The current race for Champions League football among Serie A’s third through sixth place teams has captivated fans of the league and outsiders alike. However, just as intriguing is the fight to escape the drop that is occurring at the bottom of the table.
Clubs such as Parma, SPAL, Bologna, Cagliari and Udinese have done well to secure their spot in Italy’s top division next year. Unfortunately for the likes of Genoa, Empoli and (the least likely of the bunch) Fiorentina, they all still face the possibility of joining Frosinone and Chievo in Serie B for the 2019-20 season.
All of these teams find themselves in this position with good reason. For Genoa and Fiorentina, it is their winless runs that stretch back to March and February, respectively. Empoli ultimately paid for their lack of faith in Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli, firing and then bringing back the tactician who took them to promotion last year.
It goes without saying that Fiorentina and Genoa are big clubs with huge followings, previous Scudetto winners and names that are recognised all over Europe. Does that mean they deserve relegation any less than Empoli, though?
Fiorentina going winless in their last 15 games in all competitions suggests otherwise. Even more disappointing than their performance this season is their inability to turn things around before getting to this point. Their season hangs in the balance heading into this season's final matchday, and La Viola only have themselves to blame.
Considering the rock Stefano Pioli represented after the Davide Astori tragedy, Fiorentina owners Diego and Andrea Della Valle showed a shameful lack of gratitude to the Coach. Ever a man of principle, he resigned rather than stick with a club that so openly lacked faith in not just his abilities as a tactician, but even in his motivation. The war between fans and the Della Valle brothers was only put on hold after Astori's death, now it's back and worse than ever.
The same argument can be made for their opponents heading into Matchday 38, Genoa. This is the oldest football club in Italy and has been a consistent presence in Serie A since the return from Serie B in 2007. Genoa’s inconsistency throughout the season has seen them float around lower-mid-table for a majority of the campaign, but it is their current run of nine league matches without a win that has them in 18th place heading into the final round.
One can’t help but feel Genoa in particular are suffering from self-inflicted wounds. Davide Ballardini has presumably made his third and final stint on the Marassi bench after President Enrico Preziosi sacked him amid a hail of abuse, calling him “a terrible Coach” and criticising everything from pre-season training to free kick routines.
When Ballardini was fired on October 9, Genoa had won four of their opening seven Serie A games, plus a 4-0 Coppa Italia victory over Lecce. Ivan Juric returned, another glutton for punishment at the court of Preziosi, sacked after eight competitive games without a win, managing only three stalemates.
Cesare Prandelli took charge on December 7 and has managed an average of under one point per game. In fairness to him, he also saw top scorer Krzysztof Piatek sold in January with the assumption relegation wasn’t going to be an issue. Genoa’s three wins in 2019, none since the shock 2-0 over Juventus on March 17, shows the consequences of awful decision-making at the very top.
Fellow relegation candidates Empoli differ from Genoa and Fiorentina in that they have actually looked like preventing a drop down to Serie B. Andreazzoli’s side has three consecutive victories against the likes of Sampdoria and Torino, as well as wins over sides like Napoli to bolster their chances of survival. Empoli’s most recent 4-1 win over Torino showcased not just heart and desire, but above all the sheer quality of their football. After Maurizio Sarri and Marco Giampaolo, President Fabrizio Corsi confirms his excellent taste in tacticians.
Inter stand in their way of safety, but if their most recent performances are anything to go by, an upset for Empoli is definitely on the cards. Fiorentina and Genoa are big clubs with huge fanbases, but football is a meritocracy and they’ll have to earn their Serie A status.