In recent years, Italy has suffered when it comes to European football. Sure, Juventus have competed for the title however, have finished runner up twice in three seasons. The unspectacular but consistent performance of Italian clubs reaching the knockout stages of European competitions means Serie A have been given an extra place in Europe from this season. There are now four Champions League spots, followed by a Europa league spot for fifth and Europa League qualification for sixth.
Historically, Italy have always been fundamental in European football and are the second most successful nation in the Champions League behind Spain. With 12 wins, Italy are joint second with England, with 10 of those wins coming from Milan clubs. Turin clubs have the other two, with Juventus having finished as runner-up a record seven times.
Since the demise of Milan clubs in recent years, Juventus has carried the torch for Italy in Europe. But crucially, in line with their history, they have failed to win the competition, being beaten in the two finals, first in 2014-15 by Barcelona 3-1, and in 2016-17, 4-1 by Madrid. The result not only underlines Spain’s dominance over Italy in European competition, but also how far the gap is between the best Italy has to offer, and becoming the best in Europe.
In 2015-16, no Italian team progressed further than the quarter final of either the Champions League or Europa League for the first time in 15 years. With Juventus then reaching the final last season, here is how the rest of the pack performed in 2016-17.
Roma failed to reach the quarter finals of the Europa League last season, reaching the Round of 16 in Europa league before being knocked out by Lyon. Unfortunately for them, Roma also find themselves in the ‘group of death’ in this year’s Champions League, with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in the same group.
Fiorentina managed an impressive run, crucial in improving the co-efficient for Italy and securing four Champions League places. They reached the Round of 32 in the Europa League before losing out to Borussia Monchengladbach.
Inter failed to even get out of their Europa League group, finishing last with six points behind Sparta Prague, Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Southampton. The man in charge of the humiliation was Frank De Boer, who most recently had an even worse spell as a manager with Crystal Palace. The atrocious European performance contributed to De Boer losing his job, with Stefano Pioli taking over. The club improved after the change, however, could not manage to make the last European spot, finishing seventh.
Napoli fared a little better, reaching last 16 of Champions League before meeting Real Madrid. Whilst there is no shame losing to the eventual Champions and one of the best Madrid sides in history, the 6-2 aggregate humbling showed the gulf in class between the Spanish side and the team who only finished five points behind Serie A Champions, Juventus, last season.
The performance of Italian clubs in Europe almost mirrors the standard and competitiveness of the domestic season. In recent seasons, when Juventus have run away with the title, they have also tended to vastly outperform their domestic rivals on the continent.
However, with Roma and Napoli being far more competitive in the league last season, with the latter reaching the quarter final of the Champions League, there is hope for the future. This season, Serie A looks much less like a one-horse race, with the resurgence of both Milan clubs and the progression of both Roma and Napoli. With clubs showing much more attacking prowess and tactical flexibility such as three at the back, perhaps Italy has finally shifted away from the historical catenaccio style, in an effort to become a European powerhouse again.
But if AC Milan’s struggle to beat Rijeka on Thursday night is anything to go by, needing a stoppage team winner to win 3-2, Italian clubs still have a long way to go before being a truly competitive nation in Europe again.