AC Milan are in danger of being swallowed up by the pack as five Serie A teams battle for a single Champions League slot and with it an estimated 50 million euros ($56 million) of extra revenue.
With Juventus having wrapped up the title with five games to spare, and Napoli and Inter Milan looking all but certain to follow the Turin side into Europe`s flagship competition, the race is on to claim the final place allocated to Serie A.
Seven-times European champions AC Milan are still clinging to the cherished fourth spot but, after an indifferent run of form and results, are looking nervously over their shoulders.
Milan, whose last hopes of winning silverware this season vanished with their Coppa Italia semi-final elimination against Lazio on Wednesday, have 56 points, only four ahead of eighth-placed Lazio. In between are Atalanta (56), AS Roma (55) and Torino (53).
Gennaro Gattuso`s side faces a crunch match at Torino on Sunday, knowing they would drop below their opponents on their head-to-head record if they lose and could also be overhauled by Roma and Atalanta.
Roma have a seemingly straightforward match at home to Cagliari on Saturday while in-form Atalanta host lowly Udinese on Monday.
UEFA`s revenue distribution model means that Serie A clubs can expect to receive at least 50 million euros from a combination of appearance money, bonuses and the television pool in the Champions League even if they go out in the group stage.
The extra money would be particularly helpful for Milan who are under investigation by UEFA for falling foul of the European soccer body`s break-even rules known as financial fair play.
Milan have set their sights on ending their five-season absence from the Champions League but a run of one win in their last six league games has allowed chasing teams to close the gap.
Torino, who have never qualified for the Champions League, have lost one out of their last 13 games.
"Looking at summer predictions and recent history, it`s obvious that Torino are the surprise outfit of this season," said their coach Walter Mazzarri after last Saturday`s 1-0 win at Genoa.
"After many years, our club colours are up there fighting for an important target."
Gattuso, meanwhile, was left to ponder on what has gone wrong for his team in the last month.
They had two shots on target in the whole of Wednesday`s 1-0 defeat to Lazio and left Krzysztof Piatek, Serie A`s second-leading scorer with 21 goals, desperately short of service.
"It’s a difficult moment, we’re struggling and have to turn over the page. "On Sunday there is another Cup-tie type of game against Torino," said Gattuso.
"I don’t think it’s just physical, but also mental and tactical, as we are performing below our capabilities. Do I feel the team is behind me? It`s natural to ask yourself questions but I am still the captain of the ship."