With Inter flying away at the top, three places remain for access to next year’s Champions League and five teams are still in the hunt.
By analysing form, calendar and head-to-head records (valid in case teams finish level on points), judgment will be made on who has the best possibility for a place in the top four.
Atalanta (68) – La Dea are on a strong run and in the last five months, they only lost twice, once to Lazio and to league leaders Inter.
In the past four seasons, they have always finished the year on a high, gaining more points than in the first half on each occasion. (They only need four points in the last five games to do it once more).Embed from Getty Images
Calendar: Sassuolo (A), Parma (H), Benevento (H), Genoa (A), Milan (H)
Average opponent position: 12.6
Sassuolo proved to be an excellent team this year, but in truth, they may hardly do any damage to Atalanta. The game earlier this season finished 5-1 and they have also won all the last seven meetings, (nine of the last 10 if we count all competitions), with a total of 33-9. Atalanta averaged more than three goals per game against Sassuolo in the last five years.
Parma will have nothing to play for, whilst Benevento may be motivated, given their fight to not be relegated, even if both games should see Atalanta as clear favourites. Genoa held Atalanta to a draw in January, but are likely to come to the meeting in a safe league position.
The only threat could be the game against Milan on Matchday 38, straight after the Coppa Italia final. Being at home may not be such an advantage given Milan’s scintillating away form, but they might reach that stage with a top-four place already in the bag.Embed from Getty Images
The head-to-head record sees them as winners with Lazio and Juventus. Atalanta also has a clear advantage over Milan, who would need to outscore Atalanta by four goals. Only Napoli have the advantage should they finish tied on points.
Napoli (66) – Milan’s defeat and Juventus’s recent draw mean that Napoli suddenly finds themselves in third place. Gennaro Gattuso’s team had a strong start to the season, but then only scored four points between Matchday 12 and 16.
They were as low as seventh by Matchday 23, but then trust was put into Gattuso and Napoli started running again. Aside from the matchday three game against Juventus that was played in March, Napoli have only dropped four points since, the same as league leaders Inter.Embed from Getty Images
Calendar: Cagliari (H), Spezia (A), Udinese (H), Fiorentina (A), Verona (H)
Average opponent position: 13.4
It’s a calendar with no head-to-head clashes, which means that Napoli has an advantage to finishing in the top four. On top of that, games between Milan, Atalanta and Juventus, will surely mean their opponents will take points off each other.
Let’s not underrate Cagliari, who are giving their all to try and stay in the Serie A, winning the last three matches. Spezia and Verona both managed to beat the Partenopei in the first half of the season, which suggests it’s not done yet for Napoli.Embed from Getty Images
Advantage over Lazio and Atalanta. Napoli also shares the same head-to-head score as the two teams they currently tie on points with; Juventus and Milan.
Goal difference might be key, which at the moment favours Napoli (36), with Juventus close behind (35) and Milan chasing (19).
Juventus (66) – Whilst it was evident that Juventus were on a decline, nobody would have predicted they would struggle to make the top four. The Bianconeri soon appeared to have issues with Andrea Pirlo as the new coach.
However, after occupying a solid third, always appearing in the run to fight for the Scudetto for months, they are seeing the strong return of Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio. Juventus failed to win more than three Serie A games in a row this season and never gave continuity to their results.Embed from Getty Images
Calendar: Udinese (A), Milan (H), Sassuolo (A), Inter (H), Bologna (A)
Average opponent position: 7.4
Juventus’s unpredictability means it’s very hard to predict how their future form will be. They surprised at times by winning big matches, but also lost many in an impotent manner. At times they dominated games against smaller sides, but they also conceded many slips.
Playing at Udinese is never easy, the same goes for hosting Milan. Sassuolo can be a hard opponent and the game against Inter coached by former man Antonio Conte should be a must-watch.Embed from Getty Images
Disadvantage against Atalanta, which given form and calendar still seem out of Juventus’ reach. The game against Milan will be decisive, but Juventus have a two-goal cushion, as the head-to-head record and goal difference with Napoli are balanced.
