Top Ten

Top Ten

For Hellas, the game against Napoli brings to an end a season quite unlike any other

Richard Hough

The column of the week from Richard Hough for all the Verona-lovers speaking english.

As Hellas Verona prepare to face Napoli on Sunday evening in the final game of the season, the Gialloblù have little to play for beyond honour and pride.

Of course, Napoli are fierce rivals – a rivalry based on geography if nothing else – and Hellas fans would like nothing more than to get one over on their foes. But Hellas have already secured salvation, and, beyond that, a tenth placed finish is now guaranteed, regardless of how Bologna fare against Juventus on Sunday night. Even if the Rossoblù take three points from the Turin giants, Hellas would still finish ahead thanks to their superior goal difference (Bologna have conceded 61 goals compared to Verona’s 47).

A tenth-place finish, for the second consecutive season, is a rare achievement for Hellas, and one that should be celebrated despite the recent collapse in form. That such an achievement has been secured with one game remaining renders the achievement all the more noteworthy, but makes the final game, for Hellas at least, something of a dead rubber.

While Hellas have little at stake going into the last game of the season, a glance up the table reveals a fierce contest for a much-coveted top four finish which guarantee Champions Leagues football next season. Of course, Inter have already won the championship and Atalanta too are guaranteed a top four finish, even if they fail to pick up points against Milan on Sunday night. Which leaves Milan, Napoli and Juventus competing for the two remaining Champions League places.

An unlikely victory for Hellas could deny Napoli fourth place, while a more probable draw would be enough to guarantee Gattuso’s men Champions League football next season at the expense of Juventus. Meanwhile, Milan have a tricky away fixture against Atalanta (who have already secured Champions League football next season, but will be anxious to secure a highly impressive second place finish).

For Juventus, securing a top four finish is no longer entirely in their hands. Even if they beat Bologna in their final game of the season, they are relying on Hellas to do them a favour against Napoli. While stranger things have happened, Pirlo, Ronaldo and co. face the very real prospect of missing out on Champions League football for the first time in over a decade.

For Hellas, the game against Napoli brings to an end a season quite unlike any other. On the back of last season, one of the best campaigns in recent memory, but without the fans in the stadium to enjoy it, and with a collapse in form at the end that has left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. Nonetheless, the pay out for a tenth-place finish, some €6.3 million, is a significant sum for a club like Hellas, which operates on a shoestring.

Whether Sunday night’s encounter with Napoli at the newly renamed Diego Armando Maradona Stadium represents the end of the Juric-era remains to be seen (Torino are the latest club to be linked with the Croat), but for some of the stars of the squad he has assembled, it will certainly mark the end of the road. While some of them may even be destined for Napoli next season, there might just be one final twist in the tale before they say farewell.