Serie A: What Italy's Representatives in European Competition Must Do to Advance
European competitions are now halfway though their group stages, and Italian representation has been largely hit-or-miss.
With Portugal and France narrowly behind Italy in UEFA Coefficient rankings, the Italians will risk dropping further down the pecking order in Europe—and farther from that all-important top-three position—if their five European representatives don't go through to the knockout rounds of their respective competitions.
Here, then, is exactly what each team needs to do to get through to the knockout draws in the Champions League and Europa League.
Goals: Points against Madrid, win final two matches
Juventus was in a similarly desperate situation at the halfway mark of the group stage in last year's competition. Three draws had left them in a bad situation, but dominating victories at home against Nordsjaelland and Chelsea and a squeaker in the impressive Donbass Arena gave the team the top spot in the group.
They were, of course, helped along by an epic Chelsea collapse that they probably won't have the benefit of from Real Madrid. There is, however, a clear blueprint to their participation in the knockout stages for a second consecutive year.
First, they must avoid defeat against Madrid in two weeks at the Juventus Stadium.
The chances of that happening seem to be fairly good. The team's palatial ground is one of the most difficult places in Europe to play, and Juve seemed up to the challenge against Madrid in the Bernabeu.
They sustained attacking play for long stretches even after Giorgio Chiellini was sent off with a harsh straight red card early in the second half. Iker Casillas had his palms stung multiple times, and Fernando Llorente's equalizer was a pretty piece of poaching—the reason he was brought into the squad in the first place.
Not having Chiellini will be a problem, especially if Antonio Conte wants to replicate the surprising 4-3-1-2 formation he employed in Spain. Leonardo Bonucci, who went on as a sub after the Italians went down a man, is much better in a three-man line than he is in a four-man line. That said, his passing from the back could be a key factor.
Juve must get at least a draw against Real to stand a realistic chance.
They then welcome Copenhagen to Turin, a team they dominated at Parken Stadium in Denmark but were unable to find their finishing touch against.
A win in that match is essential.
Assuming that Juve draws against Real in two weeks, Galatasary beats Copenhagen and Real takes out Galatasaray for a second time in then next round—not unrealistic assumptions—that would put Juve one point back of Gala with all to play for in Turkey. A win there squeaks Juve through as runners up.
Of course, things could go more favorably. Gala could drop points in Denmark and Juve could beat Real, putting Juve ahead of the Turkish squad and then in control of their own destiny. But the above scenario is probably the former scenario is probably the most likely.
Goals: Beat Marseille at San Paolo, capitalize on whoever falls hardest from Arsenal/Dortmund
Napoli was stuck with what might be the Group of Death in this tournament. They have been grouped up with Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, and Olympique de Marseille. So far they've given a mixed account of themselves.
The Partenopei won their opening match at home against last year's losing finalists, but then laid an egg against Arsenal at the Emirates. A 2-1 victory against Marseille put them on six points, level with the other big guns in the group (Napoli currently sit third on goal difference).
The key for advancing for Napoli is to beat Marseille again at home. This is likely considering the French club's status as group whipping boys. They then to jump on the loser of the return match between Arsenal and Dortmund. If the two sides draw, a Napoli win would put them two points up—an even better scenario that would put Napoli in total control of their destiny.
A tough game in Dortmund awaits, but the return match against Arsenal is at home in one of Italy's most raucous grounds.
Napoli navigated through the Group of Death two seasons ago and were a whisker away from the quarterfinals. Unless they melt down and lose two after Marseilles they should make it through.
Goals: Let the Barcelona game fall where it may, and get at least four points from the final two.
Milan have done what they needed to do in this double-header with Barcelona—come out with at least one point. The team has become proficient at stymieing the Blaugrana at the San Siro, but they have yet to crack the glass ceiling at Camp Nou.
Milan has forced at least a draw from three of the last four times they've played in Milan, but in their three games in Catalonia in that period they have drawn one and lost twice, giving up nine goals.
That being said, the return match in Spain is going to be a wash. If they get points, it's great, but they don't need to in order to advance.
The key will be the home match against Ajax in the last round. They can draw against Celtic in Glasgow so long as Barca takes them out at the Camp Nou—and the Hoops' best chance was at Celtic Park.
Beating Ajax—who only have one point from the first three games—is essential. The Dutch side got that solitary point against Milan, but that was at home. If Milan can garner four points in the last two, they should get through.
Anything against Barcelona is going to be gravy.
Goal: Keep on doing what you're doing.
Fiorentina is through the first half of their Europa League group stage with a perfect nine points.
Two of their victories were dominant 3-0 wins, bookending a 2-1 win against their closest competition in the group, Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
They are three points up on the Ukrainians and control their own destiny.
They don't seem to have had many problems so far, but the Italians are sailing after their 4-2 turnaround win against Juventus in the league.
Fiorentina is probably in the best position of all the Italian teams to move on at this stage of European play.
Goals: Beat the minnows.
Lazio sits second in Group J of the Europa League, but things could be much different.
They trailed 3-1 against Trabzonspor with five minutes to go before Sergio Floccari scored twice in two minutes to snag a point.
On Thursday against Cypriot side Apollon Limassol, Lazio absolutely dominated the game, taking 56 percent of possession and outshooting their opponents 24-7—with 13 shots finding the target.
They didn't score once.
To be fair, neither did Limassol, but Lazio's seeming inability to score without Miroslav Klose on the field continues to manifest itself both in the league and in Europe.
Lazio could be on only four points today, but they could also have seven—even with the Turks at the top of the group.
Going through as group winners obviously means beating Trabzonspor when they play at the Stadio Olimpico in December. In order to be in a position for that, they need to beat the group's minnows—Limassol and Legia Warsaw—in their return matches.
Winning those two games will guarantee that Lazio will go through, leaving only the game against Trabzonspor to decide the winner.