Serie A has its momentum back and five guaranteed Champions League places – now how about six?


Fiorentina scored and a league celebrated. Nicolas Gonzalez’s extra-time goal against Viktoria Plzen took his team back to the Europa Conference League semi-finals two years in a row and propelled Serie A into an unassailable position in the UEFA coefficient. A fifth place in next season’s expanded Champions League is assured.

“I thought it was going to be another cursed game,” Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano said. His team was tantric in essence, creating without converting. Gonzalez’s decisive shot was the 28th of 41 that Fiorentina rained on Viktoria Plzen’s goal. “It was tough when they went down to 10 men,” Gonzalez said, referring to Cadu’s red card after the hour mark. “But even in the first half they played with 11 men behind the ball. ” Finalists in the Conference League and Coppa Italia last year, Fiorentina are on course to qualify for both finals again under Italiano.

Fifth in Serie A, Roma should benefit from first place in the championship according to the UEFA coefficient. A five-year wait for Champions League football – an “unacceptable” absence according to manager Daniele De Rossi – is about to end and, frankly, it would be hard to blame Roma if they took up the extra space. No one has done more for the coefficient than them in recent times.

El Path

“It took excellence to beat Milan,” De Rossi said. Roma’s owners, the Friedkins, were so confident in his ability to achieve this that they announced their decision to give him the job permanently on the morning of the match.

“Roma, to their credit, played a great match,” said AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli. In his five and a half years in charge, only Inter Milan have dominated their team over two matches, as Roma did last week. The first half hour got away from Milan on Thursday and Zeki Celik’s red card was not capitalized on as they exited Europe in an all-Italian affair for the second season in a row. “After the sending off we needed a smart game,” De Rossi said. “I’m proud to coach these players.”

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De Rossi’s Roma beat Milan on Thursday (Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

He has reached just one European semi-final in 616 appearances as a player. This also came late in his career, after the unforgettable Romantada in 2018. Since then, Roma have reached four consecutive semi-finals under three different coaches (Paulo Fonseca, Jose Mourinho and now De Rossi). Only Juventus of the mid-1990s can boast a longer streak in Italy. It’s an extraordinary transformation in Roma’s reputation. This is a club that has always threatened to do something in Europe, only for teams more talented than this to lose 7-1 to Manchester United or Bayern Munich and 6-1 to Barcelona.

A repeat of last season’s Europa League semi-final now awaits you. Mourinho trained his former player Xabi Alonso a year ago, his team scoring a goal in the second leg at the Olimpico, then sitting back and resolutely defending the lead. De Rossi made Roma a different, broader proposal and yet they are not ashamed to park the bus when the moment calls for it. Conference League winner in Tirana in 2022, Europa League runners-up in Budapest in 2023, if Roma go one better and lift the trophy in Dublin next month they wouldn’t need the extra fifth place in the Champions League allocated to Serie A.

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He would move to Atalanta instead. But Atalanta are keen to win the Europa League themselves after knocking out favorites Liverpool. As fireworks launched behind the Gewiss Stadium burst and crackled into the night sky at full time on Thursday, Atalanta co-owners Percassis and Steve Pagliuca looked ahead to the club’s first European semi-final since 1988, when the Dea had reached the last four. of the Cup Winners’ Cup as a second division team.

A week after winning at Anfield for the second time in four years, Gian Piero Gasperini said: “There are no trophies in my career, but there are a lot of medals and these victories are like beautiful medals. ” The 66-year-old reached the Coppa Italia final twice with Atalanta. Italiano and Fiorentina, often their kryptonite, prevent them from doing another one next week. Then come Marseille and a stroke of history for Gasp, his club and also Serie A. What if Atalanta finished sixth and won the Europa League? Italy would have six teams in the Champions League next year.

“When we started this adventure seven years ago, there were doubts,” reflected Gasperini. “We felt responsible, but we made our contribution. For us, it is an additional source of pride. We are delighted to be involved and to have improved Italy’s ranking.

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Gasperini and Atalanta beat Liverpool over two legs (Isabella Bonotto/AFP via Getty Images)

When Serie A had a team in all three European finals last season, I explored in detail here what it told us about the state of the league. Things have changed in the meantime. The Decreto Crescita, a favorable tax break, has ended, depriving Serie A of the transfer market advantage it has enjoyed for four years. A new wave of coaches emerged like Italiano, now De Rossi and, Gasperini disciple, Thiago Motta at Bologna. Other things remained the same. There has been training continuity at Milan, Inter and Atalanta, for example. The introduction of the Conference League was a game changer as Roma and Fiorentina took it seriously, gaining confidence and experience in the process.

When asked if Italian football was sometimes too hard on itself, De Rossi replied: “It’s not a coincidence. At the forefront of our minds is the past when Italian football was the best in the world. There was a down period, but the teams have been going far for five or six years now. The Europa League semi-final teams are Champions League teams. We have a lot to do and so with big ideas and atmospheres like tonight, the best players will keep coming.

Calcio has not returned to the standards of the 1990s, but Serie A is now striving to be seen as the best of the rest after the Premier League, whose teams may have had a bad week in Europe but continue to operate in a different financial stratosphere.

(Top photos: Getty Images)


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