The history of Italy has often been linked to Northern powers and the Papal States. Often in the tussle lies a smaller yet politically-relevant state. While we're not at a time when Sforza’s Borgias vie for power, the struggle for being one of the biggest names in Europe continues. This week in Serie A, the apparent protagonists for Europe’s elite club competition have done their duty, disappointed, imploded and - in one case - fought above their station. Now, as the final week approach, the true character of each will be tested.
Unlike the era of Sforza, Milan now has two openly-warring factions. The Nerazzurri have long been thought to be the third-best team in Italy, but in 2019 this hasn’t seemed the case. The Icardi debacle, a continuous inability to find goals and a general lack of creativity are just some of the issues. The continual failure to dictate the pace of games has voided so much of their good work, too.
The 4-1 capitulation to Napoli in Week 37 was a performance that asked questions of the team’s mentality and, in turn, Luciano Spalletti. With all the Italian papers exercising their right to promote Antonio Conte as his heir apparent, the pressure is on. Add to this the fact that their next opponents Empoli thrashed European hopefuls Torino 4-1, therefore moving closer to safety, and the plot certainly thickens. This could be the game that everyone tunes into on the final day.
Milan, meanwhile, seem to be trying to make Inter look normal this season. Gennaro Gattuso is also a man under the cosh as they (as a business model) rely heavily on Champions League qualification. The former Italy midfielder built up credit but is now duly losing it and it’s unlikely he will remain at the helm next term.
Their 2-0 win against Frosinone was expected, albeit a struggle, yet it still leaves them a point behind Inter and Atalanta. The Rossoneri face SPAL away on the last day and are perhaps favourites to get into Europe’s biggest competition. The drawback for Milan fans, however, would be that Gattuso keeps his job.
If Inter are crazy and Milan are simply negligent then Roma self-harm. In sixth place and three points off fourth, they are relying on head-to-head and will have to beat Parma at home by four clear goals and hope for the best. Parma, in truth, have been average at best recently, but how can the Giallorossi talk? Last time out they managed a tepid draw with Sassuolo and, in reality, finished any chances they had of a Champions League finish. With Claudio Ranieri on his way out and club captain Daniele De Rossi being ousted, the mob are ready to vent their fury.
Atalanta were perhaps most people’s favourites to qualify for the Champions League as they play good football, have a passionate fan base, are a surprise packagge and have been genuinely impressive.
Many thought they would've folded after their Coppa Italia defeat to Lazio, yet they managed a vital point against champions Juventus in the last round. The team from Bergamo have been the talk of the season and will have their fate in their own hands when they take on Sassuolo.
History teaches us that trends and patterns always emerge. Going into the final day, the Romans are making a heroic last dash and the Dea could yet write themselves a fairy-tale. Don’t discredit the Milanese, however. Even though Inter and Milan have both had uninspiring campaigns, they may end up representing Italy on the biggest of stages.
Ask yourself this. Even though this isn’t romantic, isn’t it better for Italian football if they do? Wouldn’t this offer Serie A more longevity in Europe?