MILAN (Reuters) - Serie A clubs are playing for an extra two guaranteed places in the Champions League group stage this season although this week’s results once again raised uncomfortable questions over whether they really deserve them.
Juventus and AS Roma both lost by three-goal margins to Spanish clubs in their Champions League quarter-final first leg ties as the gulf between their respective leagues was again exposed.
After Serie A leaders Juventus were humbled 3-0 at home by Real Madrid on Tuesday, third-placed AS Roma scored two own goals in a 4-1 loss to Barcelona on Wednesday.
Juventus attributed a moment of genius from Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo for their defeat while Roma said the match referee should shoulder some of the responsibility for theirs.
There was some justification in both arguments but many would say that, over the past few years, Serie A teams have done little to justify greater representation in Europe’s flagship event.
The number of places each league is allocated in the Champions League group stage depends on a ranking system, which is calculated by a complex coefficient system based on the results of their teams.
Italy was among the top-three ranked leagues until 2011-12, which earned three places in the group stage and one in the final playoff round, but then dropped to fourth due to poor results.
Since then, Serie A has had only two group stage slots plus one in the playoff round..
However, two years ago UEFA announced a change in the allocation of group stage slots from 2018-19 onwards and ruled that the top four-ranked leagues — including Serie A — would have four places each.
That was like a lottery win for Serie A whose clubs had showed little sign of improvement on the pitch in the intervening years.
Since Inter Milan won the Champions League in 2010, only one Italian team - Juventus - have reached the final, losing 3-1 to Barcelona in 2015 and 4-1 to Real Madrid last year.
No other Serie A side has even reached the semi-finals in that period while quarter-final appearances have also been sparse.
The biggest beneficiaries of the new system could be Inter themselves.
Absent from the group stage for the last six seasons, Inter are currently in fourth place.
Leading pair Juventus (78) and Napoli (74) are almost certain to take two places leaving AS Roma (60), Inter (59) and Lazio (57) to battle for the other two, with AC Milan (51) as rank outsiders.
Inter, who visit Torino on Sunday, squandered a chance to go third when they were held 0-0 by AC Milan on Wednesday but coach Luciano Spalletti is still confident they can make the top four.
“I must now acknowledge that this is a solid Inter side,” said the shaven-headed coach. “I am confident for the future and I am really pleased with how the lads are playing.
“We still have some things to work on but we are playing with character and we are well aware of what we need to do to reach our objective.”
How they will fare in the Champions League itself if they qualify is a different matter.
Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Pritha Sarkar