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As Serie A draws closer to its conclusion, the scudetto is almost certainly set to head towards the red and black half of Milan. The battle for fourth place and an all important Champions League slot, however, cannot be overlooked. Four teams tightly contest what will surely be a close finish for that elusive place in Europe’s prime competition come May the 22nd. This season’s Serie A has been the most competitive one in recent memory with as many as four teams – Lazio, Udinese, Roma and Juventus – still in the hunt for 4th place

With just four rounds remaining in Serie A, neither of the four teams involved can afford a slip-up under any circumstance. Champions League qualification remains of prime importance this season as Serie A will lose their fourth spot to the Bundesliga from the 2012-2013 season. Germany have leapfrogged Italy in the co-efficient ratings this year but for next season’s Champions League, the Italians will have their quota of four teams. Thus, next season presents a last chance for quite a long while for the lesser teams in Serie A to enter the big stage.

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LAZIO

League Standing: 4th
Points Tally: 60 points
Fixtures: Juventus (H), Udinese (A), Genoa (H), Lecce (A)

The current occupant of the last UCL slot have been a very competitive side under Edy Reja’s organisation this season. Despite losing their first game of the season, the Aquile’s first half of the season saw them as potential contenders for the scudetto. The arrival of Hernanes has filled up a missing element in Lazio’s midfield; providing a crucial link between midfield and forwards. He has indeed been the best player for the Romans this season and one of the purchases of the summer, leading the scoring chart for the Aquile with 9 goals and also contributing 5 assists in the bargain.

Lazio’s run-in is tricky with direct head-to-heads against fellow contenders Juventus in Rome on Monday night and Udinese at the Friuli the following week. They, however, remain in pole position for a CL slot and will not want to let go off such an opportunity. Edy Reja will have rallied his troops to prepare for the current line of tumultuos fixtures ahead of him. The onus will once again fall on the Brazilian Hernanes and the Argentine Mauro Zarate. The latter has been terribly inconsistent once again this season and while his quality cannot be doubted, it’s his temperament that will be put to the test in the coming weeks. Lazio will be determined to attain their obective but will be even more motivated to pip eternal rivals Roma to the last CL slot.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: 5th position

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UDINESE

League Standing: 5th
Points Tally: 59 points
Fixtures: Fiorentina (A), Lazio (H), Chievo (A), AC Milan (H)

The surprise package of this season find themselves in the hunt for a Champions League spot. Diminutive forwards Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez have been the catalyst for their success this season. Francesco Guidolin’s side play arguably the most easy-on-the-eye football in Italy which has won them the support of many neutrals. The former Palermo manager has gained plaudits for his footballing philosophy and for his ability to bring out the best in his players like Pablo Armero, Gokhan Inler and Mauricio Isla.

Udinese's captain and icon Di Natale

Toto Di Natale has proved yet again that age is just a number with his outstanding displays in Serie A, leading the goal-scoring charts in the peninsula with 26 goals. His partnership with Chilean hotshot Alexis Sanchez is right up there amongst the most competent ones in Serie A this season. The duo have netted a combined total of 38 goals this season which accounts for more than half of Udinese’s goals this season. They have also scored more goals together than eight Serie A teams have done in total, this season.

Few would have predicted at the start of the season that the Udinese would find themselves in the position they are in, given the fact that this time last season they were involved in a relegation dogfight. But, what a difference a year can make? The Friuli based outfit face a couple obstacles which they will have to negotiate to complete their dream run. They haven’t won a game in the last 4 outings and will look to revive their bid for the final CL spot with a trip to Florence this weekend against a Fiorentina side, who in truth have nothing to play for right now.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: 6th position

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ROMA
League Standing: 6th
Points Tally: 56 points
Fixtures: Bari (A), Milan (H), Catania (A), Sampdoria (H)

Roma have been typically inconsistent this season. At times brillant, while at times leaving you immensely frustrated. The Giallorossi struggled in the first half of the season under ‘Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri. However, after his departure and the appointment of youth coach and former Roma hero Vincenzo Montella, the Romans have turned the corner. Doubts were raised over Montella’s coaching ability and people pointed at his lack of experience that could probably lead to their downfall. He has silenced his critics with a mixture of decent football that has yielded results, as well. Montella has steadied the ship at Roma, amidst the Di Benedetto takeover drama that has surrounded the capital for months now.

Il Capitano Francesco Totti has been in inspired form for the Giallorossi, surpassing the 200-goal mark in Serie A and joining an elite group of players. His rejuventaion in form has given Roma a new lease of life and reignited their hopes of a CL spot. With Thomas Di Benedetto’s takeover finally complete, Roma are well aware that they have to get into next season’s Champions League by hook or crook. This will not only help the lure players of high quality next season with the cash injection they will receive but also help them get one over their local rivals Lazio.

On paper, Roma have an easy run-in towards the end of the season with the only tough encounter against AC Milan. But as it has been noted time and again, games are not played on paper. Bari have confirmed relegation and with their last 4 games left in Serie A will have nothing but pride to play for in front of their home fans. While league leaders AC Milan will want to confirm themselves as Champions at the earliest and Catania and Sampdoria find themselves in the relegation mix. Roma’s current form is not the best and they will need to step up a gear to reach that coveted Champions League spot.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: 4th position

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JUVENTUS

League Standing: 7th
Points Tally: 53 points
Fixtures: Lazio (A), Chievo (H), Parma (A), Napoli (H)

The arrivals of Beppe Marotta and Gigi Del Neri alongwith a plethora of players was estimated to be enough for Juventus to finish in the top four. After a hugely successful first half of the season, Juve were branded as scudetto contenders while aiming for a Champions League spot made the club look modest. Critics claimed that Juve over-achieved in the first half of the season and the club did nothing to prove otherwise in the second half of the season. The turn of the year saw a differenet Bianconeri side. Injuries to key players, most notbaly top goal-scorer Fabio Quagliarella and players losing their form might form an alibi for the Old Lady but in truth it has been yet another lacklustre and disappointing season for Juve.

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Champions League dreams all but gone?

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Scudetto contenders in December, Champions League dark horses in May; such has been the decline in Juve’s season. The most optimistic of Juve fans will still concede that mathematically the Turin based outfit are still in with a shout for a Champions League spot and perhaps that’s the only sort of hope one can harbor right now. Reality still remains that come the end of the season Juve might still not find a place for themselves in Europe at all if Palermo win the Coppa Italia. With Juventus’ transition into the new stadium set for next season, fans will be disappointed that the iconic Champions League anthem might not play at their new home next season, and it will be very hard for Juventus to earn a UCL spot the following seasons, as well.

Juventus are not faces with the most easiest of fixtures as they head towards the climax of this season. The Bianconeri will have to win all of the remaining games and simultaneously pray that the other teams drop as many points as possible. Juventus definitely have the ability and the quality win the next four games and should they decide to show up, we could be in for a treat.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: 7th position

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