Despite the fact that Juventus have dominated Italian football for the last couple of seasons, the race for the remaining two Champions League qualification berths in Serie A has been as open and unpredictable as in any major division around Europe.
Since the Italian top flight lost it fourth qualifying berth for Europe’s major competition to the Bundesliga, Italian clubs have had a real fight on their hands to qualify for the prestigious tournament.
Teams likes AC Milan and Inter, who were something of perennial qualifiers, have fallen away, while there has been a revival at Napoli and this season Roma. Lazio and Udinese have been in contention also, before suffering mediocre campaigns this season.
Fans at the Stadio Artemio Franchi had become used to mid-table mediocrity for a number of seasons, before the appointment of Montella and some clever acquisitions in the transfer market saw an upturn in fortunes last term. The Viola agonisingly missed out on the Champions League by two points in 2012-13, finishing fourth as they were pipped at the post by Milan.
This season Montella’s men are contenders once more, despite the prominence of the top three. Juve are the runaway leaders, followed by a resurgent Roma and a talented Napoli team, but the Florence-based outfit are only three points adrift of Rafa Benítez’s men in fourth.
Despite the strong campaign to date, Montella’s side has been thoroughly unlucky with injuries. After the summer departure of star attacker Stevan Jovetić to Manchester City, the Viola pushed hard to ensure they had the attacking clout to compete with the big boys.
Mario Gómez was added to the squad in an audacious coup from Bayern Munich, but the experienced German striker has only made three Serie A appearances for his new club due to serious injury. In his absence, Giuseppe Rossi has taken up the goalscoring burden and looked back to his best before another serious knee injury has cruelly halted his progress and threatened his World Cup inclusion.
The mouthwatering strike force of Rossi and Gómez would surely be one of Serie A’s best if the respective attackers were fit and firing, but the Artemio Franchi faithful have been robbed of their dream pairing. The international duo have only stepped out in three Serie A games together this season, and despite Gómez being on the recovery trail, may not play together again this season.
Fiorentina have completed two shrewd loan deals this January, which will boost their chances of Champions League qualification. Alessandro Matri has been added to the squad to make up for the loss of Rossi, while Manchester United midfielder Anderson also joins the side.
Matri’s addition could well be a masterstroke, as the Italy international has a stellar track record of hitting the back of the net consistently in Serie A and a real point to prove. The AC Milan loanee had an eventful Viola debut, scoring a first-half brace in the 3-0 victory over Catania in Fiorentina’s last Serie A fixture, before going off at half-time with “a slight calf injury”.
Anderson is clearly able, but never quite lived up to the height of expectations in England. Similar to Alberto Aquilani, who had a botched spell with Liverpool, relocation to Florence could well see the Brazilian get back to his best.
Montella has an experienced and quality laden squad at his disposal and it looks like the race for the Champions League could go right down to the wire, with four teams vying for three spots.
Fiorentina’s already impressive campaign could well have been even better if the side’s strikers had not suffered injuries at various times, but the Viola are well and truly in the running for a top-three finish.