Milan were once again guilty of wasting an opportunity to close in on city rivals Inter after the Nerazzurri drew 2-2 in Florence a day prior to Milan’s match against Catania. The Rossoneri were determined enough to fight back to earn a 2-2 draw against visiting Catania but the club’s response came perhaps a little too late. Leonardo and his players were aware of Inter’s 2-2 draw with Fiorentina since the game was play a day earlier yet they appeared to tackle the challenge of beating Catania in a casual manner. They ultimately paid the price and are now behind Roma and Inter by four and three points respectively.
With five matches remaining in Serie A anything is possible and a four point difference can be overcome yet the recent performances of the Rossoneri have left a lot to be desired and their remaining fixtures will see them take on five clubs with European ambition. Sampdoria, Palermo and Juventus are fighting to win the coveted fourth spot which allows the club to play in the Champions League qualifying round while both Fiorentina and Genoa are aiming to play in the Europa League. Thus, considering the form of the Rossoneri (as well as key injuries to Alessandro Nesta and Alexandre Pato) and the quality of the opposing teams left on the calendar, Milan do appear to have blown their chances of fighting for the Scudetto.
This leaves new leaders Roma and current champions Inter as the main contenders for the Serie A title. The Giallorossi have a major advantage which is the fact they are focused on the league and do not have to play in Europe while the Nerazzurri are facing a major distraction in the shape of the extremely difficult semi-final tie against Barcelona in the Champions League. The two additional matches in Europe might seem like nothing but in reality Inter will have to expand a lot of energy in order to continue their course and try to advance to the final in Europe. The Nerazzurri have been desperate, in particular their president Massimo Moratti, to achieve European success and add it to their dominance on the domestic front.
Coach Jose Mourinho will have to focus much of his attention the next couple of weeks on containing Barca’s lethal hero Lionel Messi and midfield schemer Xavi Hernandez who was behind most of Barca’s attacks against Real Madrid in the 2-0 triumph in El Classico. Unfortunately for Mourinho the danger does not end with these two quality players because the Catalans have other weapons such as Andres Iniesta, former Inter star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry. Clearly this enticing match-up will consume a lot of time, energy and preparation from both Mourinho and his players.
In the midst of all this the Nerazzurri must still face the semi-final return leg in the Coppa Italia against Fiorentina and then take on fallen giants Juventus on Friday. Provided Mourinho rests many of his key players against la Viola, he will still have to put a strong team against the Bianconeri because a defeat or draw combined with a Roma victory could effectively hand over the title to the Giallorossi. Juventus might be struggling and look unlikely to head to Milan with the aim of beating Inter but if the Bianconeri have one last opportunity to redeem themselves then it would be by beating the Nerazzurri. The Calciopoli scandal, Inter’s recent dominance in Serie A and now the latest rounds of Calciopoli news have created an increasingly intense rivalry between Inter and the Old Lady. The Bianconeri players will try their utmost to upset Inter or at least snatch a draw in order to halt Inter’s progress in the league and also keep their hopes alive of making the Champions League.
While fatigue, exhaustion and European distraction might signal the downfall of the Nerazzurri, Roma will have to be careful not to let their one point lead slip away because nerves could be a decisive factor in the title race. The Giallorossi squad, except for Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi who won the World Cup with Italy, have little or no experience winning major trophies. The club’s coach Claudio Ranieri has often been labeled as soft and incapable of delivering on the big stage. Ranieri has never won the league title in Spain, England or Italy so this could serve as the perfect opportunity for him to earn his first major trophy.
Roma’s schedule appears easier on paper but they still must deal with Lazio in the Rome derby which could be a tricky prospect considering Lazio are still in danger of fighting for survival despite being outside the relegation zone. This round of matches will be crucial because Roma and Inter can drop points against Lazio and Juventus respectively. If they both lose and Milan win then the Rossoneri can jump right into the chase. However, in all likelihood the title race is going to boil down to Roma’s ability or lack off to win the remaining fixtures with the players not showing any signs of nervousness.