Serie A promotion watch: The playoffs are here!

Valerio Pennicino

Fans of playoff madness rejoice, as four teams get set to fight over the one remaining place in Serie A.

It looked for a time like there'd be no playoffs at all, though results on the weekend have dictated that the gladiatorial fight to the death will take place, with the last team left standing rewarded with a place in Serie A. The semi-final fun gets underway on Wednesday, with the return legs taking place on Sunday.

Brescia vs. Livorno

Wednesday - 6 p.m. local, 12 p.m. ET - Stadio Mario Rigamonti, Brescia
Sunday - 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET - Stadio Armando Picchi, Livorno

With Brescia having only squeezed into the playoffs with a victory on the weekend, and Livorno edged out of automatic promotion by failing to win their last game, logic and the league table would suggest that Livorno really ought to win this tie and bounce back to Serie A for the first time since 2008.

But league form plays such a little part when the crazy playoffs come around, that expecting the amaranto to romp to victory is unrealistic. These sides first meet at the Mario Rigamonti in Brescia on Wednesday with the rondinelle having only lost twice in front of their own fans this season, and arguably in the better spirits. They'll be desperate to pick up a result before the trip to Tuscany on Sunday, with their away form having been so poor in comparison.

In Federico Dionisi and Paulinho Betanin, Livorno are armed with one of the division's best strike forces, though they can be defensively exposed at times. Brescia have found goals hard to come this season, though with striker Andrea Caracciolo hitting form at just the right time, this game's far from a foregone conclusion.

Novara vs. Empoli

Wednesday - 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET - Stadio Silvio Piola, Novara
Sunday - 6 p.m. local, 12 p.m. ET - Stadio Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli

Even more unpredictable is the other semi-final, which sees fourth play fifth and Empoli play Novara. They're two sides whose seasons have followed an eerily similar pattern, with both getting off to utterly terrible starts before hitting incredible form since.

From the start of 2013, Novara -- who were only relegated from Serie A last season -- have only been beaten three times in the league, after suffering ten defeats in the preceding few months of the campaign. Empoli failed to win in their opening nine matches, though have lost only four times since. In fact, Novara are one of the few teams to have inflicted a defeat on the Tuscans this year, winning 2-0 away at the Carlo Castellani in January.

Under Alfredo Aglietti -- who arrived in place of Attilio Tesser earlier in the season -- Novara have become one of the most exciting teams to watch. Fiorentina loanee Haris Seferović has been one of the revelations of the season, while young midfielder Bruno Fernandes is already attracting Serie A attention.

Contrastingly Empoli are a side more built around experience than youth, with their attack of Francesco Tavano and Massimo Maccarone having a combined age of 67. Still, they've combined excellently this season, and will be crucial in determining the winner of the tie.

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