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A Look Around the League: What to Watch for In May

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While the title race is all but over, there’s still plenty to play for with 51 games to go

Juventus v Benevento Calcio - Serie A
Benevento’s sole win in its last seventeen was at the Allianz Stadium
Photo by Massimiliano Ferraro/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With Inter possibly days away from its first Scudetto in a decade, the title race is all but over. The Nerazzurri could even clinch the trophy with four games still to go, should Atalanta lose or draw to Sassuolo and Inter beats Crotone. But Serie A is far from over. In fact, the Champions League and relegation battles are only picking up steam. To prepare for what is sure to be a riveting final month of the 2020/21 campaign, let’s take a look at what’s left to play for on the peninsula.

Atalanta BC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Top Four

Notable Games

  • Juventus vs Milan, May 9th
  • Juventus vs Inter, May 15th
  • Atalanta vs Milan, May 23rd

While the Scudetto race is done and dusted, the top half of the table couldn’t be more in flux; Milan went from second place to fifth in a matter of hours on Monday, and only two games were played. Second place through sixth is only seven points apart and the battle for top-four promises to go down to the wire. Atalanta is slightly in front of the pack with 68 points, with Napoli, Juventus, and Milan all tied at 66 and close on La Dea’s heels. The biancocelesti may be lagging behind in sixth, but if it wins its game in hand against Torino, Lazio would be on 64 points and two short of the UCL.

FC Internazionale v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Atalanta looks like the surest bet to finish top four. La Dea play only two teams (Sassuolo, Milan) in the top half of the table and one (Benevento) currently in the relegation scrap. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side is unbeaten since a loss to Inter on March 8th and is clicking into top form at the most important time. The loss of Papu Gomez barely seems to have affected the attacking output from Atalanta, which leads Serie A with 78 goals scored and the 4th least conceded. On its day, La Dea are arguably the best team in Serie A, though that day doesn’t come often enough for Atalanta to challenge for the Scudetto. Instead, the side from Bergamo will have to settle for comfortably qualifying for the UCL, still a huge success for a team with its resources.

ITALY-NAPLES-FOOTBALL-SERIE A-NAPOLI VS INTER MILAN Xinhua/Alberto Lingria via Getty Images

Napoli also looks a favorite for Europe’s premier competition. Despite rumors of a midseason sacking for Gennaro Gattuso, he’s turned the ship around and has Napoli in 3rd on goal difference. Since a shock Europa League Round of 16 elimination to Granada, the Partenopei have lost one of its last eleven and won eight. Much of Napoli’s bright form can be put down to the health of its attack. Dries Mertens, Victor Osimhen, Hirving Lozano, and Lorenzo Insigne have all been injured for lengthy stretches of the season, but with the offensive corps all fit at the same time, the results are finally arriving. Napoli also has a straight-forward run-in, playing only one teams in the top ten (Verona), though Spezia, Fiorentina, and Cagliari will be fighting for their top-flight survival. Napoli, however, should book a Champions League spot with ease and perhaps even reach second.

AC Milan v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Should Atalanta or Napoli stumble, however, their stay in the top four would be a short one. Juventus and Milan lurk in 4th and 5th respectively, though both are tied on 66 points. The Old Lady’s first season under Andrea Pirlo’s charge has been nothing short of a disaster. Only thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Chiesa’s heroics is Juve anywhere near European competition. Even so, the champions are barely hanging onto 4th after a 1-1 draw at Fiorentina. In fact, there are reports Pirlo could even be sacked if Juventus fails to bring home victory from Udinese Sunday. The schedule only gets harder after Friulani, and Juve faces Sassuolo, Milan, and Inter in three successive weeks before ending the season at Bologna. While the bianconeri have the advantage in quality and a certain Portuguese star, the playing style has been ineffective, to say the least (eight points dropped against teams in the drop zone!). Juve should still do enough to make the Champions League, but its fortunes will ride on Ronaldo’s shoulders.

SS Lazio vs AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Claudio Pasquazi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Whereas La Dea and the Partenopei’s surge in form has seen them shoot up the table, the opposite is the case for Milan. The Rossoneri could be the first winter champions to finish out of the top four if Stefano Piolo can’t turn things around. Milan has failed to string together victories and find consistency since February, no thanks to a home record of 1W-2T-3L since a 3-0 derby defeat to Inter. Individual performances have tailed off, while the perseverance that characterized its length unbeaten run is nowhere to be found. Instead, Milan looks shaken and a shell of its former self. But the road to the CL is not an easy one. The Rossoneri play Juventus and Atalanta along with the three teams most in danger of relegation (Torino, Benevento, Cagliari). Piolo has done an incredible job keeping Milan in first for so long, but it will all come to nothing if Milan once again misses out on the Champions League.

