Soccer-Atalanta could be unlikely saviours of Juve's season

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·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Coppa Italia - Final - Atalanta v Juventus
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By Peter Hall

(Reuters) - Juventus are normally preparing for a trophy-lifting party going into the final weekend of the Serie A season, but this year they face the real possibility of missing out on Champions League football for the first time since 2011-12.

New champions Inter Milan have booked their spot in Europe's elite club competition, with second-placed Atalanta guaranteed a top-four place by virtue of their better head-to-head record over Juventus.

AC Milan and Napoli are both on 76 points, the former holding the best head-to-head record of the pair, while Juventus are one point adrift in fifth.

If Milan and Napoli win on Sunday, Juve's fate is taken out of their hands and they will be playing Europa League football next season.

While Napoli face a seemingly easier home clash with Hellas Verona on Sunday, Juve's saving grace could come in Bergamo.

Milan travel to Atalanta in the standout fixture of the final weekend. While Gian Piero Gasperini's side know their Champions League spot is safe, they have never finished as high as second in the Italian top flight, so will not be letting up.

"We have always done our duty, but we are not responsible for the fate of others, everyone is responsible for their own," Gasperini said.

"We have scored points and we will play to finish in second place, knowing however that we have hit our target."

Juve face a tough trip to Bologna, where victory is a must.

If Milan and Napoli both lose and Juve draw, they will all finish on 76 points, yet Juve's record in the head-to-head league with Milan and Napoli and their inferior goal difference to Napoli would see them finish fifth, barring a 10-goal defeat for the Naples club.

However, Andrea Pirlo's side will be buoyed by the fact they put in what several Italian newspapers described as their best performance of the season on Wednesday to clinch a 14th Coppa Italia crown, beating Atalanta in the final.

"We have to recover, to put our focus on Bologna, which will be the match of our lives," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"We have seen it in this week's games, both with Lazio and with Crotone that they are honouring the championship and competing. We have to do our best and try to win the game, hoping that something positive can happen."

Champions Inter can sign off on a high with victory at home to Udinese, as they look to stretch their record home winning streak in Serie A to 16 consecutive matches.

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis)