Italian teams were the surprise of the rounds of 16 of all three European competitions, signaling the return of the country's massive impact in continental competitions. Napoli, Inter and AC Milan all won their respective clashes in the Champions League and will play in the quarterfinals, representing the country with the most clubs remaining with three. Spain, Germany and Portugal each have one while England have two. However, this is not the first it happened as three Italian clubs reached the quarterfinals already in 2003, 2005 and 2006, but it's been a long time coming. During the 2002-03 season, Inter, AC Milan and Juventus all reached the semifinals. That year saw the Derby della Madonnina in the semifinals, with the Rossoneri winning the trophy against Juventus in the final in Manchester.
6 – Six Italian teams have been qualified to the Quarter Final stage of the UEFA European competitions for the third time in the history, after in 1998/99 (6) and in 1990/91 (7). Renaissance. pic.twitter.com/SzUXvReUqJ— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 16, 2023
The big three of Italian soccer repeated themselves in 2005 and 2006, but this season the Bianconeri were knocked out in the group stage of the Champions League. On the other hand, Luciano Spalletti's Napoli were able to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. An incredible result that shows once again how well this team is performing this season considering they have a 18-point advantage in the Serie A table and are close to winning their first Scudetto title in 33 years.
Juventus and AS Roma were also able to win against Freiburg and Real Sociedad, respectively, in the round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League, while Fiorentina did the same against Sivasspor and will play in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Conference League. Only Lazio failed among the seven clubs involved in the European competitions and lost to AZ Alkmaar.
10 - #Juventus have reached the Quarter Final stage of a UEFA European Competition for the 10th time in this Century, more than any other Italian team since 2000. Presence.#UEL #FreiburgJuve pic.twitter.com/EETmiCSMiV— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 16, 2023
The successful campaign of the Italian teams is quite a surprise for many and could just show that Italian club soccer is back with a bang. Here's why.
The big surprise: Napoli
First of all, there are some key players that are definitely shining this year such as Napoli star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia who is one of the best talents around Europe. The Georgian player already scored 13 goals in 29 games and also provided 15 assists to his teammates. His impact on the maximum European competition has been incredible as he was crucial already in basically all the games he played so far, including the two legs of the round of 16 against Eintracht Frankfurt (5-0 aggregate).
Kvaratskhelia has shown confidence to take shots from outside or inside the box, score from headers, take defenders on one on one with his dynamic pace and more. You put all that together and the early returns suggest he's on pace to become one of the best players around, and it won't be a surprise if top European clubs come knocking on Napoli's door next summer, alongside other team stars like defender Kim Min-Jae and Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen.
Napoli made it to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history and this is something enormous for a club that are also close to winning their first Scudetto in 33 years.
Some unexpected wins
The Italian teams won some key, surprising clashes in the group stage. Inter, for instance, won at home against FC Barcelona and were also able to draw away at the Camp Nou in what must be considered one of the best games of the whole competition so far. Inter's win put the Italian club in a good spot to advance as Barca were ultimately eliminated. The past seasons were distinguished mostly by the failures of the Italian teams in such games, but this season things completely changed, also thanks to a quite favorable draw for the three clubs involved in the Champions League.
However, this is where the Italians failed in the past years. Juventus, for example, lost to Ajax, Lyon, Porto and Villarreal in the past four editions of the competition despite being the favorites.
Serie A is more competitive
Finally, Serie A is definitely more competitive now. The level of the competition improved in the last few years, not only for the players that are in action every week, but also for the quality of the soccer played in general. Besides that, Inter and AC Milan, for example, were part of an incredible run last season that led to the Rossoneri winning their first Scudetto in eleven years, like the city rivals did the year before under Antonio Conte. These two historical sides probably needed these kind of wins to get back on track in Europe, as they finally showed this season after some disappointing years. They've got more confidence and know how to play at the highest level now as they have shown lately. Napoli are another story, they're living a dream, and nobody wants to wake them up.