The closer we get to the end of the season, the more hidden dangers lurk in every fixture. It’s no coincidence that SPAL tripped Juventus up and re-opened the Scudetto race, because they’re precisely the type of team that can will continue to cause upsets.
I have said before that Serie A is too big at 20 sides and needs to be reduced to 18 or, ideally, the 16 I used to watch in my youth. The mid-table malaise is too vast and clubs like Sampdoria, Udinese or Torino get to rest on their laurels far too early. Once Europe is out of reach, or considered too much of an inconvenience to really push for, and safety is secure, they’ve got the flip-flops on in March and are just waiting for their summer vacation.
Unexpected results always pop up in the final weeks of a Serie A campaign and this will be no different. Aside from Benevento, whose ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory is truly unmatched, it’s wide open in the battle to avoid relegation. They all saw Crotone’s comeback last season and know it can be done, especially with so many unmotivated middlers floating around.
SPAL stalling the Juventus run of 12 consecutive Serie A victories was no fluke. Leonardo Semplici’s men have always been more courageous than most newly-promoted clubs and were unfortunate not to have better results throughout the season. They more than earned their point at the Stadio Mazza and the crowd in Ferrara were sensational, precisely the kind we want to see in the top flight. It ended 0-0, but no buses were parked. The teams simply matched each other blow for blow and Juve found an opponent even more motivated than them.
Napoli would’ve befallen the same fate had it not been for Raul Albiol’s first Serie A goal in two years. Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne hit the woodwork at the San Paolo, but Genoa gave them more than a few scares at the back too. In recent weeks, the Grifone have been a real problem for strong opposition, beating Lazio and Inter, taken down with the last kick of the game by Milan. Davide Ballardini has transformed the team and they are not entirely safe from the drop yet.
Milan had to fight tooth and nail for their victory against a Chievo side in crisis, while Bologna ended a run of five consecutive away defeats by forcing Lazio out of the top four. Sassuolo visibly wanted it more than Udinese at the Dacia Arena, earning their three points and sending the Friulani to a fifth straight defeat. Massimo Oddo acknowledged the problem with the Friulani, which is that the moment they felt safe from relegation and too far away from Europe, they plateaued. No motivation, no results.
Roma earned a 2-0 victory at Crotone, but it was far from easy going, especially with a rotated squad. Only Atalanta ran riot with Verona because Josip Ilicic was having one of his good days. When he has those, he’s devastating. They are rare, which is why the Slovenian is playing for Atalanta and not Real Madrid, but fascinating when they do come around.
With all this in mind, we have to look at the run-in for the Scudetto and read it in the context of the final rounds. On paper, it might seem simple enough that Napoli will play Sassuolo, Chievo, Milan and Udinese in the build-up to the showdown with Juventus. However – aside from the Friulani – these are all teams with something to play for and will be desperate for every scrap of a point.
In the same period, Juventus are up against Milan, Benevento, Sampdoria and Crotone. Even if the Bianconeri march through all those games, plus the Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid and the Coppa Italia Final with Milan on May 9, the last two rounds could yet be decisive.
Here is where the fixture list gets interesting. Napoli close out with a trip to Sampdoria and host potentially-desperate Crotone, who let’s not forget looked doomed to the drop until the last round of the 2016-17 campaign. Juventus must visit Roma in the thick of the hunt for a top four finish and then host Hellas Verona, who may or may not already be relegated by then.
Not only is the Scudetto race far from over, I wouldn’t call it even after the head-to-head in Turin. There are more SPAL-style slip-ups along the way for both contenders.