Monday April 21 2014
A Throng for Europe

A thrilling five-way fight for European football unfolded in Serie A over Easter weekend. Giancarlo Rinaldi reports on the closest conflict remaining in Italy’s top division.

The Old Lady has already got out the needle and thread to stitch another Scudetto on her famous little black-and-white number. And Roma and Napoli are digging out their satellite navigation systems to plot their paths through next season’s Champions League competition. But, after a hectic single-day schedule on Saturday, the fight for at least one European football berth looks harder to predict than which Serie A star will disgrace themselves on Twitter next.

Fiorentina’s Coppa Italia Final with Napoli looks likely to guarantee them one of Italy’s spots in the Europa League. And Inter, barring a calamity not even they can surely conspire to complete, should take another. However, five teams remain within a couple of points of sixth spot which will almost certainly carry the dubious boost of continental football in UEFA’s lesser competition.

Another late-season rush of form could yet see Milan compete in an event which the club has come to consider beneath itself in recent years. The Rossoneri swept aside Livorno with goals from Mario Balotelli - a personal best 14th for the League season - Adel Taarabt and Giampaolo Pazzini continuing their improbable revival. “The players are united and Clarence Seedorf helps us out a lot,” said Super Mario. “We are playing to win and try to at least get into the Europa League - but we will have to fight right to the end.”

Their city cousins, of course, could have a big say in their fate with a Derby della Madonnina still to play. However, La Beneamata was in benevolent mood at the weekend as Walter Mazzarri’s side shot down Parma - one of the Rossoneri’s key rivals for that European goal. They had Samir Handanovic to thank as he saved a penalty from Antonio Cassano which laid the foundations for goals from Rolando and Fredy Guarin to clinch the win. “It was an important save,” said the Inter keeper - who stops about one in three spot-kicks. “But don’t ask me what my secret is  because you know I don’t speak about these things.”

Nor is Luca Toni likely to divulge the reasons behind his incredible goalscoring Indian summer with Verona. He struck once more in a 2-1 away win over Atalanta which keeps Hellas in the hunt for that top six finish too. “Only one result could keep us hanging on in there and we did well to give it everything,” said Coach Andrea Mandorlini. “I’ve never spoken to the boys about the Europa League but they have the attitude and ability to get there.”

The final couple of rivals in the race - Torino and Lazio - served up a sumptuous 3-3 draw which probably satisfied neither side. “We’re a couple of points off sixth place and with three points for a win anything could happen,” said Biancocelesti boss Edy Reja. “We are still alive, but still a bit adrift.” His opposite number on the Granata bench, Giampiero Ventura, had similar thoughts. “If everyone else on 49 points says they’ve got a shot at Europe, then we’ve got a shot at it too.”

The relegation fight, too, looks to involve a quintet of sides - this time desperately trying to avoid three drop spots. Sassuolo dragged Chievo back into the mire thanks to a Domenico Berardi strike which gave them the three points. “Apart from the win, it was a while since I’d seen a good performance - a focused team, playing nice football,” admitted Eusebio Di Francesco. “We’ve got a tough run-in but we have to have faith right until the end.”

With Cagliari getting a precious win to see off Genoa, it looks like Livorno, Bologna and Catania are the other sides flirting with Serie B. The Sicilians looked doomed but a gutsy win over Sampdoria gave them a sliver of hope. “We are still alive,” insisted boss Maurizio Pellegrino. “The important thing is to play with determination and, as long as there are points still to play for, why give up hope?”

Up at the top end of the table, of course, Roma are continuing to dream of some sort of massive malfunction in Juve’s serene surge to the title. The two teams have one more meeting to come and Rudi Garcia’s side continued to do everything they could to keep up a little pressure on the Bianconeri with a relatively comfortable 1-0 win away to Fiorentina, with Radja Nainggolan getting the game’s only goal. “We’ll fight until the end,” insisted Adem Ljajic of the Giallorossi. “Juve might lose a match and then they’ve got to come to the Olimpico and then anything could happen.”

Few people really believe that is likely, however. Antonio Conte’s men gave another example on Saturday of why the chances of their engines blowing on the final lap look more improbable than a week going by without a rumour of Paul Pogba signing for someone else. The young Frenchman struck again to help see off a stubborn Bologna side and move the Turin giants one step closer to the title. “There are four games to go, we are really close to that third Scudetto in a row which we desperately want,” admitted Giorgio Chiellini. “We should thank Roma for keeping us on our toes and making it difficult for us.”

The capital club has done its best to make it a genuine duel for the title but, in the closing stages, they are surely too distant to land a knockout blow. The intensity and focus Juventus have shown all season seems unlikely to desert them in these final rounds. The only real question is where and when their title celebrations will begin.