Milan (66) – This is the team that sat in first place until matchday 21 and never dropped out of the top two places until Sunday. Yet they are fifth all of a sudden given a major drop in form.
The dreadful numbers of Milan in 2021 see seven league defeats, of which five at home. Their record in 2021 at the San Siro sees 11 points in 10 games (3W, 2D, 5L). At one point, they were 12 lengths ahead of Atalanta and Napoli, whilst now they are chasing.
Injuries have affected them, particularly the recurring problems of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, unless there is an important reaction, Milan’s form suggests they will continue to go down.Embed from Getty Images
Calendar: Benevento (H), Juventus (A), Torino (A), Cagliari (H), Atalanta (A)
Average opponent position: 11.4
Milan probably has the hardest calendar aside from Juventus and, on one side, it can even be an advantage to meet Juventus and Atalanta away given their woes at home.
Benevento, Torino and Cagliari are the three sides tied in 18th place, which means that there is potential to win, but for sure the Rossoneri cannot expect an easy run. Hosting motivated Benevento and Cagliari, plus going to play at Torino will be a hard challenge.Embed from Getty Images
Napoli’s goal difference is +17 on Milan with five games left, so effectively Milan already has the disadvantage to Napoli and Lazio. Miracles will also be needed to overturn the verdict with Atalanta and Juventus.
Lazio (61) – The Biancocelesti made sure their chances remained intact by beating Milan on Monday night. They still need to play a game against Torino, which should be played in between the last two games.
Should they win that, they would move up to 64, which is virtually four behind second and two behind fourth. Lazio suffered a mid-season lack of form, tied with a start made of multiple ups and multiple downs, but they are also coming up strongly, as they won six of the last seven games.Embed from Getty Images
Calendar: Genoa (H), Fiorentina (A), Parma (H), Roma (A), Torino (H), Sassuolo (A)
Average opponent position: 12,8
The major threat is the derby against Roma on Matchday 37, which is likely to see their opponents do all they can to stop Lazio go to the Champions League. The rivalry between the sides is bitter and, given that Roma lies in a lone seventh place, it may be well a question of pride.
Games with Genoa, Fiorentina, Parma and Torino should see Lazio as favourites, but this is a team that this season has often disappointed when it mattered. Concentration is high, but the pressure may well affect them.Embed from Getty Images
The only head to head advantage Lazio have is with Milan, with their recent 3-0 victory. Despite having a win apiece in the contest with Atalanta and Napoli, a worse head-to-head goal difference means Lazio will have to try and outscore their opponents in the table.
Form of the second-half of the season:
Atalanta 32, Napoli 32, Juventus 27, Lazio 27*, Milan 23
Form of the last seven games:
Atalanta 19, Napoli 19, Lazio 18, Juventus 11, Milan 10
What this is essentially saying, is that in the last seven games, Juventus and Milan have conceded at least seven points to all their direct rivals. Can they all of a sudden invert the trend and restart gaining points over their rivals?
Atalanta, Napoli, Lazio, Juventus, Milan
Napoli, Atalanta, Lazio, Milan, Juventus
Atalanta has a highway for second-place and their form suggests they might fly away from the rest of the group unless a major lack of form suddenly kicks in.
Napoli are living in a special moment and the calendar isn’t as difficult on paper, but their sporadic form this season can be a worry: Napoli can’t celebrate yet, even if they are on a strong run.
Milan and Juventus may well contest the last place available and the game between the two on Matchday 35 may well decide which one ends in the top four.
That is if they manage to keep behind Lazio, as there is a high risk they both slip behind. Considering form and team squad, Juventus may have the upper hand.
Lazio’s issue is they still need to play a game they won’t have until the last week, so we cannot award them three points before they get them. Should they win the game against Torino, there is a high chance Lazio can play for the top four until the end.
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