Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Seven rounds into the new Serie A season and the fight for the all important Champions League places already looks like it will go down to the wire. Juventus are the only team you could say will definitely finish in the top three, in fact you could almost say that the Bianconeri will definitely lift the title in May. So with Juventus out of the equation that leaves two Champions League places remaining which look set to be contested for by six teams; Napoli, Roma, Milan, Inter, Lazio and Fiorentina will all have the ambition of qualifying for the Champions League but which of these teams is best equipped to finish in the top three and earn the right to play in Europeans top competition.
Napoli, to begin with, are a team that many expect to be Juve's "closest rivals" this year. However in my opinion the sale of Higuain to Juventus ruined their title chances. Napoli have bought many talented young players over the summer such as Milik, Zielinksi, Maksimovic and Tonelli but while these players all have the potential to be great players they will prove inconsistent at their young age and still have to develop a lot to become world class. Napoli have invested in the future and while it might not be enough to mount a title challenge this year it should be enough to see them qualify for one of the Champions League places.
Roma were the other team that were touted to potentially cause Juventus difficulties but even at this early stage of the season it seems that the Giallorossi are still to inconsistent. Roma have so far scored the most goals in Serie A (16) but their defense remains anything but solid with them shipping nine goals so far. Spaletti's men have won all their home games but their away form is a real cause for concern with their only point on the road coming against Cagliari. Playing in the Europa League might not help Roma's ambitions to finish in the top three and their inconsistency might prove very costly. Unless they can improve their away form and deliver consistent performances a Champions League place might be out of their reach.
Inter are a confusing team, at the best of times they have arguably the best squad in Serie A behind Juventus and this was shown when they beat Juventus 2-1. Inter on paper should finish in the top three but the reality is quite different. De Boer, since he took over, has been a mixed bag with Inter's performances ranging from fantastic to absolutely dire. Icardi is the key man for the Nerazzurri and he looks set to have his best season in an Inter shirt with six goals already under his belt. However De Boer's men will need time to adapt to his system and playing in the Europa League might also affect Inter's chances of finishing in the top three. Depending on how quick De Boer can get his players to deliver performances like the one against Juventus week in week out will determine whether Inter qualify for the Champions League.
Milan, the cross city rivals of Inter, also appointed a new manager in Vincenzo Montella, who will try to successfully implement his possession based football. Milan's tendency to leak goals will be a real hindrance in their ambitions to qualify for the Champions League. The Rossoneri however seem to have improved under Montella and with the youngest average age in Serie A, the future looks bright for Milan. If Milan can stay in touch with the top three until January and the sale of the Chinese goes through then an investment in the winter transfer window could propel Milan into the top three. Although achieving a Europa League place seems more likely this season.
Fiorentina seem to have been the nearly men for the past few years. La Viola have been unable to break into the top three and gain qualification for European's top prize. Under Sousa, Fiorentina have a clear style of play however this season they seem to lack the firepower to turn all their possession into goals. Fiorentina are also playing in the Europa League and might feel that their best bet of qualifying for the Champions League would be to win the Europa League. I find it hard to see Fiorentina finishing in the top three this year so for me a Europa League spot would be considered a successful season in Florence.
Last but not least, Lazio will be hoping to repeat their third place finish that they achieved under Pioli with current manager Simone Inzaghi. Lazio have a decent team and under Inzaghi seem to be pretty solid defensively with their only defeats so far this season being away to Milan and at home to Juventus. While they have lost twice, Lazio have performed well in both those matches and Inzaghi has brought consistency to Le Aquile. Lazio have a young team with lots of potential and if Immobile can find the form that he had at Torino then Lazio will prove a hard team to beat. I think Inzaghi is creating something special at Lazio and I would put them as dark horses for a Champions League place. Without the distraction of playing in Europe, the Biancocelesti can just focus on the league as well. I believe that Lazio could surprise a lot of people and qualify for the Champions League come the end of May.
The fight for the Champions League places will be hotly contested right up until the final whistle blows at the end of the season. All that remains to be seen is which teams can deliver the knockout blow to their competitors and qualify for Europe's most prestigious competition......