As the season enters the final stretch, Football Italiano takes a look at the run-ins that matter. The title race, race for fourth spot and the relegation battle all throw up some intriguing battles in the final ten weeks of the season. Part two looks at the teams fighting it out at the bottom of the table.
Siena – 15th, 31 points
Target – Survival: Having finished no higher than 13th since their return to Italy’s top tier, Siena’s season is at a crucial point. Should Giampaolo’s charge string together a series of positive results then they could conceivably be looking at their most successful season to date…but should the Bianconeri falter they may well find themselves swallowed up into the relegation dogfight.
Fixtures: With just seven points separating Siena from the dreaded drop-zone, ‘relegation’ is a possibility that fans of the Florence-based outfit are increasingly having to entertain. Admittedly seven points looks comfortable enough, given the current form of the rest of the relegation candidates, but the more astute of the Bianconeri faithful may just be keeping one eye on the closing pack. Siena’s final ten fixtures look littered with potential pitfalls and no team, form or no form, fancy visiting the reigning champions nor hosting the mighty Juve so close to the business end of the season. Factor into this some tricky ties against the teams around them and all of a sudden that seven-point safety gap looks considerably smaller. Siena’s away form is certainly nothing special and it’s hard to see them cementing their Serie A status on the road. With tough trips to Bologna, Torino and Palermo it takes quite the leap of faith to see them coming away with many points and Giampaolo’s players will certainly not want to visit a Reggina side, who in all probability will have nothing to play for come the season’s finale, with their top-flight security still hanging in the balance.
Key Game: Fiorentina (a), March 22 – The key to Siena’s survival will probably lie in their ability to pick up points at home and their match against a rejuvenated Chievo is obviously a real crunch game. However no game means more to the fans than the Florence derby next week and any result there would stand them in good stead to overcome any relegation worries. By no means is it an easy task to take points from the Gigliati in front of their home fans, but a draw or better here and it is hard to see Siena going down.
Chances: In all honesty it is hard to envisage Siena throwing away their seven point safety cushion. Whilst this term’s campaign could certainly end with an easier run-in, the form of their relegation rivals will probably go further to ensuring their survival than anything Giampaolo’s men have to say themselves.
Chievo – 16th, 27 points
Target – Survival: Chievo showed their resolve to bounce straight back up to the top flight just a year after they were relegated in 2007 and have recently begun to show that the belief has not completely disappeared – whether they have the quality to snatch points from some of Serie A’s super-powers we will simply have to wait and see.
Fixtures: Chievo are undoubtedly the in-form side of the relegation sextet and, having taken 17 points from their previous ten games, are showing closer to European qualification form than relegation. That said, they do face a particularly hard final ten games, having to take on five of the top six. Sat just two places and three points clear of relegation and the ‘Flying Donkeys’, who are currently well worthy of the nickname, may well be left to rue results earlier in the season. Consistently yoyo-ing between the top two tiers of Italian football, the Ceo faithful will be far more buoyant about their team’s current form as opposed their league position, although the former looks likely to take a significant knock over the next month with ties against Milan and Juventus. That is not to say that nothing can be achieved from these games and it is integral that they keep this good run going even if the odd result goes against them. Unfortunately for Chievo there doesn’t seem to be a ‘gimme’ in their final ten matches so the home games against Palermo and Udinese look the easiest of their upcoming assignments and failure to take at least four points here could potentially make life very difficult.
Key Game: Bologna (h), May 24 – Whilst every game is of genuine importance in the relegation dogfight (make no mistake, Chievo may well find themselves in the thick of it in the next few weeks), the key clash will probably come when they host Bologna in the penultimate game of the season. The visitors are far from solid away from home but with this match potentially going a fair way to determining whose status is in jeopardy it is a game both teams will be desperate to win.
Chances: Chievo’s form will undoubtedly prove crucial in the last quarter of the season and if they can keep getting results in the manner they have been then there is no reason why they cannot avoid the drop. Di Carlo has galvanised the Verona outfit into a tough team to beat and their chances of survival will hinge on their ability to carry this into the big matches against the top teams – if they do it’s hard to see them going down.
Bologna – 17th, 26 points
Target – Survival: Bologna are finding life tougher than they remember on their re-appearance in Italy’s top-flight and despite winning six Italian titles in their 100-year history, Mihajlovic’s current crop of men find themselves at the wrong end of the table as the season turns into the home stretch.
Fixtures: Currently just two points clear of the drop zone, Bologna is well and truly in the thick of this year’s battle for survival. Averaging just a point per game for their last ten matches the Rossoblu will be hoping for an improvement on this as the season draws towards its end. Of this season’s genuine relegation candidates, the boys from Bologna have a relatively hassle-free run-in. In fact barring a difficult trip to Rome and a visit from this year’s surprise package Genoa, Bologna’s final ten games looks potentially quite attractive. They have yet to play a lot of the teams around them so each and every match is crucial, but look to have two bankers when they entertain the bottom two, Reggina and Lecce, at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. However, it might not be all plain sailing and with the likes of Torino and Chievo both yet to host the Rossoblu they are far from safe.
Key game: Torino (a), May 10 and Chievo (a), May 24 – Assuming Mihajlovic’s men can take six points from the bottom two, Bologna’s most important game may actually turn out to be two. The ties against il Toro and the Mussi Volanti are of the utmost importance and may well prove the deciding factors in Bologna’s quest for survival. Two points here would be an excellent result, especially as it simultaneously deprives their opponents of a much needed three, and with the on-loan Marco Di Vaio in superlative form, there seems no reason why this wouldn’t be possible.
