ByÂ Matthew Amalfitano.
The big theme over the past few years in the peninsula has been the desire for Italy to regain their fourth Champions League spot back, having lost it after the 2011/2012 season.
A substantial reason in how Germany overtook Italy in UEFA's coefficient ranking system stem from a large lack of concern towards Europe's second premiere club competition, the Europa League. Italian clubs saw the competition simply as a waste of resources given the previous winners of the competition did not receive a direct place in the Champions League group stage. Thus, coaches often fielded weaker sides to keep their squad fresh and avoid injury.
This factor coupled with generally mediocre Champions League performances over the past five seasons that have seen just two quarterfinal and one finalist appearance, has aided in the deterioration of the country's ranking, even coming close to being overtaken by France and or Portugal.
However, if last season's attitude and results in the Europa League are anything to go by, Serie A is not going down without a fight and seems to be on the upswing. Italian clubs are starting to care more about the competition and semifinalists Napoli and Fiorentina prove that.
With a renewed optimism, growing strength and overall quality of football in the peninsula, European results have been heavily examined by many with interest and nervousness by those not just in Italy, but rather, in England.
If Italy's results keep improving then Serie A will be in a position to overtake the Premier League and get their fourth spot back. However, this season's results have not been favourable to the Italians so the possibility of leapfrogging England's top division this year is impossible.
Furthermore, after the recent European draws, it seems Italian clubs will have to work harder than ever to improve their current standing and chip away at the difference in points between themselves and the Premier League. Their knockout round opponents include: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Tottenham Hotspur and Galatasaray.
Roma were always going to finish second behind a ultra dominant Barcelona side in their group but the club will probably feel hard done by in being paired up with one of the current global elites in Real Madrid, with Juventus facing off against another, Bayern Munich.
The Giallorossi invested a good amount of cash during the past two summer windows, but have psychologically lacked the proper toughness, with many pinpointing that aspect down to coach Rudi Garcia. The Frenchman's time in the capital is running out and possible replacements have been named. Will a new coach make the difference?
The players themselves know their form must start to improve. Earlier in the week Radja Nainggolan had this to say about the tie, "We have to get back to scoring. Against Real Madrid, we have to do better than we've done so far, especially against Barcelona because we lost by a big score."
The Old Lady of Italian football were seen as the runners-up side everyone wanted to avoid. While they may not be as strong as last season, they are just now beginning to hit their stride, winning their last six Serie A matches in a row. Adding to that, Juventus were successful in playing the underdog card last season against Real Madrid.
Massimiliano Allegri has gotten the best out of Juve in Europe where Antonio Conte failed to. Bayern are certainly the favourites but there's no reason why Juventus can't compete with them, with club vice-president Pavel Nedved adding "Nothing is impossible."
Now turning our attention to the Europa League, this competition will certainly make the difference regarding Serie A's hopes of reclaiming the fourth-placed spot.
Napoli were surprisingly knocked out of the competition last term by Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk under Rafael Benitez but Maurizio Sarri has revolutionised the side thus far. Shoring up the defence while adding unleashing the team's offensive capabilities, Sarri looks to go one better than his predecessor. Despite the heavily rotated side, he guided his men in winning every group stage match. Villarreal will be a tough test, but ultimately, you have to beat the best sides to win the tournament.
Fiorentina have the pleasure of squaring up against the side they knocked out of the competition last campaign, Tottenham. It has to be said both sides have improved from last season, with new coach Paulo Sousa implementing a high intensity brand of football while Mauricio Pochettino and Co. are aiming for a Champions League place finish this term. While one could argue the Viola play better football of the two sides, their lack of depth will raise questions in February when the two knock heads. Can Fiorentina go the distance?
Finally, Lazio will battle it out for a place in the next round against Galatasaray. It's become clear that Lazio significantly overachieved last season and juggling multiple competitions combined with injuries has been incredibly difficult. The Aquile currently sit twelfth with their play showing little signs of improvement. Whether they'll be able to turn it around in two months against a strong side with a healthy dose of European pedigree remains to be seen.
If the Italian clubs manage to pass these early tests, there'll be no question they'll continue to steadily improve over the coming years and pose a threat to England's ownership of four Champions League places.