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Have your say...
And again we witness the double standards of italian sporting justice.
Pogba punches Lazaros but neither Sky, Mediaset, nor the federal inspectors spotted this...
In a season that saw the Old Harlot being gifted 11 points (robberies vs. Chievo, Torino x2, Verona, Fiorentina and Parma) as well as a butcher like Chiellini breaking Bergessio's leg and kicking Mertens in the face and getting away with it.
on the 23rd April, 2014 at 1:20pm
About the discussion where Conte could go next season, well i think he could go to Man U. Let's not forget Barca, Atl. Madrid and Dortmund could be looking for new managers and i could see Conte at any of those clubs. Also Roma won't repeat this season next year, but i do see them fight for the title or second place, same goes for Juve and Napoli. I just hope Inter don't end up in Europe, Mazzarri is not taking Europa League seriously and that is disappointing.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 9:33pm
@Maldini's Heir

hahahaha moyes.

please anyone but him.

no, i think next season roma will find it harder and juve will shift more focus to ucl so i think the points total to win scudetto will be less.

i also believe napoli and fiorentina will pose a serious challenge and the milan clubs will start moving in an upward direction.

i just don't think we should get carried away with roma yet. also if juve can lose conte, am pretty sure roma can lose garcia in heartbeat if barca etc come calling.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 4:23pm
@Maldini's Heir

just to be clear, i know roma have enormous pressure from their fans to perform as roma have arguable more pressure from fans than juve due to the fact in turin their is a more relaxed atmosphere for players to live their lives whereas in rome the football is like a religion and the fans are crazy possessed.

But i meant this season they were not expected to perform like they have as last year they were pants. this made it easier for them as compared to juve.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 4:14pm
@ old lady not sure what you're wishing for. If juve do the same next season then serie a will suffer. Do you not think it will be difficult for juve to repeat their ridiculous form? Especially after a World Cup year and pirlo and Buffon one year older. Look at barca. You never know conte might end up going to Man U or PSG! You could replace him with moyes!
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 2:59pm
@Maldini's Heir

juve have been increasing their pts total last 3 yrs and are playing more European games as well every season. also they have more pressure to win and are expected to win. this is a lot more difficult than playing with no pressure or expectations.

roma are having a great season but next year will prove whether they really are the real deal. with European games in midweek and added expectations/pressure, lets see if they don't crumble!

juve have proven they have what it takes.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 12:21pm
@Maldini's Heir

"With Roma I hope they keep Garcia and if they produce a similar season next season they should win the Scudetto. There's no way Juve could produce the same next season."

ridiculous, laughable statement.

you believe that roma can reproduce a season like 2013/14 in 2014/15 yet don't think juve can despite winning 3 in a row and increasing their pts total for last 3 yrs?

roma have ucl football next year. factor that and i doubt roma will repeat the pace of this season.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 12:15pm
@ Daniel Giambrone completely agree. Inter will do further damage to Italy's co-efficient with Mazzarri. For me I'd like to see Fiorentina, Parma and Torino/Verona in the EL as they are the teams that deserve it this season. With Roma I hope they keep Garcia and if they produce a similar season next season they should win the Scudetto. There's no way Juve could produce the same next season.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 9:32am
another attacker. Will we manage to get Robinho and Mexes off our wage bill? What hope for Cristante and Saponara? Does Bonera really deserve to be at the club for 10 years? I think we should look at this season as being not a total disaster (we weren't relegated) and Seedorf having shown himself to be reasonably competent (although I predict big defeats coming against Roma and Inter) but can we build? Head in the right direction? Make necessary structural changes? Doubt it.
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 9:28am
If Milan do qualify for the EL it will cover up the cracks. Galliani will pat himself on the back and say job done. The squad went from 3rd to 7th/6th/5th? and some of the players in the squad are just so wrong its embarrassing but hey. Taarabt looks like a good gamble and he's quite effective when he's not doing a million step overs. This should not encourage more gambles this summer. We're linked with lots more freebies. I'm sure we need to sign a few free GKs and CBs so we can throw money at
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 9:24am
Europe will be tough for Italian team for years to come. Let us just hope that whatever teams do make it into the EL, they take it seriously, perform well and boost the UEFA coefficient somewhat. Then if Italy does better tan Germany in June, there might be a silver lining somewhere... Fiorentina, Inter and Milan wold prob be the best for the sport, as I cannot see Torino, Verona or Parma do as well in Europe as even these ilano teams...
on the 22nd April, 2014 at 7:39am
Another juve win. Can't believe with 90pts already this title isn't wrapped up. Roma you need to chill. Lol

Question now is, can juve break the points record. Very likely. 100pts?
Well we'll need a point in Rome which isn't easy and if we are in the Europa lg final then juve will have much more focus on that game.

So 97 pts will be broken but not 100. I think juve will end up with 99(hope I'm wrong)
But would rather get the double tbh.

Forza juve. European trophy here we come!
on the 21st April, 2014 at 11:03am
I really hope that Inter do not qualify for the EL. Not because I dislike the club, but because Mazzarri doesn't care about the competition. If Inter do make it, then I hope that Thohir will make it clear to WM that he must respect the EL. It is a real pity for Roma, any other season they would be worthy winners of the Scudetto. Credit to Juve though, they have been a machine.
on the 21st April, 2014 at 9:34am

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