10 Things In Italy: Juventus Win Scudetto, Battle For Champions League Spot

As always, this week’s edition of 10 Things is here to once again help you catch up with what’s been going on in the world of Italian football over the last seven days.

1. Juventus Make It 8

It took a lot longer than expected, but Juventus finally made the league title a mathematical certainty last weekend. By beating Fiorentina in Turin, the Bianconeri clinched their eighth-consecutive Serie A crown, sealing the Scudetto with five games still to play. 

The players rejoiced on the field, Max Allegri got his now annual shaving foam coating from Juan Cuadrado, and Cristiano Ronaldo drank champagne straight from the bottle. It probably did very little to numb the pain of the club’s Champions League exit, but it remains an incredible accomplishment and one which warrants celebration. 

2. Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina Show Promise

While they may have lost, Fiorentina’s performance at Juventus Stadium merits plenty of praise, Vincenzo Montella completely reinvigorating a Viola side that had looked lacklustre for months before his arrival. 

As FloFC’s own Chloe Beresford discussed in this previous column, the arrival of the coach has breathed new life into the team, who are now once again pressing, fighting, and working as a unit. 

The regular inclusion of Bryan Dabo has added some much-needed quality in midfield, while their organization and ambition is unquestionably evident. Had it not been for some poor finishing, Fiorentina could’ve been two or three goals ahead before Alex Sandro’s fortunate equalizer, and those miscues should not detract from an otherwise excellent display. 

3. Lazio Implode

While the battle for the Scudetto might be over for another year, arguably the most interesting part of Serie A right now is the battle for the top four. Just four points separate eighth-placed Lazio from AC Milan, the latter losing their grip on the final Champions League berth after some poor displays.

However, it seems as though Lazio might well have spoiled their own chances last weekend, inexplicably losing at home to rock-bottom side Chievo. Despite their opponents being relegated to Serie B a week earlier, two red cards for the Biancocelesti, including the one shown below to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, completely derailed their hopes, much to the ire of manager Simone Inzaghi. 

“Milinkovic-Savic made a huge, naive mistake that compromised the game,” Inzaghi told RAI Sport. “We knew it would be tougher than people assumed, but without doubt that was a massive error and we all paid dearly for it. We should’ve stayed calm and after that gesture it all became more difficult.

“It wasn’t a great start to the match, but if we’d just taken our time and settled, we probably would’ve won eventually. It’s not over for our Champions League hopes, but this was a step backwards that nobody expected.”

4. Atalanta Dream Of Unexpected Glory

As Lazio stumbled, Atalanta seized upon the chance to push on in their pursuit of a Champions League berth. Running out 2-1 winners over Napoli thanks to goals from Duvan Zapata and Mario Pasalic, La Dea gave themselves even greater hope of qualifying for the elite competition for the first time in the club’s history. 

They followed that up by eliminating Fiorentina from the Coppa Italia to secure a place in next month’s final, a remarkable accomplishment that is richly deserved after a fantastic season. 

“It’s a wonderful evening for us, as we achieve a fantastic target like the final,” coach Gian Piero Gasperini told RAI Sport. “It’ll be important to win, but reaching the final is what we wanted and we fought hard to get here against a very strong Fiorentina side. The lads earned this!”

“Now we prepare for Udinese, as we are challenging for something extraordinary,” he continued as he looked ahead to the prospect of snatching fourth place. “The city of Bergamo is buzzing, but we have to bring the results home at the end of it all and reaching Europe for the third year running would be a great achievement.”

5. AC Milan Crash Out, Lazio Embarrass Calcio

Atalanta’s matches against Fiorentina were delightful, the two sides sharing nine goals over their match, results and performances which stood in stark contrast to the other semifinal. A solitary Lazio goal in the second leg was all that separated them from Milan, yet it was events off the field that truly disgraced Italian football.

It began with the scenes shown above as Lazio Ultras saluted a banner declaring “honor to Benito Mussolini” in the center of Milan before the game, but sadly carried over into the stadium where Rossoneri players were racially abused for the entire 90 minutes. 

"It was disheartening to watch such an important sporting event in our stadium, whilst monkey noises and racist insults were coming from the stands,” Milan executive chairman Paolo Scaroni said in an official statement. “We must be extremely vigilant. Football is respect. Football should not divide but unite people.”

Indeed it should, and the actions of Lazio supporters are unacceptably disgraceful.

6. Bruno Alves Delivers Perfect Strike

Onto a more enjoyable incident now as we take a moment to enjoy the brilliance of Parma’s goal against Milan from last weekend, a strike which led to a 1-1 draw that could prove decisive in that battle for fourth place.

There were just three minutes left to play when Parma were awarded a free kick, Portuguese defender Bruno Alves stepping up to curl it home in superb fashion and secure a point for the home side.

“Cristiano takes better free kicks, but I try to do my best,” was all Alves could say afterwards, but in truth this was an effort even his compatriot Ronaldo would love to claim as his own.

7. SPAL & Bologna Make Relegation Battle Interesting

Further down the table, things have suddenly got very tense as wins for SPAL and Bologna shook up the relegation battle. Winning over Empoli moved the former out of the fight almost completely, Leonardo Semplici’s men now nine points clear of the drop zone, while the latter earned a surprising win over Sampdoria.

That plunged Empoli and Udinese into real danger, with new Bologna boss Sinisa Mihajlovic steering them to wins in five of their last seven games, much to the delight of the man who brought him in.

“The coach has shaken the team up in the way that I hoped,” club CEO Claudio Fenucci told Sky Italia, and it is impossible to argue with that opinion.

8. Serie B Title Race Heats Up

Looking to replace whoever departs the top flight, the clubs chasing promotion from Serie B also heated up this past week. Thanks to a comfortable 3-0 win over Salernitana, table-topping Brescia are now only three points away from securing a place in Serie A after an eight-year absence.

Elsewhere, Palermo slipped to third after losing to relegation-threatened Padova, Lecce’s win over Perugia seeing them leapfrog the Sicilian side and move into second place, while Benevento crushed Hellas Verona by a 3-0 scoreline. 

9. Tough Week For Napoli

A difficult few days for Napoli this week as their Europa League hopes were ended by Arsenal and then they dropped points against Atalanta in that previously discussed encounter. 

The results leave the Partenopei in a strange kind of limbo, already assured of second place but with nothing to play for in their remaining five matches of the campaign. Carlo Ancelotti expects things will change over the summer. 

“We’ve lost something in the second half of the season, I don’t know if it’s because we lost players, but more that we lost motivation and spirit,” the coach told Sky Italia. “There will be a few adjustments on the transfer market, but there are new players in my first season and there will be more newcomers, although the basic structure of the squad will remain the same.”

10. Walter Sabatini Resigns 

Most weeks in this column, we bring you a story that could only happen in Italy and, thanks to Sampdoria, this edition is no different. Following the loss to Bologna that effectively ended the Genoa-based side’s push for a Europa League berth, technical director Walter Sabatini handed in his resignation.

It was reported by numerous sources that after the full-time whistle, owner Massimo Ferrero lambasted the players and coach Marco Giampaolo, with a furious Sabatini admitting he stepped in to defend the squad. 

“With great regret, I confirm that I have resigned,” Sabatini told Sky Sport Italia a few hours later. “There was a disagreement at the end of the game and when an employee has a disagreement like that with his employer, it is only right that he resign. Therefore, I leave with great disappointment, because I really care for this team. There will be no reconsideration.”

Adam Digby is an Italian football writer for FourFourTwo, The Independent, and elsewhere. Author of "Juventus: A History In Black & White." Follow Adam on Twitter.

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