Serie A survival battle goes down to the wire with relegation playoff still a possibility

ROME: The fight for Serie A survival involves three sides with destiny in their own hands on the last day of the season and while the worst placed team, Empoli, know a win over AS Roma would guarantee safety, a dreaded playoff is still on the cards.

Salernitana and Sassuolo have already been condemned to Serie B football next season and defeat for Empoli would mean a return to the second tier after three seasons in the top flight.

Empoli, currently 18th in the standings and in the relegation zone, host Roma on Sunday at the same time that the other two sides still in danger, Frosinone and Udinese, face each other.

Empoli have 33 points, one behind Udinese and two adrift of Frosinone, and they at least have the comfort of knowing that three points would be enough to avoid the drop. They face a Roma side already guaranteed to finish sixth.

Roma's form has dropped in recent weeks, with one win in their last five league games, and Empoli will hope to take advantage of hosting a team with nothing left to play for.

Davide Nicola is Empoli's third manager this season and the Tuscan club will hope he can pull off another survival miracle as he has done previously with the likes of Salernitana, Torino, Genoa and Crotone.

Nicola will be without the suspended midfielder Alberto Grassi, while Roma boss Daniele De Rossi won't have Romelu Lukaku or Leandro Paredes available, both also suspended.

While a win guarantees safety and defeat means relegation, a draw for Empoli would leave them hoping for an Udinese defeat by Frosinone, which is the only combination of results that would lead to a relegation playoff.

If the sides in 17th and 18th place finish level on points, then neither head-to-head advantage or goal difference are taken into account. Instead, the teams will play a two-legged relegation playoff.

Udinese have competed in Serie A since 1995, but that spell could end if they fail to win at Frosinone. Victory is the only result that guarantees survival, anything less and they will be watching Empoli's result anxiously.

Frosinone are the best placed of the three and a draw is all they require to survive. They play an Udinese side who have drawn 19 out of 37 games this season, but defeat combined with an Empoli win means an immediate return to Serie B.

Bologna are already guaranteed Champions League football next season, and will look to hold onto third place when they travel to Genoa on Friday.

They are ahead of Juventus on goal difference, and the sides played out a 3-3 draw on Monday. Juventus, who sacked manager Massimiliano Allegri last week, host Monza on Saturday.

Atalanta, in fifth, could still take third place. They are two points behind Bologna and Juve, and as well as a home game against Torino on Sunday, they still have the rescheduled fixture with Fiorentina to come the following weekend.

Fiorentina can secure eighth place, and a Europa Conference League spot, at Cagliari on Thursday. They could still make the Europa League if they win the Europa Conference League final against Olympiacos next week.

A slip-up could allow either Torino or Napoli to take advantage. Torino are one point behind Fiorentina going into their game with Atalanta, while Napoli, a further point adrift, host Lecce on Sunday. - REUTERS

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