Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan might have secured the Scudetto a while ago, but the fight for the remaining UEFA Champions League spots provided plenty of jeopardy going into the final matchday of this season’s Serie A.
With Inter miles ahead at the top of the table, Atalanta were the second side who had guaranteed Champions League football for next season. Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan were left competing for the remaining two spots.
AC Milan faced Atalanta in the biggest showdown of Matchday 38. Napoli faced Hellas Verona at home, while Juventus were away at Bologna. Wins for Milan and Napoli would have left Juve in fifth position and out of next season’s UEFA Champions League.
To their credit, the Bianconeri wasted little time in doing their bit for securing a top four finish as they obliterated Bologna 4-1. Despite Andrea Pirlo leaving Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, goals from Federico Chiesa (6’), Álvaro Morata (29’ and 47’) and Adrien Rabiot (45’) (Riccardo Orsolini scored Bologna’s consolation goal in the 85th minute) meant the Portuguese icon was hardly missed.
In Bergamo, AC Milan were able to withstand the onslaught of the ever-exciting Atalanta players as they eked out a 2-0 win. Despite having 70% of the ball, the Bergamaschi never really managed to trouble the Milan defence line that comprised of centre-backs Fikayo Tomori and Simon Kjær and full-backs Theo Hernández and Davide Calabria. Franck Kessié scored both goals for Milan as he successfully converted two penalties – one at the end of each half (43’ and 90+3’) – to help the Rossoneri finish the season as runners-up and also end their seven-year exile from the Champions League.
Napoli, on the other hand, failed to win their match against Hellas Verona. Amir Rrahmani scored a goal for the Partenopei off a corner in the 61st minute, but that was quickly cancelled out by Marco Davide Faraoni eight minutes later when he caught the Napoli back-line off guard to slot one in for the Gialloblu. With Juve winning comfortably in Bologna, a draw could only put Napoli in the fifth place.
Having failed to secure a top four finish despite Napoli entering the final matchday with their destiny in their own hands, manager Gennaro Gattuso was sacked immediately after the season concluded. Although Napoli have ended fifth, there might be an outside chance of them ending in the Champions League next season after all. Two weeks ago, Gabriele Gravina, president of the Italian Football Federation, said that if Juve didn’t officially back out of The Super League proposal, they’d be relegated from Serie A ahead of next season. This won’t be the first time Juve got relegated for an off-the-field issue, for they were relegated to Serie B back in 2006 in the aftermath of the infamous Calciopoli scandal. With precedent in place, we might just have the Champions League anthem echoing inside Stadio Diego Armando Maradona come next season.
For now, Napoli are joined by Lazio in next season’s UEFA Europa League. Lazio’s local rivals, AS Roma, managed to take the seventh place for themselves with a 2-2 draw over Spezia; an 85th-minute equaliser from Henrikh Mkhitaryan ensured that the incoming José Mourinho will have the honour of partaking in the very first season of the UEFA Europa Conference League. Benevento, Crotone and Parma form the trio of the relegated sides bidding farewell to Serie A this season.
Final League Table (Courtesy – FotMob)