The battle for the Europe is heating up rapidly in Italy with eight teams in contention for those precious tickets to the continent. Roma and Napoli currently occupy the last two Champions League qualification spots with 38 and 37 points respectively. Palermo find themselves surprisingly a point above Juventus in fifth spot with 34 points, and those two sides are in the final slots for the UEFA Europa League. Cagliari, Genoa, Fiorentina and Sampdoria find themselves just outside the bracket but still very much with a shout to challenge for positions.
Roma and Napoli have been very impressive of late and both teams are on unbeaten streaks which extend all the way back to October. Roma’s last defeat came to Udinese while Napoli haven’t lost since Roma beat them on the 4th of October. Under their new coaches viz. Claudio Ranieri and Walter Mazzarri the teams have found a new lifeline that has propelled them towards the top of the table. Last week’s piece on Napoli discussed at length the changes which have come into being at the Stadio San Paolo and the Roma Club Focus should tell you precisely the progress which has been made by the teams. These two teams are very likely going to be engaged in the fight to the finish for those Champions League spots.
Mauro Zamparini, Palermo’s President, is well known for his idiosyncratic ways, like firing Francesco Guidolin four times from the helm of the Rosanero, but he might have finally struck gold with the appointment of Delio Rossi. The Sicilian side has been brilliant since Rossi took over and have won five of their last seven games. This spectacular run has seen the Aquile thrust into the European positions and they will now surely look for glory. Their recent form has seen them beat Milan and last week’s demolition of Fiorentina was the clearest signal of intent yet. Palermo have enough talent in their ranks in the shape of Fabrizio Miccoli, Edison Cavani, Abel Hernández and others to keep the heat on the top four. However CL qualification might just be a bridge too far but expect them to finish in sixth or seventh place.
There has been way too much written about Juventus in recent weeks so starting a discussion again would be unnecessary. It should suffice to say that with or without Ciro Ferrara the team needs to qualify for the Champions League. It would be a disaster of the highest order for the Bianconeri should they fail to qualify for the Champions League. Currently they are four points off the pace and if they continue to falter it may turn out to be a long drawn summer in Turin.
Cagliari are two points behind the Old Lady in seventh place. While stories of Inter’s never-say-die spirit make the headlines the Rossoblu are something of comeback-kings themselves. In recent weeks they have twice snatched a point in the closing stages in the games against Napoli and Roma. Alessandro Matri who equalled Gigi Riva’s record for scoring in seven consecutive games is a real weapon for the Sardinians who have outperformed all expectations. However, it might prove beyond them to challenge for the European spots especially alongside experienced sides. A top ten finish though looks to be on cards.
Genoa are level on points with Cagliari and they will be definitely looking to push for a place in Europe League if nothing else. The team has disappointed so far by its own standards and the huge investments made by Chairman Enrico Preziosi haven’t reaped adequate results. Their failure to perform against the big teams has been one of the prime reasons for their current plight. Yet there is hope for the team and the arrival of David Suazo from Inter gives Coach Gianpiero Gasperini another dimension to his attack. Though it is the defence which needs to be worked upon as Il Grifone have conceded 36 goals which is the second highest in the league. The team has a lot of work to do if they are to finish in the European positions however, an eighth place finish looks more likely at the moment.
Fiorentina find themselves in contrasting fortunes with regards to Europe. They have impressed everyone in this edition of the Champions League but on the domestic front they are having some difficulties. There are no specific problems for the Viola but they have failed to seize the initiative. The last two games were evidence of this as they lost to Bologna and Palermo in uncharacteristic fashion. There have been several new arrivals in Cesare Prandelli’s squad during the winter to increase the team’s chances of success in Europe. Prandelli must hope now that the team finds its feet in the league soon enough. The team is through to the semis of the Coppa Italia and should they win that competition they could still qualify for the Europa League. UCL qualification might just have slipped away already for the Florence side but they should make it to the Europa League.
Sampdoria have to be labeled as the true disappointment of the season. The team inspired confidence amongst all believers by the early season results which saw them at the top of the table and even beat champions Inter. The Blucerchiati have won only twice in their last twelve games and Sunday’s win over Udinese was their first win in eight games. The team is suddenly struggling for form and their talisman, Antonio Cassano, is also having a slump in form. It will incredibly difficult from here for them to make a charge at European qualification. They might have to wait another year for a crack at the continent.