Italians teams have generally performed very poorly in European competition this season but as it currently stands we might just be in for one of the best finishes in Serie A ever.
With eight games left Milan remains top of the table, a position they have occupied for the last twenty rounds.
Their lead over second place Inter is now two points, with Napoli a further point behind and Udinese in fourth trailing Milan by six points.
Lazio’s hopes are hanging by a thread considering they are fifth and eight points in arrears of the leaders.
However, the role of spoiler has still to be cast and a Champions League place in next season’s competition is still a very real possibility.
What makes this season’s race particularly intriguing is that two of the teams – Inter and Udinese – have come from well back in the field since the turn of the year.
When the domestic program resumed in January Napoli was only three points behind Milan and they have maintained that gap over the last thirteen rounds of play.
Inter, on the other hand, trailed Milan by 13 points although they had two games in hand. Udinese was on the same points total as Inter but had played the same number of games as Milan.
An indication of the momentum generated by both Inter and Udinese is shown by the fact that over the 13 games played in 2011, Milan was unbeaten in 12 straight before losing to Palermo last time out.
Inter’s season can be split into two segments – pre-Leonardo and Leonardo or perhaps Benitez and post-Benitez. It just so happens that for comparison purposes both segments stretch over 15 matches.
With Benitez in charge Inter collected 23 points – switch to Leonardo and the points become 37.
You can debate the merits of both coaches till you are red in the face but in this case all that Inter fans need to know is that if Inter had maintained their Rafa rate of production they would be a point ahead of Juventus in seventh and ten points out of a Champions League spot.
Udinese’s record does not fall into such readily definable chunks but there are certainly some interesting phases to their 2010/11 record so far. After five games this season relegation was a far more likely possibility when you consider that Udinese had just one point.
Over the next twelve games a steady improvement brought another 22 points. The game before the Christmas break was a 3-2 loss to Lazio. That was to be their last loss and in 2011 Udinese has been extra special – 13 games, 10 wins, 3 draws, and 33 points.
They have scored 35 goals while conceding only 9 and four of these goals came in a 4-4 thriller with Milan. They have also held the opposition scoreless for over seven games or 655 minutes to be exact.
This weekend’s games may offer Udinese an opportunity to move even closer to the top.
The Milan sides will face each other in the derby match while Napoli is at home to Lazio. Udinese is away to Lecce, a team currently sitting third from the bottom of the table and with three straight losses.
Here is a snapshot of the top five spots and remaining fixtures for each side after this weekend.
All after 30 games:
Fiorentina away, Sampdoria home, Brescia away, Bologna home, Roma away, Cagliari home, Udinese away
Chievo home, Parma away, Lazio home, Cesena away, Fiorentina home, Napoli away, Catania home
Bologna away, Udinese home, Palermo away, Genoa home, Lecce away, Inter Milan home, Juventus away
Roma home, Napoli away, Parma home, Fiorentina away, Lazio home, Chievo away, Milan home
Parma home, Catania away, Inter Milan away, Juventus home, Udinese away, Genoa home, Lecce away
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