In a 2022/23 rule change, the final Serie A relegation place will be settled by a relegation playoff, after Hellas Verona and Spezia could not be separated after Matchday 38 of the 2022/23 campaign, and finished level on points after both sides lost against AC Milan and AS Roma, respectively.
Two late Rafael Leao solo goals looked set to condemn the Gialloblu to Serie B through a 3-1 defeat at the Stadio San Siro on Sunday night, but an even later Paulo Dybala penalty saw the Aquilotti lose 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The pair were level on 31 points in the standings when their final fixtures kicked off and hoping to avoid a one-off relegation playoff game to decide their survival, and Spezia made a wonderful start to the night when Dimitrios Nikolaou headed them into a sixth-minute lead.
The two sides finished on the same points on the final day of the Serie A season. Spezia have the better head-to-head record, but the new rule means that the final relegation spot, as well as the title, cannot be decided by head-to-head. Goal difference is not a factor, so there has to be a playoff.
However, as Olivier Giroud was converting a first-half injury-time penalty in Milan, Roma wing-back Nicola Zalewski was swinging a speculative cross through a sea of bodies into the Spezia goal.
A 71st-minute Davide Faraoni goal that cancelled out Giroud opener brought the pair level on points again, until Leao showed why he is the star of the current Rossoneri side and sent Verona back towards the second tier, but Spezia could not hold on in the capital.
Verona hindered by summer departures
After three years in Serie A and a ninth-place finish last term, Gialloblu fans would have been forgiven for believing that a sustained run of top-flight football had finally arrived at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, until the summer transfer window opened a year ago.
In the space of a few weeks, many vital members of the starting XI had departed Verona, with Antonin Barak heading to Fiorentina, Monza prised away Gianluca Caprari, both Mattia Zaccagni and Nicolo Casale joined Lazio and Giovanni Simeone has now won a Scudetto at Napoli. Even coach Igor Tudor left.
The miserly 31 points that the Mastini have amassed this season are not quite their worst ever in Serie A – with 28 in 2015/16, 27 in 1996/97 and 25 in 2017/18 – but those lowly totals also resulted in relegation disaster for the club, whereas this group of players will get one more shot at redemption.
Lack of goals could yet punish Verona
After recently celebrating 100 appearances in a Spezia shirt, M’Bala Nzola has arguably been the primary reason the Aquilotti had a chance to save themselves from relegation on the last day. The striker has won 16 points for the team with his 13 league goals, which is more than any other player in Serie A.
The 26-year-old has been the subject of interest from several clubs on the peninsula and also the Premier League, but the same cannot be said for many of the Verona frontmen, as Simone Verdi finished the campaign as their leading goalscorer with just five goals.
While Nzola failed to find the net in the capital, when the two sides meet to decide their Serie A, the Angola international could be crucial and it will be him the Gialloblu defence focus on stopping.
When will the Serie A relegation playoff take place?
Lega Serie A have decided that the relegation playoff between Verona and Spezia will be played on Sunday, June 11. On Monday night, reports emerged that the game would be played at Udinese’s Dacia Arena in Udine.
With Emilia-Romagna conveniently placed between the two clubs, the Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia which is home to fellow Serie A side Sassuolo may be the best solution. Parma’s Stadio Ennio Tardini or Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall’Ara may also be contenders now that the Crociati have been eliminated from the Serie B promotion playoffs.