Despite Juventus edging closer to back-to-back Scudetti, there is a trend emerging in Serie A that sees a handful of clubs challenging to qualify for the Champions League. Is this increased competitiveness to the benefit or detriment of Italian football’s top tier?
The Bianconeri ended the season unbeaten last year and, despite showing signs of weakness in this campaign, continue to be the standard-bearers. While the title race is seemingly a foregone conclusion, the league remains a fascinating journey for several teams behind them.
Milan have shown this season that they are building a team capable of challenging for the Scudetto again next year, while Inter flirted with the idea of being in title contention earlier in the season.
These two giants will always remain a pivotal part of Italian football but are coming under increasing pressure to remain ahead of the chasing pack. Currently in the midst of a transitional period, the Milanese duo are experiencing downturns in their cycles of success but will ultimately return to being protagonists sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, Napoli have already re-emerged as a force in Italy, reguarly challenging for a place in the top three despite falling short in the title race. As a result of the UEFA co-efficient rankings, Italy has seen its number of Champions League participants reduced to three, but the Partenopei are on the path to becoming an elite team.
In addition, foundations are being laid for the future at the likes of Fiorentina, Roma and Lazio, who are all currently involved in a scramble to secure their reservations at Europe’s top table next season.
The Viola are constructing a technically gifted squad who have the ability to play some of the best football in Italy, while Roma have a group of talented players who surely warrant a place higher up the league table.
This can only be positive for the Italian game. However, because many of these teams lack consistency in a league that has its fair share of shocks and upsets, there is always a possibility of a surprise package emerging, and, over the past few seasons, it has been Udinese.
Both the club and coach Francesco Guidolin should be lauded for their ability to defy the odds and finish amongst the best in the peninsula. The club’s transfer policy sees them split with their best players every summer, yet they still find a way to deliver.
However, the disadvantage lies in their inability to challenge in Europe. With places in the Champions League already at a premium, Serie A simply can’t afford to have weak representatives who will face elimination in either the qualifying or early rounds.
So, is it better for the league in general to have a core of three to four clubs that have strength in depth and are built to compete at a European level? Or is the league more interesting with up to six or seven clubs capable of fighting for a limited number of European spots? There are arguments that support both theories, and more answers are likely to arrive following the conclusion of this season.