Roma host Juve as Serie A's Champions League tussle nears climax

AFP , Thursday 2 May 2024

Roma and Juventus face off at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday as a clutch of teams do battle for Serie A's fifth and final Champions League spot.

Joshua Zirkzee
Joshua Zirkzee has scored 12 goals this season for Bologna in all competitions

 

With Inter already confirmed Scudetto winners the rest of Italy's best are either playing out the season or trying to confirm their spot in Europe's top club competition.

Roma's draw at Napoli last week confirmed second-placed AC Milan's berth, making their home fixture with Genoa a dead rubber with their opponents already sure of top-flight football next season.

The biggest drama surrounding Milan is who will replace coach Stefano Pioli, as fans are reportedly set to stage a silent protest during Sunday's game to demand clarity over who will take the helm.

Supporters do not want Milan's first choice Julen Lopetegui in the dugout, but the club appear unconvinced about bringing in a costly big name like Antonio Conte.

Juve meanwhile are yet to seal their place ahead of their trip to Rome, with eight points separating them from sixth-placed Atalanta who also have a game in hand on their rivals for a top five place.

The Turin giants have been sliding in the wrong direction since the end of January, with just two wins from their last 13 league matches and a series of dreary performances which have put coach Massimiliano Allegri's job at risk.

Bologna will move above Juve into third place if they win the weekend's opening fixture at Torino on Friday as they hunt a first-ever place in the modern Champions League.

Thiago Motta's side are six points in front of Atalanta and have the head-to-head advantage should the two teams finish the season level on points.

Atalanta, who are at relegated Salernitana on Monday night and in the Europa League semi-finals, are just two points behind fifth-placed Roma who also have to travel to Bergamo in a fiendishly difficult fortnight.

Roma's next two league fixtures with Juve and Atalanta are crucial to their hopes of Champions League football and come just as they try to get past new German champions Bayer Leverkusen and reach a third European final in as many years.

And Daniele De Rossi's side even need to worry about Lazio who on Saturday go to Monza on a run of three straight league wins and are only four points behind their local rivals in seventh.

It's also a big weekend for the teams hoping not to join Salernitana in Serie B as Empoli host Frosinone with both sides two points above the drop zone.

Udinese, in 18th, are at Napoli hoping for an unlikely win which would lift them out of the bottom three regardless of the result between the two teams directly above them.

Verona, who are 15th and level on 31 points with Empoli and Frosinone, host Fiorentina.

Player to watch: Joshua Zirkzee

The Dutch striker has developed into a seriously accomplished centre-forward this season, and his displays have led to interest from much bigger clubs than Bologna.

Twelve goals in all competitions might not seem enough to warrant a reported 50 million-euro price tag but the 22-year-old is the glue which holds together Bologna's attack, a classy operator who also has four assists to his name.

Inter's vice-president Javier Zanetti suggested on Thursday that the newly-crowned champions could make a move for Zirkzee, whose performances in Italy led to a first call-up for the Netherlands in March which he had to miss with injury.

And with Euro 2024 around the corner Zirkzee will be keen to finish the season strongly and help take Bologna into the Champions League.

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