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Serie A’s Europa League qualification race is heating up

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Fiorentina are sitting pretty, but there’s lots of competition for the 2 spots that seem up for grabs.

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Sitting as we are in the heart of a 6-match win streak, it’s difficult for fans to not feel a bit giddy about Fiorentina’s prospects for European competition next year. The Viola have shot up to sole command of 7th place, which is the final spot that will ensure Europa League qualification. But with 7 matches left and three strong challengers, there’s guarantee that Fiorentina will hang on. Let’s have a look at what will have to happen.

Format

With the changes to the Champions League for this season, Serie A has had its fourth spot for the premier competition restored. The Europa League, however, will still take 3 representatives from Italy. You might think that’d be pretty cut and dried: 1 through 4 in the table go to the Champions League, then 5 through 7 go to the Europa.

The Coppa Italia serves to confuse things, as the winner of the domestic cup gets an automatic berth in the group stages of the Europa League; instead of the fifth- through seventh-place teams qualifying, it’s the fifth- and sixth-place teams as well as the cup winner. However, this year, the Coppa finalists are Juventus and AC Milan. As the former is going to qualify for the Champions League and the latter for the Europa League on the strength of its place in the table, that opens up a space for the 7th-place team to sneak in.

7th place, though, doesn’t go straight into the group stages. Instead, that team will enter the second qualifying round, and then needs to win two more home-and-away ties to reach the group stages. That, of course, necessitates competitive matches (potentially against teams from such far-flung locales as Armenia or Iceland) in July and August, cutting short the summer break for the players and increasing the risk of injuries to open the league season. On the other hand, it also allows the team to hit the ground running when Serie A begins. The 5th and 6th place teams, meanwhile, are drawn directly into the group stages and don’t have to rush their summer programs along.

Schedules

There are five teams competing for 6th and 7th place in the table right now and the ensuing Europa League qualification. Those teams are (in order) AC Milan, Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Atalanta, and Torino. Let’s have a quick look at their schedules, then break down each team’s chances.

Milan

Now a full 8 points out of 4th place, the Champions League looks like a pipe dream for Gennaro Gattuso and company. However, they’ll still be giving it their best in the hopes that two of the teams above them slip up in a major way. Of their remaining matches, 4 are against sides that will or might qualify for Europe, and one will come against Hellas, who will be scrapping like mad to avoid the drop. The Rossoneri will also have to cope with the midweek Coppa Italia final against Juve between the Hellas and Atalanta fixtures, which complicates matters further for them. However, the quality in the squad combined with a fairly simple schedule makes them the favorites to hang onto that magical, non-qualifying rounds 6th place.

Predicted remaining points: 14

Predicted finish: 6th

Fiorentina

Although it seemed like the Viola were destined for mid-table obscurity just six weeks ago, the team’s been on a historic run since. The strength has been in the defense, but also in the undeniable camaraderie that’s grown up since Davide Astori died. With two matches against relegation-threatened sides and three against European hopefuls, the Viola have their work cut out for them. However, they get both Napoli and Lazio at the Franchi, and get a shot at Milan on the final matchday in a game that could have serious implications for both and will certainly not feature any dubious refereeing decisions.

Predicted remaining points: 14

Predicted finish: 7th

Sampdoria

The Blucerchiati have a tough schedule, with fixtures at Juventus and Lazio almost certain to be losses and a visit from Napoli looking the same way. On the other end, Bologna is the only team they play that won’t be sweating the trapdoor, so the Genovese outfit can’t afford to lose focus for an instant. However, they do own the luxury of a tiebreaker over the Viola, having won both matches in Serie A this season. If they’re even on points by the end of 38 games, Sampdoria will go through.

Predicted remaining points: 10

Predicted finish: 9th

Atalanta

With perhaps the easiest remaining schedule of these 5 sides, la Dea may be feeling confident about her odds to surge past her rivals. The trip to Lazio is the only one in which 3 points feels impossible; the other 6 matches are all winnable, as they’re either against bottom-half-of-the-table teams or in Bergamo. They’ve got a pretty serious lead in goal difference against Samp, but they only have a 2-goal headstart on the Viola in that department; head-to-head matches ended with even points against both those challengers, meaning that goal difference will be the decider if they’re even in the standings at season’s end.

Predicted remaining points: 12

Predicted finish: 8th

Torino

Definitely the longest shot to qualify, but Walter Mazzari is a cagey veteran who’s trying to earn a long-term contract and has led the Granata to 3 wins on the trot. With a perilous schedule ahead, though, smart money says they simply won’t gather enough points to pass the three teams ahead of them, not with matches at Atalanta and Napoli and against Milan and Lazio. Heaven knows we’ve seen strange things in Serie A, though, so we’re not ruling them out quite yet.

Predicted remaining points: 9

Predicted finish: 10th

Will they do it?

As you can see, I believe that Fiorentina will finish in 7th place and thus qualify for the Europa League. I doubt they’ll have enough in the locker to pass Milan, especially with that final fixture at the San Siro, but I also think that they’ll keep the screws on the Casciavit until week 38. The team has a palpable belief in itself right now, and I don’t see that changing, even with a loss or two. Neither do I think that Atalanta has quite enough in the tank to catch the Viola, while Sampdoria’s remaining schedule looks to be full of obstacles that even old man Fabio Quagliarella won’t be able to surmount. There are plenty of things that can change over 7 matches, but as of now, the Viola certainly look like playing on the continent next year.