Five teams face a nervy final month of the season. Luca Cetta assesses the Serie A relegation battle.
Things are getting desperate. Only four matches remain and the fate of five clubs remains uncertain, with Palermo – along with two more from Serie B – waiting in the wings. From Catania through to Chievo, the calculators are out and nerves jangling. Coaches have come and gone – and come again – and the battle is such that the mythical 40-point mark won’t be reached, not that it will matter to the lucky ones.
Catania, 23 points, snapped a six-game losing streak with victory against Sampdoria. It was just the jolt they needed. Now five points from safety, Coach Maurizio Pellegrino – who replaced Rolando Maran – is resolute. For him, relegation will be a failure: “We are still alive. The important thing is to play with determination and, as long as there are points still to play for, why give up hope?”
The Week 37 meeting with Bologna will be pencilled in as the proverbial relegation six-pointer, but before that are Verona and Roma. Having top scorer Gonzalo Bergessio back on the scoresheet is a boost for the Sicilians, but they must improve their away form – all five wins have come at home.
Two points better off, Livorno are hoping the return of Davide Nicola will spark them into life. A 3-0 loss at Milan signalled the end for Domenico Di Carlo, who had remained hopeful of leading the Amaranti from danger. Yet their third successive loss and a difficult finale saw the Tuscan club swing the axe.
Nicola – ‘motivated and rested’ – led Livorno to Serie B promotion, but he faces a wholly different proposition this season. Lazio, Fiorentina and Parma remain on the fixture list. The fight shown against Inter, a 2-2 draw, looks a lifetime ago and they must keep out that trio of European contenders with Serie A’s leakiest defence - 67 conceded.
Locked on 28 points, Sassuolo and Bologna are on the fringes of safety. The Neroverdi are currently safe by virtue of their better head-to-head record. Davide Ballardini saw encouragement in Bologna’s 1-0 loss at Juventus, but now they need points. The Coach says he is only concerned with Rossoblu results: “We have to focus on ourselves. Bologna must do their duty and the rest is of no interest to us.”
Prior to Catania are Vincenzo Montella’s Viola and Genoa, before the Felsinei finish against Lazio. They have proven difficult to beat, losing the least amount of games of any in the dogfight. Yet having netted just 27 times, it is evident Bologna are missing Alessandro Diamanti – who remains joint top scorer despite departing in February.
Sunday’s crucial win at Chievo gives Sassuolo a boost heading into what is a difficult run home. The worst of all five teams, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Juventus are next, before facing Fiorentina, Genoa and Milan. Eusebio Di Francesco, doing well since his reinstatement, knew Chievo was key and was happy to get the win: “Apart from the win, it was a while since I’d seen a good performance – a focused team, playing nice football. We’ve got a tough run-in but we have to have faith right until the end.”
It would be some feat for tiny Sassuolo to survive, but with seven points from three matches they may be peaking at the right moment. Goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo gives them a 50 per cent chance to survive.
Chievo, currently 16th, are on course to confirm their Serie A status. On 30 points, the club which in theory should have no hope of competing in the top flight year after year, can prolong its stay. The loss against Sassuolo does complicate matters, but destiny remains in their hands. “We are already concentrated on Sampdoria,” Eugenio Corini claimed after the defeat. “It’s going to be tough, but we’ll get through this.”
The Blucerchiati and Cagliari have little to play for, but they also face Torino and Inter in the final stretch. The Flying Donkeys can rely on solid home form and the best defence of the quintet, which may prove pivotal. Should top scorer Alberto Paloschi’s mid-week injury be serious it would hamper their chances.
Four games left, five teams scraping for survival. Wins are paramount. Determined players needed. Who will be dragged into the cadetti? Stay tuned for a grand finale.
As it stands…