Next July, the Italy’s Lega Calcio (Football League) will, for the first time in their history, split into two parts: With one Lega Calcio for Serie A and one Lega Calcio for Serie B. An English Premier League style divide is envisaged, bringing further problems for an already troubled Serie B.

Italy’s second tier must currently cope with poor attendance figures, a lack of TV coverage and inadequate stadia. Serie B usually play on a Saturday afternoon to avoid competing with Serie A on a Sunday, with matches being shown on a pay-per-view basis on both Sky Italia and Dhalia TV, a network more famous for its porn movies than its football.

On the pitch the league suffers from a distinct lack of quality, but one positive effect of this is that all 22 sides are roughly even, so interesting and exciting matches often occur for the neutral. The few that have made up the viewing figures this season have been treated to an open campaign, with at least 10 teams still in with a shot at promotion at the time of writing: The top two teams will go up automatically, while those placed from third to sixth will battle it out for a final promotion slot in a series of playoff finals.

While that promotion system might sound simple, it is in fact a little trickier. If the gap between the third and fourth sides in Serie B is more than 10 points at the end of the season then there will be no playoff at all – as happened in 2006/07 with Juventus, Genoa and Napoli advancing to Serie A to the dismay of fourth placed Piacenza.

Currently it is Lecce, coached by Gigi De Canio, who hold top spot and with it a reasonable expectation of promotion. The Giallorossi of Salento play an ordinary 4-4-2 and are both solid in defence and effective in attack. Lecce were in Serie A last season and are hungry to return return to paradise once again, with their fans looking forward to a renewal of the “derby delle Puglie” played against Bari.

Behind Lecce in the running for Serie A are perhaps the biggest surprises of this season’s Serie B, Grosseto. The club, from a town between Tuscany and Lazio, in an area called Maremma, began their campaign in blistering form, playing entertaining football, chiefly down to their innovative coach Elio Gustinetti. Grosseto now seem ready to make the jump to Serie A after a few years of middling Serie B football.

In the third promotion spot at the time of writing are another surprise package, little Sassuolo. The Neroverdi hail from a tiny village near Modena and usually play their games at the Stadio Braglia in Modena due to their ground not meeting Serie B’s requirements. Sassuolo are under the leadership of Stefano Pioli, a former Fiorentina player in the 90s. The minnows usually take to the field with an aggressive 4-3-3, and with the experience of Riccardo Zampanga – the 35-year-old much travelled striker – could have the know-how sustain their form, despite his often being a substitute. Having missed out on the playoffs towards the end of last season, Sassuolo are keen to go one better this time around.

Not far from Sassuolo teams like Cesena, Brescia and Ancona are engaged in the struggle for a playoff place, and the latter club, from Marche, have witnessed a huge upturn in fortunes. Just last season Ancona battled Rimini in a playoff to avoid relegation, surviving in the end mainly due to forward Salvatore Mastronunzio’s brilliance. Again this season Mastronunzio has starred, and despite problems at board level, the club are mounting a strong playoff place challenge.

The season’s biggest disappointment so far is without question Torino, who for the moment can but dream of a return to Serie A. The Granata have endured a series of problems throughout the season, especially at home where they have lost to lowly Modena, Padova, Crotone and Salernitana. Coach Stefano Colantuono paid the price and was replaced with Maurizio Beretta, who had enjoyed a fine season with Siena just a couple of years ago. Beretta though did not stick it out in the dugout for long, and president Urbano Cairo chose to recall Colantuono. With little hope of finding the consistency required for promotion the team seem stuck in a malaise, and given that in January a number of players were attacked by supporters in a restaurant in Turin, where they had gathered to celebrate a team-mate’s birthday, this is not surprising.

Torino, the seven times Scudetto winners, now have their hopes firmly on the shoulders of striker Rolando Bianchi who, despite missing a series of penalties this season, is clearly the best forward at the club.

Another recent ex-Serie A side, Empoli, lie below Torino. A typical yo-yo team who play a 4-3-2-1, Empoli are as good at home as they are away, and still have a slight chance. Solid players like Francesco Marianini, Luca Saudati and captain Ighli Vannucchi have Serie A experience, but coach Salvatore Campilongo must work on his team’s mentality and their approach to games if they are to conjure a late run.

Indeed, Serie B is no respector of reputations, and Reggina, relegated from Serie A last year and clear favourites at the beginning of the season, will be lucky if they have avoided another relegation come June.


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