“We are fighting for third place and now have to keep pushing all the way. We cannot give up.” – Edinson Cavani
With just ten games remaining this season, the race for third and ultimately a place in next season’s Champions League is becoming a fascinating battle. To borrow a well-coined football phrase, we’re now entering the business end of the season, with four sides harbouring realistic hopes of securing that all-important third place come May 13.
Following the 2-2 draw at the Stadio Friuli on Sunday night, both Napoli and Udinese remain a solitary point behind Lazio, while Roma, who despite losing the ‘Derby della Capitale’ on both occasions this season, are just four points behind their bitter city rivals. Assuming a struggling Inter fail to produce a miraculous turn-around, and an impressive Catania side fall short of exceeding all expectations, the four aforementioned clubs have a mini-league of their own to contend.
Serie A Table
Having sparkled in Europe this season, earning plaudits from Italy and beyond for their run in the Champions League which saw them qualify from the so-called ‘Group of Death’ and go-out valiantly against Chelsea last week, Napoli are arguably best placed for a seat at Europe’s top table again next season. While Walter Mazzarri will look to address their defensive shortcomings this summer, rivals Udinese fell at the first hurdle in qualifying to Arsenal, and Lazio’s Europa League adventure was ended by Atletico Madrid in emphatic fashion. The Giallorossi have impressed in parts this season, yet there is a sense that at this stage there is more potential than consistency and a Champions League campaign may be too soon for Luis Enrique.
From an impartial perspective, the late comeback at Udinese was a prime example as to why it would be beneficial to Serie A and Italian football in general for the Partenopei to return to Europe’s premier competition and why Udinese should not. Despite their admirable philosophies, ideologies and ability to run the club so well, the Zebrette’s frailties and limitations were on show for all to see. The absence of the integral duo of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Christian Maggio may have been felt throughout the first-half, yet Napoli were able to storm back in large part thanks to another world-class ace they possess, who alone deserves another crack at the Champions League. Francesco Guidolin’s side have the best defensive record out of the four sides, yet question marks remain over their ability at the other end of the pitch. Udinese have scored 39 goals so far this season, with their talismanic captain Antonio Di Natale accounting for 19 of them. While it is highly impressive that the two-time Capocannoniere could make it three in succession, the 34-year-old can’t be expected to consistently fire his club to success both domestically and on the European stage over the course of a gruelling season.
Having come so close last season, Edy Reja has guided Lazio back toward the top end of the table, yet their inconsistency prevents them from being the preferred Italian representative at next season’s Champions League. Admittedly, injury crises’ haven’t helped, yet taking into consideration defeats to the likes of Siena, Bologna and most recently Catania, coupled with dropped points at home against Chievo and Palermo, they also have the worst defensive record of the four sides. Miroslav Klose and Hernanes aside, some would question whether their squad as a whole has both the talent and experience of making any real impression against Europe’s elite sides. Mazzarri’s men have encountered numerous draws of their own against inferior sides, yet individually they arguable hold more quality across their starting XI.
|Cagliari (H)||Catania (H)||Palermo (A)||Milan (A)|
|Parma (A)||Juventus (A)||Siena (A)||Novara (H)|
|Napoli (H)||Lazio (A)||Parma (H)||Lecce (A)|
|Juventus (A)||Atalanta (H)||Roma (A)||Udinese (H)|
|Novara (A)||Lecce (A)||Inter (H)||Fiorentina (H)|
|Lecce (H)||Novara (H)||Chievo (A)||Juventus (A)|
|Udinese (A)||Roma (A)||Lazio (H)||Napoli (H)|
|Siena (H)||Palermo (H)||Cesena (A)||Chievo (A)|
|Atalanta (A)||Bologna (A)||Genoa (H)||Catania (H)|
|Inter (H)||Siena (H)||Catania (A)||Cesena (A)|
The remaining fixtures suggest the controversy and drama is far from over, with games against fellow third-place rivals intertwined with those against title-chasers and relegation strugglers. With trips to Turin, and Rome to face both Lazio and Roma, perhaps Napoli face the toughest task. Yet with Walter Mazzarri on the sidelines, and his ‘three tenors’ producing their magic up front, it is not beyond them to mesmerize Europe once more should they achieve their ambition of finishing third. Lazio, Udinese and Roma all hold the same ambition and all believe they can achieve it, thus creating what is sure to be an enthralling end to the season.