With Juventus all but wrapping up the title and Napoli assuring a second spot for themselves, the only interesting battle left in Serie A is for the third remaining spot for Champions League for which a high pitched battle is taking place between AC Milan and Fiorentina.
Vincenzo Montella’s La Viola has been a revelation this season. After toying briefly with relegation last season, Fiorentina made shrewd investments in the transfer market bringing in a number of creative players to reduce their dependence on Stevan Jovetic and it has paid off. The likes of Cuadrado, Valero and Pizzaro have added extra bite to Fiorentina’s attack and have turned the club into one of the most dynamic sides in the peninsula. Montella is one of the brightest young coaches in Serie A and deserves massive credit for arresting the downslide of his side at a crucial juncture of the season. In the weekend they travelled to Genova to face a Sampdoria side which had the cushion of mid-table safety.
Fiorentina were expected to get all three points but they dished out an authoritative performance nonetheless. Adem Ljajic, who has been completely transformed from the spoilt footballer of last season, had a point to prove to Sampdoria coach Delio Rossi, the man who infamously punched the player during Fiorentina’s darkest days last year. Ljajic was in inspired form in Genova as he assisted one goal and scored another to seal a 3-0 away win. La Viola opened the scoring through a 30 yard long ranger from Cuadrado before the Ljajic show started. Their opponents were kept at bay largely as Fiorentina temporarily leapfrogged Milan into third spot. This was Fiorentina’s third consecutive victory and they are one of only three teams in Serie A to have done this in last three rounds.
The pressure was on AC Milan when they took to the field against Catania. The Rossoneri had not won a match in three rounds and they lost their unbeaten record to Juventus last weekend after a particularly drab match. AC Milan started the match brighter of the two sides but were stunned at the half hour mark as former Juventus and Milan defender Nicola Legrottaglie nodded in a cross from Francesco Lodi. The home team laid siege to Catania defence after the opening goal and were rewarded just before half time when Boateng set up Flamini for his third goal in as many games. Half time ended with one goal apiece. The traffic remained largely one way in second half though AC Milan failed to find that elusive third goal. Lodi was performing his defensive duties as he cleared off the line to deny a goal for Kevin Prince Boateng. The home team was left stunned once again 20 minutes after half time when Izco’s pass opened up their defence and Bergessio lobbed over Amelia. AC Milan needed a swift and decisive response as Allegri brought on Pazzini to add more firepower. That substitution proved absolutely crucial as the former Sampdoria striker scored two perfect poacher’s goals to turn the tide in Milan’s favour between 74th and 77th minutes. AC Milan needed one more goal to reach home safely and it arrived deep into injury time when Mario Balotelli maintained his record of never missing a spot kick in league football. Milan moved to 62 points from 34 matches after this win with Fiorentina a point behind them.
Serie A may witness Maurizio Zamparini’s antics for one more season as the Sicilians are slowly but steadily climbing out of the relegation zone. On Sunday, they welcomed an Inter side battling with an injury crisis. Andrea Stramaccioni’s season got worse when Javier Zanetti was stretchered off with what appears to be the first major injury of his career and is likely to keep him out for half a season. Josip Illicic, once the brightest young prospect in Italy, has hit form for Rosanero in the most important part of the season and he took advantage of some horrendous defending by Matias Silvestre to score in his fifth consecutive match. The home team held on to that lone goal for rest of the match and climbed out of relegation zone. Palermo is one of the most in-form sides in the bottom half and have not lost in last five matches, winning three of them. Inter, meanwhile, have lost three out of last five and look all set to miss out on European football of any sort.
Derby Della Mole has lost its charm over the years due to the ever growing gap between Torino and Juventus. The defending champions took one more step towards retaining the league title thanks to a late 2-0 win over their cross city rivals. The weather played a villain in this encounter as neither side was able to string attacking moves due to the heavy downpour. Just when it was looking like the match would end goal-less, Arturo Vidal struck a beautiful solo effort on 87th minute. Claudio Marchisio, who scored in the first derby this season as well, put the result beyond contention deep into injury time. Juventus need one point from 4 matches to mathematically seal the title and Antonio Conte would love to do it on 5th May, a historic day in the club’s history. Juventus have also won seven games on the bounce now.
Second placed Napoli tightened their grip following an emphatic win over basement boys Pescara away from home. Edinson Cavani was absent due to suspension which meant Lorenzo Insigne started against the club where he burst onto the big scene under Zdenek Zeman last season. The first half ended goal-less before the visitors steamrolled their opponents in second half through goals from Inler, Pandev and Dzemaili. Napoli need just five points from remaining fixtures to ensure an automatic Champions League berth next season.
Udinese is one of the most in-form sides in Italy right now. Just like past few seasons they have hit a purple patch in business end of the season but are unlikely to qualify for Champions League this time. Their away win against Cagliari means that along with Juventus they are the only team to win last four matches. They also kept up the pressure on AS Roma for a spot in Europa League. Romans responded positively on Sunday with a 4-0 demolition of Siena with Pablo Osvaldo grabbing a hattrick.
If Juventus stay true to their form then the title should be mathematically sealed next week when they host Palermo in Turin. The fight for the third spot is likely to be the only thing that will glue Serie A fans to the league in coming rounds.