The Champions League draw has been made and for the first time in 13 years only two Italian clubs will compete in the group stages.
Not since the tournament was expanded to 32 teams in 1999, has Serie A had so few representatives in Europe’s elite competition. And after losing its fourth Champions League spot to the Bundesliga, this surely serves as further evidence of Italian football’s on-going decline.
Juventus and AC Milan are the two sides who will be flying the Italian flag, but it would take a real optimist to truly believe either side can really go on and win the trophy. The bookmaker’s odds of 16-1 for Juve and 25-1 for Milan would seem to confirm this.
It’s quite possible that there has never been a season where Serie A clubs go into the Champions League as such outsiders for the title.
Juventus at least are a team which seems to be on the up. The Bianconeri are the reigning Serie A champions and went the entirety of last season unbeaten. What’s more, they have made some intelligent summer signings in Giovinco, Asamoah and Isla.
However, their widely praised manager Antonio Conte is currently serving a ten month ban for alleged involvement with match fixing whilst at former club Siena. Furthermore, Juve’s squad is relatively inexperienced at this level, with only Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo having regularly appeared in the competition.
Factor in a tough group that contains Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk, and the quarter finals would look like a realistic target. Anything more would be a bonus.
As for AC Milan, the Rossoneri are now a pale imitation of the side which dominated the Champions League between 2003 and 2007.
Key players Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta and Antonio Cassano all left the San Siro this summer and leave a huge void for new signings Zapata, De Jong, Montolivo and Pazzini to fill.
On the bright side, Milan have been dealt a decent hand in the group stage. Getting past Zenit St Petersburg, Malaga and Anderlecht won’t be easy, but they should still make it through.
However, if they do make the knockout stage, it’s very hard to image this current Milan side getting the better of the Spanish giants, Manchester clubs or Bayern Munich in a two legged tie.
So with Champions League glory looking unlikely, perhaps the best chance of Italian success in Europe is the Europa League.
Serie A clubs have been little short of awful in this competition in recent years and this is one of the main reasons why the Bundesliga was able to usurp the fourth Champions League spot.
Yet with decent sides like Inter, Napoli, Udinese and Lazio featuring this year, there is no reason why at least one Serie A club can’t go on and make a serious challenge for the trophy.
While Italian clubs have often chosen to overlook the Europa League and focus solely on the domestic front, doing so now would be shooting both themselves and Serie A in the foot.
The Europa League is still a prestigious trophy and winning it would certainly delights the fans. What’s more it could go a long way to getting that precious fourth Champions League spot back and that would be a huge benefit to Italian football as a whole.