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.
After another successful week in the Champions League, Serie A’s growing European presence could land them a clean sweep of qualifiers. Juventus started the season aiming to lift the trophy, but they could have a trio of domestic rivals in the next round, with Roma, Napoli and Inter Milan on course to qualify for the next round.
The last time all four Italian sides survived the group stage was the 2002/03 season. Back then, the competition had a second group stage which ran up to March. That season saw three Italian semi-finalists, with AC Milan beating Juventus in the final at Old Trafford. While Italian football isn’t likely to reach that peak again, this week’s results show progress.
Juventus Show Class in Manchester
Juventus had their group stage campaign front-loaded, with visits to their main rivals – United and Valencia. They won 2-0 in Spain without Cristiano Ronaldo, and now those two are battling for second ahead of tricky visits to Turin. The Italian champions are set to have two games in which to rest their top stars, and they’ll head into December’s last 16 draw among the favourites to lift the trophy.
Only Manchester City and Barcelona are shorter than Juve to lift the trophy, and Pep Guardiola just claimed that his side aren’t ready to win it yet. Having seen Barca crash out to Roma last season, the Italian champions surely fancy their chances of being crowned European champions in Madrid in June.
Napoli Show Serie A’s Depth
Napoli claimed a 2-2 draw at PSG, with Angel Di Maria grabbing a late equaliser for the French side. However, that bitter blow shouldn’t overshadow a fantastic result for Ancelotti’s side. That point keeps them ahead of PSG in the group, with five points to the French side’s four. Liverpool lead the way on six, but it’s all to play for ahead of the second half of this group.
The main thing Napoli can take from Wednesday night is hope. They went to Paris and dominated possession, created chances and exposed PSG’s defensive problems. The French side lack a holding midfielder, and their lop-sided team is vulnerable. With the pair meeting again in Naples at the start of November, PSG look beatable ahead of their trip to Italy. Having already lost in shambolic fashion to Liverpool at Anfield, Neymar and co. are in serious trouble in this group.
As it stands, qualification is in Napoli’s hands. If they win their two remaining home games, they’ve made it. Nine points at home seemed like a tall order after the draw, but now their clash with PSG seems winnable. They now face a make or break night in their next European game, but that’s the kind of clash which the experienced Carlo Ancelotti is made for.
Brozovic’s Tricks Can’t Stop Barca
Inter Milan were the only Italian side to lose in the Champions League this week, as they went down 2-0 at Barcelona. That defeat came with Lionel Messi watching on from the stands, but the Catalans were still too strong for the Nerazzurri. In fact, the only real impact the visitors made in this clash was Marcelo Brozovic’s clever block of a low free-kick.
Marcelo Brozovic’s homework:
– Watch Barcelona free-kicks 👀
– Come up with an idea to stop them 🤔
Lionel Messi 😂 pic.twitter.com/8m7weTMWMz
— BT Sport (@btsport) October 24, 2018
A first European defeat of the campaign was a set-back for Inter, who are now three points shy of Barca. However, they’re still in a very strong position in this group. They were handed a favour as PSV and Tottenham drew 2-2 in their early kick-off, which was a result which only really benefits Barca and Inter. After that, the Nerazzurri have a five point lead over the sides in third and fourth.
Inter now turn their attention to another meeting with Barcelona, this time in Milan. The Catalans are set to make that trip without Messi, too. While it’s a difficult clash with one of the favourites, that meeting doesn’t seem as daunting, and it could well be an opportunity for the Serie A side. Meanwhile, their five point lead over Spurs could already have settled the race for the last 16. Tottenham now need to win all three remaining games to make it to 10 points, and that includes a trip to the Nou Camp against a fit-again Messi.
Roma Pushing for Pole Position
Roma make that trip knowing that a point would all but eliminate CSKA from the running. However, Roma could have loftier ambitions in this group. They are up against defending champions Real Madrid, with the Spaniards out of form. They beat Viktoria Plzen 2-1, a narrow victory which leaves them vulnerable.
Roma managed to shock Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in last season’s group stage to finish top, while they knocked Barcelona out in the quarters. They’ve certainly got form against big Spanish sides, while the defending champions continue to wobble. Last season Real slumped to second, and this time around they’re weaker, with their manager in real danger of the sack. On top of that, Real still need to travel to Rome in this group, so there’s still a huge opportunity for the Italian side to sneak into top spot at the expense of the champions.
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