are battling remain so coveted a prize. Who will qualify for the next season Champions League?

Can Viola take advantage of their relatively easy fixture list and claim that 3rd spot? Can Lazio, and Inter string together some victories to stay in contention? But for that, they need Milan to drop points but – Will Milan falter? Or will they continue their sparkling form and even challenge Napoli for the 2nd spot? Everything is possible. The title is Juventus’ to lose but the remaining spots are still up for grabs.

My money is on a Juventus, Milan and Napoli finish and my Rossoneri heart says that Milan will leapfrog Napoli for the 2nd spot. Viola should finish 4th followed by Inter and Lazio and Roma will fight it out for the last Europa League spot. But like I said, anything is possible. So let’s sit back and enjoy another nail biting Serie A finish.

May the best teams qualify.

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