The Battle for European qualification – Italy

The battle between Roma, Lazio and Inter for the remaining Champions League spots defines the current situation in Seria A, while Milan, Sampdoria and Atalanta are due to compete for the Europa League.

Napoli and Juventus have been in sizzling form this season. With 16 and 15 points ahead of the next best rival, their places in next season’s edition of the UEFA Champions League is booked. There are three squads bumping each other for the other two spots – Roma, Lazio and Inter. Lazio is on par with Juve for the best attack in the league, whereas Roma’s and Inter’s goals scored to goals conceded ratio is almost the same. They’ve had problems scoring (40 each), but their defenses, which are ranked 3rd and 4th in Seria A, have kept them in games.

There was a period of ten matches (05.12.2017 – 04.02.2018), during which Roma failed to find the net more than once. Four of those were losses and four were draws, including a 7-game winless streak. As a result, Eusebio Di Francesco’s team lost its stronghold of the 3rd position, and will now need to fight off its eternal city rival and Inter, if it wants to qualify for Europe’s main event. The Lazio derby is still up ahead, as well as a trip to Napoli. Other than that, the schedule is pretty lenient, with a visit by Juventus in the next to last round lurking as a potentially crunch fixture.

Led by Parolo, Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile, who has scored more than a third of the team’s goals, Lazio is in play to return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2007/08 season. Yes, that’s how long it has been. The Biancocelesti were off to a furious start in the campaign. The victory over Juventus in the Super Cup sprung a chain of results that were unmatched in the Italian league by any team other than Napoli. In a 15-game stretch, Lazio drew one, lost one and won 13. That stretch is still paying off dividends. Looking at the schedule, Simone Inzaghi’s boys are favorites to win most of their remaining fixtures. However, there is the question of dealing with three different competitions and how much of a toll it will take on the players.

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Inter was off to a flying start as well, going without a loss in its first 17 games of the season in all competitions (13 wins, 4 draws). Its first loss came in mid-December, and with it came the troubles. The Nerazzurri couldn’t win for 8 matches after that loss, including four consecutive 1-1 draws. Finding the net has been a real issue, as Mauro Icardi has scored 18 of the 40 goals. When he’s not on the field, Inter struggles up front. Considering his knee issues have a prolonged history, the fans should be worried about the team’s prospects regarding the rest of the campaign. Inter has the most difficult remaining schedule out of the three teams currently battling for those valuable CL spots and the least likely to grab one of them.

For Inter, qualifying for the Europa League would be a consolation prize. However, Sampdoria, Milan and Atalanta, the main contenders for the other two spots, would gladly accept invitations to participate in Europe’s second best competition. Milan and Atalanta are both in the semi-finals of Coppa Italia, with the return legs of their matchups (vs. Lazio and vs. Juventus, respectively) to be played on February 28. Lifting that trophy would make life much easier.

AC Milan has been in better form since Gennaro Gattuso took over the managerial role, and hasn’t tasted defeat since late December (7 wins, 3 draws in all competitions). The Rossonerri reached the next phase in the Europa League and were rewarded with a matchup against Arsenal. Different players step up every game, but 20-year-old Patrick Cutrone has been a true revelation. Despite the fact that turbulent times for this once great team are not over, and a bright future is nowhere near the horizon, qualification for the Europa League will come, one way or the other.

Sampdoria, currently tied with Milan for the 6th position on the table, is a really entertaining team to watch, especially when playing on its home Stadio Luigi Ferraris. It has the third best home record in the league (9 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses). Having that and their general toughness in mind, I find it difficult to believe someone’s going to be able to push them off an Europa League spot. That leaves Atalanta, along with the remaining followers, including Torino, Udinese and Fiorentina, on the outside looking in. Atalanta, in particular, is an excellent team that shouldn’t be ignored. It’ll pounce on any competitor’s losing streak and never look back. Nevertheless, getting past Juventus and winning the Italian cup is its best bet for European football.

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