In the past few years, the Serie A has been relegated to a second-tier player in the UEFA Champions League. Back in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons of the tournament, the Serie A held three of the eight quarter-final spots and in both seasons had a team in the semifinals or finals.
In the previous three seasons, the clubs of calcio have been successful in navigating the group stages but have lost in the first knockout round all too often. The 2006-07 tournament proved to be the beginning of a downward spiral. Despite Milan winning it all, a promising Roma team was humiliated 7-1 in the second leg of the tie against Manchester United, after winning 2-1 in the first leg.
With the Premier League dominating the final four the last few years and La Liga producing a dominating champion, Barcelona, along with a newly built Madrid powerhouse, it didn’t look like a promising year for Serie A. It was especially dismal since two of the leagues best players, Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were sold to La Liga clubs in the summer transfer period.
With only one match left in the group stage, it appears to be time for some guarded optimism on the peninsula.
Fiorentina has already qualified for the knockout stages, with Inter, Juventus, and Milan all controlling their own destiny against lesser opponents. It is by no means a guarantee, given that Rubin Kazan is fully capable of giving Inter fits, Juventus must play a past champion in Bayern Munich and Milan lost to Zurich earlier in the competition.
That said, the Serie A clubs will be favored in all three matches.
Another reason the Italian teams could make a deep run into the Champions League is the change in level of competition. In the past few years, the Premier League clubs were clearly the strongest and with the most depth. With the exception of Chelsea, the rest of the Big Four appear to be having a down year.
Liverpool has already been knocked out, while both Manchester United and Arsenal have suffered from the loss of experienced talent in the transfer market. Either team could still make a run but aren’t as imposing as they were in years past.
So, if Serie A is to return to prominence, who will it be? For starters, I believe all four clubs have the talent and form to make it to the quarter-finals, which would be a success on its own.
The teams with the best combination of talent, depth and a secure position in the Serie A table are Inter and Juventus. They could reasonably sustain a prolonged Champions League run while still battling for top spot in the league.
Milan have a great Champions League history and a starting 11 capable of winning some close matchups, but the depth is not available along the backline or in the wide attacking positions. This could force key players like Nesta, Pato, and Ronaldinho to tire as the season goes on.
The Viola are the most intriguing squad of all in my mind. They have played stunningly in the Champions League and appear ready to unleash one of the world’s best young players in Stevan Jovetic. If you haven’t seen him play, watch this clip . He is capable of creating goals out of nothing and has the fire to compete on any level.
Cesare Prandelli has his team playing with great movement and organization, to the point that they are a nightmare match up for any team in the draw. They will be the underdog against any of the bigger clubs, but stand a puncher’s chance against anybody.
While it's hardly a foregone conclusion, the 2009-10 campaign could be remembered as the year the Seria A came back into prominence.