In Serie A, 4 teams fight for 2 Champions League places
MILAN (AP) — Trying to figure out which Italian teams will qualify for the Champions League could get a bit complicated this weekend.
Going into the final day of the Italian league season, four teams still have a chance of securing the last two spots for next season’s Champions League. And Atalanta, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Roma could all end up with the same number of points.
In some countries, goal difference would be used as the tiebreaker between teams with the same points, but Italy uses head-to-head record instead. And that makes the situation murkier when several sides are involved and points against each other are tallied up.
With champion Juventus and second-place Napoli having already secured two spots, Atalanta is currently third but above Inter only thanks to a better head-to-head record. Milan is two points behind, with Roma a point further back.
The tiebreaker rules mean that Milan would qualify for the Champions League, along with Inter, if all four teams finished level on points. But if Milan only finishes level with Atalanta and Inter it would be consigned to the Europa League instead, with Atalanta then reaching the Champions League for the first time in its history.
Atalanta and Inter are the only two teams that have their destiny in their own hands. Victories against Sassuolo and Empoli, respectively, would secure a spot in the top four no matter what.
“Our confidence is sky high and that is going to be crucial,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “The Champions League would be extraordinary, but we mustn’t think that it’s already in our grasp.”
Milan, which hosts already-relegated Frosinone, will be taking heart from the fact that Inter is the only one of the four whose opponent has something to play for — with Empoli fighting for Serie A survival.
“We still believe we can do it,” Milan forward Krysztof Piatek said. “We hope to beat Spal and that the other results go in our favor, everything is possible.”
Piatek is one of a number of players who could leave if their respective clubs fail to make it into the Champions League. The Poland international has surpassed expectations by scoring 22 goals in his first Serie A season, first at Genoa and then at Milan, and also weighed in with another eight in five Italian Cup matches.
The 23-year-old Piatek will be sought after in the offseason and, without the riches of the Champions League, Milan might need to sell big to balance the books with the specter of punishment for breaking financial fair play rules looming over the club.
“It was unthinkable that I would score 30 goals in my first year in Italy,” Piatek added. “Now I’m not thinking about my future, I’m focused on the next match, hoping to get to the Champions League.”
Atalanta has played in the second-tier Europa League the past two seasons, but a season that promised so much a couple of weeks ago could still end in disappointment.
Atalanta already missed out on the chance to secure its first Italian Cup trophy since 1963 as it lost the final against Lazio on May 15.
Gasperini repeatedly said in the buildup to that match that he would prefer to reach the Champions League than lift the Italian Cup and he has since reiterated that.
“Qualifying for such a prestigious competition is a goal, even more so than a trophy which remains in the cabinet,” Gasperini said.