The race for fourth in Serie A was lit on fire this weekend. Roma, AC Milan, Lazio and Atalanta all know how important Champions League football can be for their sides. The stakes are incredibly high, and that has made the battle for fourth incredible this season. So let’s take a look at this race for fourth and see who might come out on top.
Serie A Weekend: The Race for Fourth is on Fire
AC Milan 1-0 Lazio
Lazio defender Federico Acerbi said in the lead up to this game that his side was better than AC Milan despite what the table said. Well, that certainly lit a fire under Milan as they beat Lazio in a nasty game at the San Siro on a Franck Kessie penalty. This game, however, will be remembered for what Kessie and teammate Tiemoue Bakayoko did after the game.
Acerbi swapped his shirt with Bakayoko, as a gesture of apology for his previous comments. This came after a post-match scuffle had broken out involving Kessie, Luiz Felipe, Acerbi and others. In the heat of the moment, Kessie and Bakayoko took the shirt and displayed like a trophy to the Milan ultras. It was as if they had just slain a beast and were presenting a trophy to the crowd.
Some have called this scandalous and the Italian FA is reportedly looking into whether Milan should be punished. Frankly, if Milan are punished for this, but Cagliari aren’t punished for their fans racially abusing Moise Kean and Blaise Matuidi; what are we doing? It would be comical for racism to go unpunished, while this is held up as some crime against sportsmanship.
All good stories need heroes and villains. Who cares if it’s sporting or if it’s a little nasty, villains need to be nasty to be villains. If Franck Kessie and Tiemoue Bakayoko want to galvanize their fans after a massive win against a table rival; then let them. Especially if you are going to let people get away with racism.
Roma 1-0 Udinese
Roma have been in the Champions League each of the last two seasons but that streak might come to an end this season. However, their play under Eusebio Di Francesco before his firing and their play for Claudio Ranieri since should be concerning. This weekend they handled their business, winning 1-0 at home to relegation-threatened Udinese.
It was a tough game, Roma were awful in the first half and Ranieri made two halftime changes because of it. The team always seem to look better without Patrik Schick and that was again proven true in this game. It’s hard to see the ex-Sampdoria striker getting another season in Rome after such a disappointing two years.
This game gives Roma back-to-back ugly 1-0 wins, which is better than losing 4-1 at home. But Claudio Ranieri needs his side to make real improvements now. They face a crucial trip to San Siro to take on Inter Milan on Saturday and they will get slaughtered if they play as they did against Udinese.
The underdog in this race for fourth has a smaller budget than Bologna, but way better players. Atalanta are one of the best stories in football. The tiny club from the north of Italy are looking for their second Champions League berth in four seasons. They deserve a ton of praise for how they’ve played, from coach Gian Piero Gasperini to star players Alejandro Gomez, Duvan Zapata, and Josip Ilicic.
The trio has combined for 37 goals and 21 assists in Serie A this season, propelling Atalanta into the race for fourth. Gasperini has them playing outstanding quick transition football taking advantage of the creativity of Gomez and Ilicic. It’s impossible to have seen this coming from Zapata, but with those two wizards feeding him it can be explained.
Their quick attacking style was on display the entire second half against Empoli. Atalanta knows what three points mean this late in the season. They threw everything they had at Empoli, and for the most Empoli threw it right back. The side still in the relegation zone held strong against Atalanta despite the game being as open as possible.
That’s now back-to-back goalless draws for Atalanta at the worst time. Their lack of goals has led to Juventus passing them for most goals in Serie A this season. The former highest scoring team in Serie A are still in the race for fourth though.
How We Stand
So after 32 games here is what the race for fourth looks like. AC Milan sit in fourth place on 55 points, with Roma right behind them on 54 and Atalanta on 53. Milan have by far the easiest remaining schedule, as their toughest game left is on the road at Fiorentina. If they are not in the Champions League next season it would be a shocking failure for the club.
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