As Juventus cruise to a second consecutive Serie a title, the battle for European football heats up. Adrian Del Monte explains...
Juventus' 1-0 victory overnight against AC Milan surely ends any hope the Rossoneri or Napoli had of clinching an unexpected title this term. The Bianconeri have undoubtedly been the most consistent team in Italy all season, and will deservedly lift a second consecutive Scudetto in the next few weeks.
Following yet another dominant campaign, the Old Lady will be desperate to translate the form they have shown in the league into Europe's premier competition next term, but just who will be joining them?
Napoli (currently 2nd, 66pts)
The Azzurri have been Juve's main challengers all season, and have maintained a spot amongst the top three for the large majority of the campaign. With a relatively easy run home, the club will be very confident of making an immediate return to the UEFA Champions League in 2013-14, following a brief one year absence, which should mean the club keep hold of star players Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik for at least one more season.
With Juventus likely to place a little more focus on their continental performance next term, perhaps with a couple of quality additions Napoli could pose a serious threat to the Old Lady's dominance of Italy in the next 12 months.
Remaining fixtures: (predicted results in bold)
@ Pescara (W)
@ Bologna (W)
@ Roma (D)
EXPECTED FINISH: 2nd (79 points)
AC Milan (3rd, 59pts)
The Rossoneri have fought back remarkably well since their dismal start, which had many questioning whether or not they would finish in the top half, let alone be pushing for UCL qualification. The fact that they are well and truly in with a chance is sensational in itself, however this proud club will want to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Since acquiring Mario Balotelli from Manchester City, and thanks to the continual growth and progression of players such as Stephan El Shaarawy, M'Baye Niang and Riccardo Montolivo, the seven-time European champions have gone from strength to strength, and will need to pick up a few crucial results in the closing match days to secure their place in the showpiece tournament next term.
@ Pescara (W)
@ Siena (W)
EXPECTED FINISH: 3rd (72 points)
Fiorentina (4th, 58pts)
La Viola have been the surprise packets of the 2012-13 Serie A campaign. Following the addition of a number of key players, the club have relived some of its glory days under new manager Vincenzo Montella. With so much quality at his disposal, it will be great to see the club back in Europe next term - whether it be in the UCL, or at the very least the Europa League.
Similar to Milan, they too have a few must win clashes, but with a slightly easier run home, it looks as if their Milanese rivals will narrowly edge Fiorentina out for the third and final position.
@ Sampdoria (D)
@ Siena (D)
@ Pescara (W)
EXPECTED FINISH: 4th (69 points)
Inter (5th, 53pts)
Another disappointing season for Massimo Moratti's Inter could see them settle for a Europa League position yet again next term, as they look to rectify their ongoing issues - an ageing squad, an ageing president and a lack of consistency in management. It has been a dramatic slide for the Nerazzurri. After being crowned champions of Europe in 2010, the club has really struggled both domestically and in Europe.
Despite currently occupying the fifth European qualifying position for next season, the Milanese outfit will still need to pick up a few results to ensure that either of the Roman clubs or Udinese don't make a late charge.
@ Napoli (L)
@ Genoa (W)
EXPECTED FINISH: 6th (61 points)
Roma (6th, 52pts)
The Giallorossi have showed glimpses of brilliance this season, however last night's appalling 1-1 draw at home to the soon to be relegated Pescara, summed up their past nine months. Creative, exciting and attacking, yet continual failure to fire when required. Despite possessing the equal best strike force statistically alongside Juventus, the Romans have the second worst defence in the competition, having conceded a whopping 54 goals in 33 fixtures.
With the toughest run home out of all top eight clubs, I Lupi will certainly be relying on victory in their Coppa Italia final against rivals Lazio next month. When it comes to predicting results for this club, don't take anything predicted below to be gospel, as they could attain anywhere from zero to 15 points in the remaining matches.
@ Fiorentina (L)
@ Milan (D)
EXPECTED FINISH: 7th (60 points)
Udinese (7th, 51pts)
The ever consistent Udinese, led by their talisman Antonio Di Natale, have been at it again. Each and every year they are stripped of their star players, seem destined to struggle, yet somehow find a way to pose a threat for European football - with this season being no exception.
While their results in Europe have been extremely underwhelming in recent seasons, it would be a phenomenal achievment if the club were to finish in the top five, particularly given their struggles in the first half of the campaign. Always capable of recordng a crucial result, the Zebrette should never be ruled out of contention.
@ Cagliari (W)
@ Palermo (W)
@ Inter (D)
EXPECTED FINISH: 5th (62 points)
Lazio (8th, 51pts)
The Aquile are in a very similar position to that of their fierce rivals - a tricky final five rounds, and a Coppa Italia final awaiting them, which is likely to be their main hope of playing at a continental level in the 2013-14 season. The wheels have fallen off ever so slightly in recent weeks however, and the weekend's 1-0 defeat to Udinese proved to be the most costly result of the current capaign, as they slumped outside the top six for the first time since the opening match day of the season.
Like many of their opponents, there is plenty of quality in this squad, the only issue being whether or not they have left their run home a little late. Most neutrals will be hoping that the Biancocelesti and their Roman rivals don't finish in the top five, to ensure a spiteful Cup final next month.
@ Parma (L)
@ Inter (D)
@ Cagliari (W)
EXPECTED FINISH: 8th (59 points)
So while it seems likely that the top three will remain unchanged, the race for the final Europa League spots will be just as thrilling. In a positive sign for Italian football, the top eight clubs look certain to be equally as competitive again next season, hopefully for their sake ensuring a competitive effort in both the UCL and Europa League competitions.
With fierce rivals Roma and Lazio locking horns in the Coppa Italia final, one of those two clubs will be assured of a spot in the Europa League, so it is likely that Udinese and Inter will battle it our for the remaining spot in Europe on the final match day, alongside Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan and Fiorentina.
Do you agree with Adrian's predictions? Who do you think will qualify for Europe next season? Feel free to have your say, by leaving a comment below...