Nobody remembers who finishes second but, perhaps, this season they should. There is every chance Roma will end their campaign with more than 90 points. It won’t stop Juventus being crowned champions, of course, but it has at least helped to bring the very best out of the Bianconeri.
If you needed a sign of how the Giallorossi have emerged as genuine rivals to the Turin giants this season, you only need to look at the constant sniping between the two teams’ managers. They were at it again this week with Rudi Garcia urging all Juve’s opponents to give their best in the last few rounds of the season. Antonio Conte responded in kind, saying he doubted any team in Italy needed his Roma counterpart’s encouragement as an incentive to topple La Vecchia Signora.
These verbal skirmishes show just how quickly the capital club has risen this year. They despatched Milan with ease on Friday night with a delightful, snaking run by Miralem Pjanic helping them to break the deadlock. Gervinho clinched the win with a goal which should probably have been ruled out for offside. In truth, the Rossoneri rarely produced enough to trouble a team which looked significantly superior in all departments.
Despite their class, however, the side from the Stadio Olimpico will, ultimately, have to bow down before the team from Turin. Conte’s men face Sassuolo on Monday and, assuming they do what they always do to bottom half of the table teams and come away with three points, can clinch the title next weekend. It would make the clash between Roma and Juve in the following round of games a bit of an anti-climactic dead rubber. Don’t doubt, however, that we can look forward to a few more tasty tussles between the two teams when next season rolls around.
Saturday evening saw some of Italy’s European contenders in action with Fiorentina tightening their grip on fourth place with a 3-0 triumph in Bologna. Juan Cuadrado was the star of the show with a couple of goals and a typical tour de force performance. How the Viola will miss him on Saturday when he is suspended for the Coppa Italia Final.
That is good news, of course, for their opponents, Napoli, who played out a 0-0 draw with Inter. Both sides had their chances to win but neither could quite grab the three points. It meant the Partenopei have all but guaranteed third place and also ensured the Nerazzurri have almost assured European football with a five-point cushion over the five-way fight for sixth place.
Torino moved into that slot on Sunday with a 2-0 triumph over demotivated Udinese. Ciro Immobile struck the second to ensure he stays top of the goalscoring charts and further enhance his World Cup participation prospects. Boss Giampiero Ventura seemed pleased as punch to have finally given Granata fans back a team to be proud of.
There is equal delight in Verona where Hellas have got over their mid-season crisis to return to their role as genuine Europa League contenders. They brushed aside all-but-dead Catania 4-0 with the only matter for debate being how many goals Luca Toni should be credited with. He struck twice but one bounced off the visiting ‘keeper prompting its attribution as an own goal. It would have been his 20th of an amazing season and his club has already started the campaign to ensure it is credited to him.
Also in the hunt for continental football are Lazio who kept Livorno down in the drop zone with a 2-0 victory. The Biancocelesti are about the only team in Italy to have enjoyed an authentic resurgence since they changed their Coach. All credit to Edy Reja if he delivers a place in Italy’s top six when the season comes to a conclusion.
Parma were many people’s favourites for that spot but Roberto Donadoni suffered a setback on Sunday as his team went down to a 1-0 defeat against a stuffy Cagliari side. The points guaranteed that the islanders will be part of the Serie A landscape next season. They deserve recognition for staying afloat once more in what have often been trying circumstances, particularly with the puzzles over where they will be allowed to play their home games every week.
Also safely in the survival pack are Sampdoria after a come-from-behind win with 10 men over Chievo Verona which leaves them to sweat. They did not know it at the time, but the Blucerchiati’s victory was a fitting tribute to Scudetto-winning Coach Vujadin Boskov who passed away at the weekend. Sinisa Mihajlovic has done admirable work in steering the Doriani to safety.
Finally, the weekend’s least influential fixture was probably on Sunday night when Atalanta and Genoa clashed with their Serie A survival already secured but no chance of Europe. It will surprise nobody who has followed Italian football for any length of time that it ended in a draw. Expect a few more of them between midtable teams before the season is over.