With two games remaining in Serie A play for the 2010/11 season there are a few things already signed, sealed and delivered.
Milan are champions for the 18th time, Inter Milan needs only a draw against third place Napoli when they play this weekend to finish as runners-up, while Brescia and Bari are already headed to Serie B.
Lecce are two points out of the third and final relegation spot and have to play Bari away this weekend and then conclude the season with a visit from Lazio.
That final game may bring together two teams with diverse ambitions. Lecce to stay up and Lazio to finish fourth – hoping that might be enough for a spot in the qualifying round of the Champions League next season.
The team trying to catch Lecce is Sampdoria and their final match could bring an identical set of circumstances.
Sampdoria are at home to Palermo on Sunday while they will be away to Roma – also challenging for the last Champions League spot – on the last day of the season.
The third contender for the Champions League spot is Udinese who currently hold a two point advantage on both Roma and Lazio. Udinese finish their season away to Chievo and home to Milan.
But in a series of the oddest circumstances we have a number of teams who will play roles in deciding who gets the Champions League spot being prime examples of the danger posed by participation in Europe’s premier competition.
This will be the last season for quite some time in which Italy will qualify for sides for the Champions League. The year after the fourth spot will go to Germany while Italy will make to with just three.
A look back at how the fourth Italian qualifier has performed in the Champions League over the last few years gives us a good idea why Italy is losing a spot.
In 2005 Udinese finished 4th in Serie A but went out in the group stage after finishing third. The fourth place finish in Serie A was followed by 11th, 10th, 7th, 7th and 15th last season. It has been a long road back for Udinese.
Chievo was the surprise packet in the 2005/06 Serie A season (they also benefited from the penalties imposed in the wake of Calciopoli) and they finished behind Inter, Roma and Milan.
The Champions League performance was a disaster and the team from Verona lost at the qualifying stage to Levski Sofia by an aggregate score of 4-2 (0-2, 2-2).
As it was Levski made a mark on the Champions League but not a positive one. They lost all six matches, scored one and conceded 17. For Chievo it only got worse. At season’s end they were relegated to Serie B.
Lazio were next up and they were unable to progress past the group stage after finishing last in Group C with only one win. Since the end of the 2007 season Lazio has finished 12th, 10th, and 12th.
Fiorentina bucked the trend for one season with consecutive 4th place finishes in 2008 and 2009.
Fiorentina could do no better than 3rd in Group F in the 2008/09 Champions League but the following season they were a shade unfortunate to lose in the round of 16 to eventual runners-up Bayern Munich on the away-goals rule.
However, their good run in Champions League came at a cost in their domestic form. They could only finish 11th and they also started poorly this season before rising to the safety of mid-table.
And to our final exhibit Sampdoria. Last season at this time Sampdoria were the hottest side in Serie A. They won 7 and drew one of their last eight matches and sneaked past Palermo by a single into fourth.
But the Champions League qualifying round was to be a harbinger of bad things to come. After a 3-1 loss to Werder Bremen in the first league Sampdoria would eventually lose after extra time to the German club.
Then, there was the distraction of Antonio Cassano, the departure of Giampaolo Pazzini and the implosion of their domestic form.
At the holiday break Sampdoria sat comfortably in 8th with 23 points after 16 games. Home form of three wins, four draws and only home loss should have provided a solid foundation on which to build – particularly when Sampdoria had gone unbeaten at home the previous season.
As it turned out nothing could be further from the truth. Home form dissolved with only two wins and two draws coming in 10 games while one win, three draws and 8 losses in their last 12 overall has taken them to the edge of the abyss.
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