Juventus (53 pts), Napoli (44 pts) and Inter (39 pts) look to be in control of three of Serie A’s four Champions League spots midway through the season. Though Lazio currently occupy fourth, there are nearly half a dozen clubs jockeying with them for a coveted UCL berth – some more formidable and better equipped than others to unseat the Biancocelesti. With all this being said, which clubs in contention should attempt to stay in the hunt through an aggressive January transfer approach, and which should stand pat?
A current look at the league table shows Milan, Roma and Sampdoria all within three points or less of Lazio, while Atalanta, Torino and Fiorentina linger not too far behind.
As injuries piled up in the earlier phases of the season, the January window became a pivotal checkpoint for Coach Gennaro Gattuso and his Milan. The Rossoneri set their sights on the market to fill several voids in the midfield and attack, yet the arrival of young Brazilian starlet Lucas Paquetá could wind up being the biggest move as the club understands where they stand with Financial Fair Play. Without question, the red and black braintrust are keen on an being active this month in order to better position themselves for a second-half surge. But for the long-term, directors Leonardo, Paolo Maldini and Ivan Gazidis must not succumb to risky business dealings if the goal is to establish longevity and a healthy project.
Shifting gears towards the Giallorossi and Samp for a moment, it is difficult to project how the two will go about business at this point. Roma’s sporting director Monchi conducted a very active summer, ushering in a plethora of fresh faces after the sale of Alisson Becker. Samp typically seeks value more than anything else, and Manolo Gabbiadini’s return to Marassi as a career refresh after a difficult spell with Southampton could be the extent of their market. For Eusebio Di Francesco’s squad, issues with consistency persisted throughout the entire first half of the campaign, which in itself is largely to blame for their drop outside of the top four. The two sides surely could find ways to improve this month, but breaking the bank likely isn’t on the cards.
Directing our attention towards the second trio of Italian hopefuls, director Pantaleo Corvino has acted swiftly this window, bolstering Stefano Pioli’s offensively deficient roster with Luis Muriel to serve both as competition for Giovani Simeone and raise the production levels up front. Provided Pedro Obiang’s signature from West Ham to reinforce the midfield is secured, it is likely the Viola will close shop on their market – at least on the acquisition side of business.
As for Atalanta and Torino, who are four and five points adrift of Lazio, it could be lively this month, given how wide open the race is at the moment. Yet, for Toro boss Walter Mazzarri, ensuring the current shape of his defensive line should be priority number one, as Arsenal and Sevilla circle for Cameroonian defender Nicolas Nkoulou, while the Turin-based outfit ramp up their efforts to make Chelsea loanee Ola Aina’s move permanent.
For the Orobici, whose fourth place finish in 2016-17 flew under the radar, there are intentions to better equip Gian Piero Gasperini’s roster to chase a dream UCL berth. But more likely than not, the Bergamo side will have to get creative in how they go about bolstering for a run. Atalanta’s interest in Adrien Tameze (OGC Nice) and Gregoire Defrel (Sampdoria) may not be acted upon without offloading a piece to fund said moves.
Based on how open the race for Europe is, this entire field of clubs must think hard about whether or not the status quo makes sense. It goes without saying; Milan and Roma certainly should do all they can for a UCL berth. But as for the others on the outside looking in who perhaps have to be more calculated in their approach towards the market, the idea to go for Europe may come down to one question: if not now, when?