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Europa League to have Major Impact in Serie A’s Top Four Chase
Aaron Rogan
Aaron Rogan
August 31, 2018
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Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

Serie A is set for another top four show down this season. Last term saw the race for the Champions League go down to the wire, as Inter Milan pipped Lazio late on the final day. This term, the top six look stronger, and none of them want to be left out in the Europa League, given the riches on offer in Europe’s top competition.

However, could the Europa League be the key to the top four race in Italy this season? We think that UEFA’s second tier tournament could have a massive impact on the top six and beyond, following the group stage draw on Friday. We’re looking at how the clubs sit after the group stage, and seeing if this could be Italy’s year to lift the Europa League – 20 years after Parma’s success in 1999.

Read More: Can All Four Serie A Sides Survive the Champions League Group Stage?

Lazio – Group H

After final day heartbreak last term, Lazio are forced to settle for Europa League football yet again. They managed to balance this competition with their top four push last term, and that’s got to be their ambition yet again.

The first milestone for the Aquile is to make it out of the group, but that’s not going to be easy with last season’s finalists in their group. They face Marseille, who lost to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final in Lyon back in May. On top of that, the Italians meet German Cup holders Eintracht Frankfurt. Cypriot side Apollon round off the group, but they’re not set to be major contenders.

It seems like two from the top three seeds in this group should book a spot in the next round. While the Ligue 1 side will be tough opposition, top seeds Lazio should expect to take a top two spot.

AC Milan – Group F

The Milan giants are just grateful to be back in Europe this season, after they had their ban overturned. Financial Fair Play violations left them set to be booted out of the Europa League, but they succeeded in a late appeal after a change in ownership. They’re hoping to make the most of that this term, by making a strong run in this competition.

The Rossoneri have been handed an easier group than Lazio, as they meet Olympiacos, Real Betis and newcomers Dudelange. The Luxembourg side will obviously be the minnows of the pool, while the seven-time European champions are the obvious favourites to progress from Group F.

Milan are expected to make a push in this competition, as only Chelsea, Arsenal & Sevilla are shorter odds to win the tournament. That’s got to be a boost for Gennaro Gattuso, who will be expecting to fight for a European prize with the Serie A giants, knowing that there’s a Champions League spot up for grabs should they go all the way. They should be confident of making the knockout round, and they’re getting some great away trips along the way.

Atalanta’s Penalty heartbreak

There are only two Italian sides in the group stage, after Atalanta’s heartbreak on Thursday night. They lost on penalties in Denmark, going out to Copenhagen. That brought their European run to an end, which had taken them to Bosnia and Israel before that. Obviously that’s a disappointment to the club, but could it be a benefit to Serie A?

La Dea have improved massively in recent seasons, despite losing some top players. They had built a squad capable of juggling two tournaments this summer, before their European exit. That does give them excellent strength in depth, as they looked to avoid the struggles they had last season, when they had too many games to manage.

With a schedule free from European games, Atalanta can focus on Serie A. It was only just over a year ago that they finished fourth in the table. Last season they were seventh, despite losing points due to European commitments. With an improved squad and no European football, la Dea stand out as potential challengers to the top four, making it a seven team race for four spots.

Europa League Redemption

Many expect that the current four sides in the Champions League will return next season. That’s got to worry Lazio and AC Milan, so it makes sense for the pair to keep all options on the table. They have two potential routes in to Europe’s top competition, as they can’t be ruled out of the race for the Europa League trophy.

Lazio were upset in the quarter-finals last term, when they looked good for a run to the final. Meanwhile, AC Milan have strengthened again this summer. The club looks stable again, and they have the potential to make a push for European silverware. As we mentioned, they’re already among the favourites to win it, behind two Premier League sides – who tend to undervalue the Europa League.

Meanwhile, this competition is also a chance for success for sides who can’t get out of their Champions League group. The last six finals have seen a Champions League drop-out, which includes the side who won it last season. Outside of Juventus, that could be any of the Italian sides in the competition this year. Napoli have a really tough test against PSG and Liverpool, while Inter return to the competition after six years to face Barcelona and Tottenham.

Even Roma – semi-finalists last year – have switched their focus on just qualifying for the competition. Francesco Totti suggested that they are going to face a fight with CSKA for second place in their group. However, any Italian struggles in that competition could see them become front-runners for the Europa League. Aside from Juventus, the rest of the big six just want a top four place. With that race heading to the wire, an Italian charge for the Europa League final in Baku could be on the cards too.

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