Serie A: The locks, contenders and pretenders for the top four
Unfortunately, the chase for the Scudetto is all but over in early March. If there were any chance that Napoli would shock the world and catch Juventus, that was pretty much put to bed yesterday after the Bianconeri's 2-1 victory against Napoli. This doesn't mean that Serie A is boring and can be brushed aside, as the battle for a top four finish is really kicking into high gear. In this article we'll take a look at the almost certain, the contenders and the pretenders for the top four. Here are the categories below:
1. The "it would take a collapse of epic proportions for this team not to be in the Champions League next season"
Juventus - Not even going to waste time going through this. If Juventus didn't qualify for the Champions League it would be the biggest collapse in sports history. They currently have a 28 point lead over 5th place Roma with 12 matches left. Yawn.
2. The "almost, but not quite clinched yet"
Napoli - Napoli currently have a 12 point lead over 5th place Roma. It would also be a huge collapse on their part to not finish in the top four. The team has been consistent over the past two seasons and has expert manager Carlo Ancelotti leading them, so there is no need for fans to be worried about the partenopei.
3. The contenders (this is where it gets fun!)
Milan - The Rossoneri surprisingly leapfrogged their city rivals, Inter, into 3rd place over the weekend after a slim 1-0 victory against Sassuolo. Consistency has been an issue for Milan over the past two seasons, as they have had great runs like this before but have followed them up with poor runs. They do have a few things going for them, however, such as an improved lineup and depth. With the returns from injury of Lucas Biglia, Mattia Caldara and Andrea Conti, Milan will have backup in the event that one of their starters falls to injury or sees a dip in form. This is a luxury they did not have for the past few years. Also going in their favor? They only have three matches remaining against the current top six: Inter, @Juventus and home to Lazio. They also finish their season with games against Frosinone and @Spal. The Rossoneri are poised to hear the Champions League anthem again.
Inter - It wouldn't be a Serie A season without "Pazza Inter," and boy have they delivered. The blue and black side of Milan has had plenty of drama this season between the Nainggolan video, Perisic wanting to leave and now the Mauro Icardi sage. Despite the former captain not playing, Inter was has had mixed results without the Argentine, and the lost to Cagliari this past weekend has thrown them back into the race for the top four. The positives? Inter probably has the most talented roster on paper of the contenders on this list, and at their best they were battling with Napoli for 2nd place. The negatives? It looks like they'll have to do this without Icardi, at least for now, and they have the toughest schedule remaining as they still have to play five of the current top six: Milan, Lazio, Roma, Juventus and @Napoli. The good news is four of the five matches will be at the San Siro.
Roma - The capital city club is coming off of a 3-0 thrashing to rivals Lazio, and they have also enjoyed a hectic season like Inter. Despite positives like the emergence of Nicolo Zaniolo and another solid Champions League campaign (so far), they have also had many turbulent moments. The biggest? The 7-1 embarrassment to Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia. The positives for Roma? They also have a talented roster and the experience of fighting for (and achieving) a top four spot over the past years. They also have a decent schedule as they play three of the top six in the remaining twelve matches: Napoli, @Inter and Juve. The negatives? Questions around coach Di Francesco and sporting director Monchi might create a bit of uneasiness around the players. They also have major defensive issues which ultimately could be their downfall.
Lazio - Over the past few weeks, people have quietly ignored Lazio and their quest for a top four finish. The other side of the capital will be hungry for a Champions League birth after giving away a spot over the final two weeks of last season. They also have a game in hand which if won right now, would bring them on level footing with Roma for 5th place. They also have the easiest schedule on paper as they only have to play two of the top six, although they are both away games at Inter and at Milan. The positives? Consistent results should see them finish in the top four due to their schedule. The negatives? Consistency has been an issue for them.
4. The pretenders (my personal favorite part)
Torino - Torino has quietly emerged with a chance to finish in the top four. This past weekend they had a big win against Chievo in which start striker Andrea Belotti returned to the scorers sheet. They currently sit six points outside of the top four. The positives? Torino can play without any pressure because no one actually expects them to make the Champions League. They also have a decent schedule as they only have matches against three of the top six remaining: Milan, @Juventus and Lazio. The negatives? it will be tough for them to compete with the talent and depth that the contenders possess and they will need a lot of things to go their way.
Atalanta - The darlings of Italian football and the current giant killers. The team knocked Juventus out of the Coppa Italia, the first team to do so in five years, and it would be a great story if they can make the Champions League. Their return to Europe when they qualified for the Europa League was very special for the supporters, so one could only imagine what it would be like for them to play in Europe's premier competition. They have a little bit of a tougher schedule as they still have four dates remaining away to top six sides: @Inter, @Napoli, @Lazio and @Juventus. They also are still alive in the Coppa Italia, so something tells me they'll focus on trying to win that competition.