The recent struggles of Italian clubs in the Champions League have been well documented. Last season there wasn’t a single Serie A club in the quarter finals and following some largely unconvincing performances in this years group stages that worrying trend may well continue. However it isn’t quite all gloom and doom as Fiorentina have proved something of a surprise package by qualifying for the second round and appear the most likely of Italy’s clubs to go far.
After being drawn in a group which contained Liverpool and Lyon the chances of the Viola progressing seemed slim. However the boys in purple negotiated the group with ease winning five of six games including home and away victories over Liverpool. Their only defeat was a narrow 1-0 loss away to Lyon after Alberto Gilardino had been harshly sent off in the first half. The style of football has been just as impressive with the teams scoring 14 goals, only Real Madrid with 15 managed more.
The Viola have a strong spine which contains some highly underrated players. Sebastian Frey is probably one of the top five goalkeepers in Europe, a rejuvenated Gilardino can’t stop scoring, Adrian Mutu remains a class act when fit and then there is the teenage wonder Stevan Jovetic. However the role of manager Cesare Prandelli can not be overlooked. The tactician is one of Italy’s finest and has a reputation for nurturing young talent such as Jovetic as well as reviving faltering stars like Gilardinio and Mutu. As a result of topping their group Fiorentina are now looking at a kind draw for the last 16 where they will face one of Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Porto, Stuttgart or Olympiakos. As long as Bayern are
avoided the quarters look like a distinct possibility. Whether the Viola can progress any further is questionable as they don’t really have the strength in depth to compete at both home and abroad over the whole season and if injuries were to strike the starting eleven would be considerably weakened.
The remaining Serie A clubs have not looked like potential winners. AC Milan were brilliant in taking four points of Real Madrid but woeful in taking just one from lowly FC Zurich. Leaonardo has got the Rosseneri playing well in Serie A but with a squad which is largely the wrong side of 30 I feel they will come unstuck when faced with a team playing physical high tempo football. Inter have also made it through yet their limp performances against Barcelona suggest they are still some way off being a serious contender both in terms of personnel and mentality.
Last and deservingly least are Juventus who were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition after a humiliating 4-1 loss at home to Bayern Munich. The Bianconeri only needed a draw to progress but were well and truly trounced by a Bayern side who are hardly world beaters. I shudder to think what the score would have been had Barcelona been the opposition. In truth elimination was all that Juve deserved, there only wins came against Maccabi Hafia and they mustered just four goals over the six games. The Old Lady now drop down to the Europa League where they will join other illustrious names such as Liverpool, Roma and Valencia.
Thus it seems that Fiorentina are the only Italians who look anything like being potential contenders for club footballs biggest prize. Yet even they are unlikely to be able to go all the way, meanwhile Juve must slum it in the Europa league. The Turin club will be hoping to save some face by reaching at least the semi finals, Italian footballs possession of a fourth champions league spot may well depend on it.