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The Race for the Top Four: The Stretch Run

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Taking a look at the final ten weeks for the contenders.

SPAL v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

There’s no question that Roma’s loss at SPAL on Saturday, coupled with Inter’s Derby della Madonnina victory, was a blow to Roma’s top four hopes. With those results the Giallorossi now sit six points behind third place Inter and remain four points behind fourth place Milan. With ten games remaining it’s not an insurmountable mountain to climb. Nonetheless, Roma will have to secure a large number of the thirty remaining points at stake, while hoping that results elsewhere go in its favor.

So, let’s see how the calendar shakes out for the six teams that still foster hope at finishing in the coveted Champions League qualification places.

The Contenders

Inter- 3rd Place, 53 Points

AC Milan v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

With its somewhat surprising victory in the Derby della Madonnina in the last match before the international break, Inter has put itself back in the driver seat in the Champions League race. Prior to that match it looked like Milan had gained the upper hand over its city rivals based on form and the fact that Mauro Icardi had gone MIA. Now reports indicate that the Argentine will be returning to the squad, something that should further boost Spalletti’s squad. Sitting in third with a six point cushion over fifth place Roma means the Nerazzurri have some margin for error to remain in the top 4.

That being said, Inter’s schedule has some tough fixtures remaining on it. Not only does Spalletti’s squad have to play direct challengers Roma, Lazio, and Atalanta, but they still have leaders Juve and second place Napoli to come. That’s five game against the top eight. However, four of those will be played at San Siro. The other five matches include four teams fighting relegation and one against Genoa.

Milan- 4th Place, 51 Points

AC Milan v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Milan will be looking to regain the form it had prior to being beaten by its city rivals last week. The loss against Inter will have taken some of the wind out of the Rossoneri’s sails, and Gennaro Gattuso is now tasked with getting his team to put the loss behind it over the international break. Milan still has a four point gap with next closest challenger, Roma, over whom Milan holds the tiebreaker having taken four points off the Giallorossi.

Milan’s schedule isn’t as daunting as Inter’s in terms of head-to-heads against top competition: Milan plays just Juve, Torino and Lazio from the top eight. However, it still has a Coppa Italia return leg to navigate against Lazio in late April. Additionally, it also has tricky matches at Samp and Fiorentina who are still in the Europa League mix. The rest of Milan’s schedule includes four teams fighting relegation, as well as Parma.

Roma- 5th Place, 47 Points

SPAL v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

Roma, as we all know, is a bit of a mess right now. Claudio Ranieri has been tasked with righting the ship of an injury riddled team after EDF was thrown overboard and Monchi jumped ship after him. As they try to heal, the Giallorossi have welcomed the international break with arms wide open, as it will buy time for Ranieri to implement his ideas. Roma are four points out of a Champions League place, which doesn’t seem like a lot with 30 points potentially left on the table. However, one wonders just how much Ranieri can milk out of a wounded team.

Roma are already finished with the three teams directly below it on the table; Lazio, Atalanta, and Torino. However, Roma host Napoli directly after the break and still have to play Inter and Juve. The Napoli match is followed by tricky match ups against Fiorentina and Samp. The only relegation battler Roma still faces is Udinese (maybe that’s a good thing). Meanwhile, mid-table sides Cagliari, Sassuolo, Parma, and Genoa all still remain on the docket.

Lazio- 6th Place, 45 Points

SS Lazio v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The Biancoceleste sit six points out of a Champions League spot. However, unlike all of the other teams vying for the top four, Lazio has a slight advantage: a match in hand with a make up game to be played against relegation battling Udinese. With a win in that match, Lazio would leapfrog Roma into fifth. Lazio narrowly missed out on a Champions Legaue spot last year to Inter and would love nothing more than to secure a spot this season.

Simone Inzaghi’s side may have one of the more favorable schedules on this list, too: Lazio has finished playing both Juve and Napoli, and they only play Inter, Milan, and Torino from the top eight. With those matches against the Milan sides and their match in hand, Lazio, maybe more than any other club on the list, controls it’s own destiny.

Lazio also has a mid-week Coppa Italia semifinal sandwiched between Chievo and Samp; making those potential trap games.

Atalanta- 6th Place, 45 Points

Atalanta BC v Chievo - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

There is perhaps no side that plays more up to its competition in Serie A than Atalanta. The Bergamo side hammered Inter in the fall and eliminated Juve from the Coppa Italia handily 3-0, while also nipping points off many of the other big sides. However, Gasperini’s side has slowed down a bit in recent weeks with a draw against Chievo just before the break. Atalanta will have to find its best form against all sides to make up a six point gap with Milan or eight points with Inter.

The comforts of home cooking won’t be there for Atalanta this time around against the biggest foes. The Bergameschi still have to travel to Inter, Napoli, Lazio, and Juve before the year is out; Quite the gauntlet to run. In addition, it will host a Coppa Italia semifinal match-up with Fiorentina. The other six matches are an even split between mid-table teams and relegation candidates.

Torino- 8th Place, 44 Points

Torino FC v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The most surprising team still in contention, and a long shot at best, Torino is currently seven points behind fourth place Milan. The Granata forced its way into the conversation with a seven match unbeaten run (5 wins, 2 draws) before losing last weekend to Bologna.

Torino only plays three teams from the top eight, but does have Juve and Milan in back to back weeks. The Granata finish the season hosting Lazio, while also playing Fiorentina, Samp, and a host mid table teams. The only relegation battling team they face is Empoli.

What the Numbers Say

fivethirtyeight.com

It is clear that Inter and Milan certainly have an upper hand in the quest for a top four finish. After last weekend’s win Inter is now projected to finish with 71 points and have an 81% chance at Champions League, four ahead Milan (67 points and 54% chance) according to ESPN’s fivethirtyeight.com.

Meanwhile, Lazio (25% chance) are expected to miss out on a CL spot by three points, Roma (20%) by four, Atalanta (15%) by five, and Torino (4%) nine points out. Roma will hope that it can play well enough to outsmart the computers and salvage its season with a late surge under Ranieri.