Napoli’s last gasp win against Chievo may have kept alive the closet title race in the major European leagues, but it also drew attention to something else. Whilst the Partenopei and Juventus tussle for supremacy at the top of the table, the battle to merely stay in Serie A is a tight as ever.
Only five points separate Sassuolo in 14th place and Hellas Verona in 19th and with only seven games to go, there could be many twists and turns left. Benevento sit rock bottom with 13 points and can be considered gone, whilst Udinese (13th) and Genoa (12th) are not safe, but look just far enough ahead.
Sassuolo’s draw against Milan continued a good run that is seeing them climb up the table after a dismal period of despair. Undefeated since February 25 by Lazio, they have gone on a run of four draws (Milan and Napoli are included in this) and one victory. Looking forward, they have still to play teams around them including Benevento, Hellas and Crotone and will be on a mission to be safe before facing Sampdoria, Inter and Roma in the last three weeks.
Whilst Sassuolo are on their way up, Chievo are certainly on their way down the table and have lost 13, drawn three and won just twice in the last 17 games. The Flying Donkeys usually seem to have a blueprint of staying in the division while doing the bare minimum, but this time it seems they may be cutting it fine. Don’t be fooled by them however, as, even with Coach Rolando Maran looking like he may get the sack, the Veronese are perennial survivors when it comes to relegation battles.
Cagliari are on a miserable run of form losing 10 of their last 18, but it’s the opponents they lost to that may well hurt the most. In Serie A, if two sides are level on points, their status is decided by head-to-head record rather than goal difference. If it’s three or more teams on the same number of points, a mini-league is created from their head-to-head confrontations. Over the last couple of months, Cagliari have lost to Chievo, Genoa and Verona, while drawing with Sassuolo and Crotone. The only fellow battlers they managed to beat were SPAL and Benevento.
Diego Lopez is struggling to get his defence in order and they are developing a habit of losing games where they should perhaps have drawn. They must get points against Udinese next time out or they could fall even deeper into the mire, especially when they still have to play Inter, Roma, Atalanta, Sampdoria and resurgent Fiorentina.
One team that has no problems in drawing games is SPAL. They have the league’s joint highest number of stalemates with 12. The problem is that they cannot turn these into victories, but at least they are in form. After a poor run which saw them lose five and draw three, they stepped up with a win against fellow strugglers Crotone. Since then they have been difficult to beat and were victorious against Bologna next time out before drawing four times in a row, including credible results against Atalanta and Juventus. With Chievo, Hellas and Benevento still to play, last term’s Serie B winners SPAL are a team looking like they may survive after all.
Whilst SPAL are finding rhythm, it is apparent that Crotone have two left feet. Inconsistent at best, they must be a frustration to their fans who will know their team can perform, but often don’t. One week they are making light work of Sampdoria, beating them 4-1 and the next they are losing to Benevento. The writing may be on the wall for them, as even though they have the same points as SPAL (27) they don’t seem to have the consistency to clamber out of the bottom three. They may have three of the relegation candidates to play, and those clashes could be decisive, but the Calabrese will also have to take on Juventus, Lazio and Napoli.
Finally, there is Hellas, the enigma. They sit second from bottom with 25 points, only three away from safety. They have the second worst goal difference in the league and are completely unpredictable. In their last 15 games they have lost 10 and won five with the wins coming against credible opposition: Milan, Fiorentina and Torino all fell before Chievo and Cagliari followed. In their last seven games, they face opposition in the bottom half of the table, while Milan and Juventus provide sturdier tests. If they can continue to pick up two or three victories in this time, they may just get lucky, if other teams go into free fall.
The battle for survival has many twists and turns to go, but Sassuolo and SPAL’s form may see them continue to climb. The unpredictability of the other teams means that this end to the Serie A season may be one of the most entertaining in years.