As we head into the final three weeks of the Serie A season, the race for the final two UEFA Champions League positions has begun to heat up.
Currently, Inter occupy third, a point clear of the fourth-placed, fast-finishing Atalanta outfit who have amazed this season. Just below the Bergamo side are Milan, who are three points behind and are desperate for a return among Europe’s elite, with Roma joining them on the same points tally. Torino – who have flown significantly under the radar – are two points behind the Italian giants, while Lazio are hanging on to their slender hopes of a top-four finish another two points behind Il Grifone and seven behind fourth.
So how will the race for the top four finish up? Let’s take a look.
The most inconsistent of the bunch and the team in best position to take home one of the spots.
It has been a strange campaign for Inter which has been overshadowed by the Mauro Icardi saga for the majority of the second half of the season. The Argentine’s return has coincided with six games without a loss, but only two of them correlating to victories, which keeps them in a precarious position heading into the final three games. The run home is favourable with home clashes against already relegated Chievo and fellow relegation strugglers Empoli wedged either side of a crucial away trip to Napoli. However, the final game against Empoli is shaping up as a massive banana skin game if the away side are battling to stay up.
Henceforth, I believe they will just scrape in with those two wins at home being enough to secure a Champions League birth.
Run home: Chievo (H) W, Napoli (A) L, Empoli (H) W
Predicted total: 69 points (6 points)
A side which have been almost unbeatable as of late are looking to achieve another bit of history with a spot inside the top four.
Atalanta have not lost since February 24 against Torino, and have taken major scalps over Lazio and Napoli during this spell, along with booking themselves a place in the Coppa Italia final. Their mesmerising attack has been a joy to watch this season but have been suspect in defence, as teams have found a way to carve up their defensive setup with swift counter-attacks. Their last three games are favourable, but having their Coppa Italia final wedged in between games against Genoa and Juventus may come back to bite the Nerrazzurri.
With their game against Juventus being the Bianconeri’s final home game and their trophy unveiling, I could see Atalanta dropping points. A heavily taxing lead-up could come back to bite them.
Run home: Genoa (H) W, Juventus (A) L, Sassuolo (H) W
Predicted total: 68 points (6 points)
One of the hardest teams to get a gauge on after a turbulent season.
Heading into the final three games with arguably the easiest run, a much-needed home victory against Bologna has put Milan in a great position to peg back a top four position. A single Atalanta loss and a Milan victory puts them into pole position due to their superior head-to-head record. Their next three games are all against teams who are in the bottom half of the table and are all expected wins for the Rossoneri. However, their stuttering away form could cost them, especially against an impressive SPAL outfit who have had some decent scalps over the past month.
Regardless of qualification, the writing is on the wall for Gennaro Gattuso, who looks set to depart at the conclusion of the campaign as Milan look to take the next step in their return to Europe’s elite.
Run home: Fiorentina (A) W, Frosinone (H) W, SPAL (A) W
Predicted total: 68 points (9 points)
Another stuttering outfit who still find themselves with a good shout to make a late run towards the top four.
Their draw on the weekend to Genoa may have hindered their chase of Atalanta, but the Giallorossi are still only three points behind their Bergamo rivals. With both contests against the Nerazzurri ending in 3-3 draws, it will mean that goal difference between the two teams will be the telling factor if they finish level on points. Hence, they will need to hope for two slipups to try and usurp Atalanta in fourth. Their contest at home against Juventus this weekend is a must-win game, before very winnable fixtures against Sassuolo and Parma to round off the season.
The margin for error is minimal, but does Claudio Ranieri have one last bit of magic left in him?
Run home: Juventus (H) D, Sassuolo (A) W, Parma (H) W
Predicted total: 66 points (7 points)
The side who has flown under the radar the whole season are still in with a shout in the hunt for a top-four position.
Their heartbreaking draw in the Turin Derby may have cost Il Grifone a shot at sneaking into the top four, but Walter Mazzarri’s men come home with a very favourable run. Games against Sassuolo and Empoli shape up as very winnable matches, but on the road to the latter may prove difficult given their relegation battle and desperation for survival. The final contest against Lazio will be equally important for both teams, and shapes up as a mouth-watering tie to end the season.
It could be a case of so close yet so far for Torino, who may need to wait another season to sneak into the top four.
Run home: Sassuolo (H) W, Empoli (A) D, Lazio (H) W
Predicted total: 64 points (7 points)
Sitting seven points behind fourth and needing a miracle for Champions League qualification means a Europa League finish looks to be the best-case scenario.
A very manageable run home for the Biancocolesti against two bottom-half sides and an equally desperate Torino means they could very well take away three wins from three. However, their best chance at qualification for the Europa League would be through winning the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta next week, which would guarantee them a spot in one of Europe’s elite competitions.
It has been a disappointing season for a team which has promised so much, yet has failed to deliver in the moments where it has mattered most.
Run home: Cagliari (A) W, Bologna (H) W, Torino (A) L
Predicted total: 61 points (6 points)
3. Inter – 69 points – UCL qualification
4. Milan – 68 points – UCL qualification
5. Atalanta – 68 points – Europa League qualification
6. Roma – 66 points – Europa League qualification
7. Torino – 64 points
8. Lazio – 61 points