AC Milan: Will They Qualify for the Europa League?

Bobak Abdolmohammadi@@BobdolmoFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2014

AC Milan's Keisuke Honda, right, celebrates after scoring with his teammate Adil Rami during a Serie A soccer match between Genoa and AC Milan, in Genoa's Luigi Ferraris Stadium,  Italy, Monday, April  7, 2014. (AP Photo/Tano Pecoraro)
Tano Pecoraro

AC Milan have been in a rich vein of form in recent weeks, with victories over Chievo Verona and Fiorentina in their two matches prior to Monday's triumph over Genoa.

Clarence Seedorf's men have injected some much-needed optimism into the team, giving them belief that they are making legitimate progress under Seedorf as they transition out of the Max Allegri era.

The victory over Genoa was particularly promising, as it saw significant contributions from two men who arrived in January: Adel Taarabt and Keisuke Honda.

Taarabt scored a beautiful goal and set up Honda's eventual winner in the second half of the match. Of course, Taarabt has been in excellent form since arriving in Milan, and Honda's goal will hopefully awaken him from the malaise he has been under in recent times.

What is especially impressive is that the victories over Fiorentina and Genoa came away from the San Siro. Milan had only won three of 15 away matches in Serie A prior to these victories.

Once again under Seedorf, there is an air of relief from the tensions that threatened to take over the club during their month-long run without a victory in all competitions.

Logically, attention will now turn to Milan's spot in the standings. Eleventh place is where they stand right now with 45 points, level with Torino, but only five points separate them from city rivals Inter in fifth place.

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Of course, the top six sides in Serie A this year will in all likelihood play in Europe, with the fourth through sixth spots enabling qualification for next year's Europa League.

The merits of being in the Europa League have divided opinion, as many believe it is simply not worth it and stretches the club thinner than necessary with unusual match dates and excessive travel for a competition that is simply not viewed as being prestigious enough for a club of Milan's stature.

On the other hand, being in Europe allows Milan to continue to bring in some revenue (even if it pales in comparison to Champions League money) and keep some of the members of the squad happy with extra playing time.

Regardless of the end result, Milan will continue to fight and have a real shot at making the top six. With six games to go, their opponents are as follows:

Catania have been absolutely dreadful away from home, with zero wins from 16 matches. Nevertheless, they are fighting relegation and will not go down without a fight. Even so, Milan should win this tie handily.

Livorno have been similarly poor away from home, with only two victories from 16 matches. In 18th place, they are also fighting for their Serie A lives at this point.

Roma are seemingly locked into the second spot in Serie A, eight points behind pace-setters Juventus and 12 ahead of third-placed Napoli. They are undefeated at home and will in all likelihood be the toughest remaining test on Milan's schedule.

Inter, as Milan's eternal rivals, will be an interesting case as well. Direct opposition to the Rossoneri for a European spot, the Nerazzurri are not going to give up their spot easily. This match will likely decide Milan's relevance in the race for Europe: Lose to Inter, and there is very little hope of overcoming them. Win, and suddenly things are very interesting.

Atalanta are also direct rivals to Milan for a European spot. With 46 points, very little separates the two sides at present.

Finally, Sassuolo have already shown Milan what they are capable of, inflicting a damaging 4-3 defeat to the Rossoneri in January that served as the nail in the coffin to Allegri's stint as manager. However, they are stuck in 19th place and, depending on results in the coming weeks, may need a result to stay up next year.

Ultimately, Milan's fate is seemingly in their own hands. Parma and Inter have been stuttering recently, and none of Lazio, Atalanta, Hellas Verona or Torino have the squad depth that Milan has.

All six matches take on crucial significance now, with the potential decider being the derby with Inter on May 4. If Milan can continue their run of good results, they have an excellent chance of being involved in Europe once more next season.

At this point, however, it is crucial they do not lose their focus and only think about Catania next weekend. Any slip-ups could be very costly, and as such, Milan must ensure maximum focus on each matchday through the end of the season.