Last Sunday, Milan took on Inter in this season’s second installment of the Derby della Madonnina. The last result had ended in favour this long-standing match-up ended in favor of the Nerazzurri thanks to a last-minute goal from Rodrigo Palacio, and naturally, given the poor season the Rossoneri have endured, Walter Mazzarri’s men would have liked to secure a double over their cross-town rivals. For newly installed manager Clarence Seedorf, following his side’s unbeaten run halted at five with a loss to Roma, the whisperings were growing louder concerning his future with the side that he had won two Champions League titles in a career spanning a decade. Consequently it was vital that the Diavolo could finally achieve what they had failed to do since 2011–earn all three points against Inter.
It wasn’t a derby that had fans engrossed by any means, and it was eventually settled by a 65th minute goal from midfielder Nigel De Jong. But more important was the value of those three points, as it has now lifted Milan into 8th place on 54 points, just one behind Torino and still within touching distance of Inter who occupy those last two Europa League spots, with one already being locked up by Fiorentina. And for some, with this season even being much worse than last time around, they’d be willing to settle for a spot in the continent’s second-tier competition, using the rationale that “any European football is better than nothing”.
However, for a side that takes pride in their seven Champions League titles, only second to Real Madrid’s nine, the Europa League is just obviously a mere consolation prize after suffering humiliation in the round of 16 against Atletico Madrid and spending much of this season well out of contention for the competition they last won in 2007. But would it entirely be a disaster if the Rossoneri weren’t making any appearances in any kind of European competition next year?
Financially, the answer is obviously yes, as participating in the Champions and even the Europa League brings clubs revenue in terms of broadcasting and prize money that can be then spent on upgrading their squads during the transfer markets. Yet, it’s not always all about the money and one can only look to two sides this season–Roma and Liverpool–who have enjoyed fantastic domestic campaigns this year after missing out on European football.
In the case of the Giallorossi, although they fell way behind reigning champions Juventus over the course of the season, no one can consider the capital club’s season a failure. They started off the season with an impressive 10-match unbeaten run that saw them rack up 30 points before being held to a series of draws, but that downturn also coincided with an injury to talismanic captain Francesco Totti. After some stops and starts, they again began to build up another great run but were shocked to see it end at the hands of relegation candidates Catania in what definitely will go down as the biggest upset of the season that effectively handed the Bianconeri their third consecutive Scudetto.
Yet, despite losing the title race by a huge margin, Roma supporters will certainly be celebrating in their team’s return to the Champions League after a long absence and having the best season many have seen in a long time. The same can be said about Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool, who many had written off after their disappointing finishes over the past two seasons; yet the Reds have emerged over the course of this year’s Premier League campaign as surprise title contenders after the collapse of Manchester United and Arsenal’s mid-season implosion.
And although their title dreams might have been destroyed after throwing away a three goal advantage to draw Crystal Palace, for a team that has not featured in European competition since the 2010-2011 season when they were dumped out of the Europa League round of 16, finishing ahead of teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United should still give their supporters something to smile about.
Of course, both these teams made some smart moves during last summer’s transfer window. For Liverpool, keeping Luis Suarez at the club despite his insistence to leave has been crucial in why they were able to enjoy such a good domestic campaign, and it just so happened that the Uruguayan international is enjoying the best season of his career thus far. And for Roma, acquisitions like Mehdi Benatia, Kevin Strootman, and Gervinho, coupled with the great form of the evergreen Totti and Mattia Destro are a big reason why they boast the joint-best defense and second-best attack in Serie A this season.
Milan will have to weigh their options carefully this summer, with rumors abuzz concerning the future of Mario Balotelli at the club, but simply put, if they look at Liverpool and fellow Serie A side Roma as examples and make sound decisions that will finally get them back on track, in a couple of years, fans probably won’t be regretting it too much if they don’t appear in Europe next season.