Chances: It certainly isn’t shaping up to be an easy ride for the Rossoblu but the fixtures are favourable and survival is in their own hands. It is difficult to see them dropping too many points at home and if they can string together some positive results they should solidify their Serie A status for another season at least.
Torino – 18th, 24 points
Target – Survival: It is hard to imagine that not so very long ago, Torino was playing in the UEFA Cup final but in recent seasons the fourth most successful side in Italian history has not returned to the dizzy heights of Europe. With just ten games left i Granata has it all to do if they are to pull off a third consecutive escape from the clutches of Serie B.
Fixtures: Currently lying in 18th position, two points adrift of the coveted security of 17th, survival is not an unassailable task for the boys from Turin. Their home form, although nothing spectacular, is sturdy enough for a team aiming to beat the drop and the majority of sides yet to visit the Stadio Olimpico are undoubtedly beatable. With the likes of Sampdoria, Catania, Siena and Bologna heading the list of opponents still to play on home turd, Torino will need to convert these chances into points and given their home record this is achievable. However, to credit their away form with terms like ‘pitiful’ and ‘pathetic’ would be doing them a service is by no means due. Yet to win away from home all season and managing a grand total of a meagre six points from a possible 42, it isn’t hard to see why Torino are in something of a predicament. But with 30 points still to play for, il Toro are not condemned to the depths of the Italian second tier just yet. Given the opposition left to play away from the safety of their parent city, it is hard to envisage them significantly adding to their woeful away total and like Siena it seems that if the boys in maroon are to stay up then they will have to make every home game count.
Key Game: Bologna (h), May 10 – Unquestionably their biggest game of the season remaining will be when they play host to Bologna, who currently sit two points clear of i Granata. If ever there was any confusion concerning the term ‘six-pointer’ then this would probably be in the definition. This could well prove a deciding factor in the relegation dogfight and three points here, coupled with a few other decent results and Novellino’s boys might just get away with it again.
Chances: It takes a brave man to condemn them to Serie B just yet, especially with so many points still up for grabs but unfortunately Torino has left themselves a particularly stiff task this time around. That said they are developing something of a talent for survival and that experience may help them pull it off again.
Lecce – 19th, 23 points
Target – Survival: Having shown such courage and resilience to achieve promotion through the play-offs it looks as if Lecce will be returned to Serie B after just one season in the top flight for the third time in the club’s history.
Fixtures: Lecce’s fixture list does not make pleasant reading for supporters of the club, especially those that still believe that De Canio can steer the club to safety. Already three points adrift of 17th-placed Bologna their forthcoming clash with Atalanta could be crucial if they are to have any chance of lengthening their Serie A stay. Atalanta’s form away from home has been the scourge of their season to date and Lecce will need it to stay that way if they are to take all three points. Even so, three points here will probably not be enough as getting anything from away ties at Roma, Juventus, Milan and Genoa looks highly unlikely. Beating the visitors yet to the Stadio Via del Mare will not be an easy task either with the likes of Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Napoli still to test the Giallorossi in front of their home support but these ‘easier’ unfortunately look the only opportunities where Lecce might gain any points from their final ten games.
Key Game: Catania (h), April 26 – Although an all-to-often over-cited cliche, every game for Lecce until the end of the season is genuinely a cup final. Each and every point may prove crucial to their survival and whilst many of the relegation candidates can look to their home games for comfort, it is a luxury the Salentini simply do not have. The game that stands out as the do-or-die tie sees i Lupi take on Catania. Sandwiched between tricky away trips to Rome and Turin, Lecce simply must take a morale-boosting three points here to keep them in touch or they may simply fall to pieces ahead of two further crunch games against Napoli and Bologna.
Chances: As much as it would be great to be optimistic here, it will take a minor miracle to save Lecce from Serie B. Unless Torino or Bologna fold under pressure, De Canio should be hoping for authorities to uncover another match-fixing scandal if his team are to stand any realistic chance of maintaining their top-flight status.
Reggina – 20th, 20 points
Target – Survival: You would be hard-pressed to find a team with more experience of dodging relegation than Reggina and it seems that whatever adversities have been thrown in their direction in the past they have simply side-stepped and carried on fighting. However, despite the heroics of 2006/07 and the battling spirit of 2007/08 it looks likely to be third time unlucky as their Serie A bubble is on the brink of bursting.
Fixtures: Like the majority threatened by relegation this season, the fixture-gods could certainly have been kinder, and none will feel more aggrieved than Reggina as they prepare for a crucial game against league leaders Inter this weekend. Whilst most teams can simply write this one off and start again next week, Reggina, currently propping up the foot of the table, are running out of time. What’s more tricky away games against the likes of Atalanta, Sampdoria and Lazio merely add to list of Orlandi’s worries. Chained to the bottom of Serie A by a three point margin and six from safety, Reggina really are looking at divine intervention if they are to have any chance of survival. Home games provide the slightest glimmer of hope for fans of the Amaranto and if they manage to beat Udinese and Catania and take something from Genoa and Juventus then they might put themselves in with a sporting chance, although even this looks a long-shot given what Reggina has shown us so far this season.
Key Game: Bologna (a), May 3 – The magnitude of every fixture for Reggina cannot be stressed enough here but if they are to go to into the final game at home to Siena with even the tiniest squeak of survival then they must take maximum points from their match away at Bologna. Doubtless the Rossoblu will be thinking exactly the same and will make it very difficult for the visitors but unfortunately Reggina have simply run out of options and time.
Chances: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men struggled with Humpty Dumpty so it would be some feat for them to piece together the shrapnel of Reggina’s season. If I were Orlandi I’d already be considering next season’s promotion bid and way to keep what little quality the club has. In a nut-shell, no chance.