Ciro Immobile of SS Lazio celebrates with Luis Alberto after... Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

Last but not least is Lazio. The Biancocelesti had been lagging in the Europa League places for much of the season, but six wins in its last seven have it back on 61 points and 5 behind fourth place with a game in hand. Simone Inzaghi’s side is still an outlier to finish in the Champions League spots, but as its 3-0 win over Milan showed, Lazio can still have its say on the top four race. And with a schedule coming up that has only two games against teams in the top half of the table (Roma and Sassuolo), don’t count the side from Rome out just yet.

Cagliari Calcio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Emanuele Perrone/Getty Images

Relegation

Notable Games

  • Benevento vs Cagliari, May 9th
  • Cagliari vs Fiorentina, May 12th
  • Spezia vs Torino, May 15th
  • Cagliari vs Genoa, May 23rd
  • Torino vs Benevento, May 23rd

If the sheer amount of games worthy of the “notable” status doesn’t give it away, relegation could befall quite a few teams at the bottom of the table with places 13 through 18 all a mere five points apart. While Parma and Crotone (11 and 13 points out of safety)are sure bets to go down, the final spot is a hot potato between clubs. Benevento, Cagliari, and Torino are all tied on 31 points, with the former currently going down on goal difference. Spezia is on 33, Fiorentina on 34, while Genoa is edging slightly towards safety with 36. In short, the bottom half of the table rather resembles a multi-car pileup. It’s a mess, but a rather beautiful mess if one’s a calcio fan.

Benevento Calcio v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

It’s no surprise to see Benevento so low in the table when you consider it has just one win in 17 - against Juve no less! But outside of an Adolfo Gaich moment of magic in Turin, 2021 has been a dark year for Pippo Inzaghi’s side. While Benevento has scored two goals in four of its last five games, its also conceded 14. There is hope for a turnaround, however. Benevento visits a struggling Milan (who have been disastrous at the San Siro) this weekend before taking on Cagliari, Crotone, and Torino to close out the season, while Atalanta is the Stregoni’s biggest test.

Radja Nainggolan of Cagliari Calcio and Romelu Lukaku of FC... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cagliari, on the other hand, is riding three straight wins into May. The Sardinians went from losing 3-2 to Parma in stoppages to winning 4-3, and in the week since that memorable victory, Leonardo Semplici’s side have picked up nine points. It's enough to drag them out of the drop zone, though only on goal difference. With games against Benevento, Fiorentina, and Genoa still to come, the job is by no means done. But the talent on Cagliari’s roster (Joao Pedro, Radja Nainggolan, Diego Godin, and Daniele Rugani to name a few) should finally prove its worth and retain Serie A status for the island side.

Torino FC v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Torino is the third club with 31 points. The midseason sack of Marco Giampaolo and appointment of Davide Nicola has worked, though only to some effect. La Granata are still very much in the mix and will need a lot of help from Andrea Belotti to avoid relegation. Torino still has Parma, Spezia, and Benevento to come, so the threshold of 40 points needed for safety is attainable.

Spezia Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Speaking of Spezia, despite a successful first half of the season, the Aquilotti are only two points clear. The newly-promoted side has struggled since the New Year, with its defense conceding a number of avoidable goals while the attack is yet to find the fluidity from 2020. Spezia has one of the hardest schedules remaining and from the relegation mix, it only plays Torino.

Fiorentina is not a name you would expect to see in this category, and yet the second year of Rocco Comisso’s ownership is as disappointing as the first, if not more. La Viola sacked Beppe Iachini in Fall only to bring him back recently when Cesare Prandelli resigned. The managerial merry-go-round has meant consistency evades Fiorentina, which like Benevento, still managed to go unbeaten against Juve. La Viola play Bologna, Cagliari, and Crotone to end the season, however, so safety should be reached.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-JUVENTUS-BENEVENTO Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

Predictions

Top Four

  • Atalanta - La Dea don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon and are my pick for second place.
  • Napoli - Like Atalanta, Napoli’s current form will continue and push them back into the CL after a one-year hiatus.
  • Juventus - Ronaldo will start firing on all cylinders, which is enough to limp Juve into fourth.

Relegation

  • Benevento - While it may seem easy to pick the team already going down, just look at that recent form. Benevento will be heading directly back to B come May.

What are your thoughts? Who do you see making top four? What about relegation? Let us know in the comments below.