Can Serie A challengers wrestle Scudetto away from Juventus?
The Old Lady has held sway in Italy, winning the Scudetto a record six times in a row. The manner in which the title has been won in that period has been nothing short of impressive. Starting from the 2011/12 season when Antonio Conte took over as the manager, Le Zebre began a winning run that has, until now, appeared unstoppable. In Conte's first season, Juve went the entire season without a loss in Serie A.
Conte followed up with two more Scudetto wins. Apart from the first title, when the team finished only four points ahead of Milan, its subsequent triumphs blew away the competition. In 2014, Conte's final season, Juventus set a Serie A record with 102 points. Second-place Roma finished with 85.
In true Juventus fashion, the club raided the competition for a replacement. Max Allegri came on board from Milan. Juve didn't miss a beat. Allegri continued from where Conte had left off. He left Roma in his new side's dust, 17 points off the final pace. Allegri would continue until he matched Conte's trifecta last season. He even broke new ground, becoming the first coach to deliver an Italian side the domestic double, Scudetto and Coppa Italia, two years running.
But this year hasn't been the cakewalk to which Bianconeri faithful have become used. Other contenders have woken from their slumber. Napoli led the league through November. Then Inter stepped up.
Observers had thought Milan would provide the challenge. A host of signings including Juve's own Leonardo Bonucci indicated as much. But the Rossoneri have struggled. It's the Nerazzurri, Gli Azzurri, and Giallorossi carrying the fight. The big question remains: Can they sustain their early season push?
Juve isn't done. The six-time defending Italian champion took over second place on the weekend.
In the round prior Inter finally suffered its first loss, 1-3 at home to Udinese. Luciano Spalletti's side shouldn't be superstitious, but defeat coming to a team in black and white strip doesn't bode well.
Napoli was also on an unbeaten run before it confronted Juve in Week 15. The loss and a subsequent draw reshaped the table. Napoli is top again, Inter third, with Allegri's champions wedged between. Roma are fourth, four points adrift, albeit with a game in hand.
While seemingly the rest of Europe is watching singular clubs run away with leagues, the competition in Lega Calcio is intense.
There are strong indications this season will not be business as usual for Juventus. At the least, the Bianconeri are regressing to the mean. Inter is playing football unseen at San Siro for years. The question is one of character. Will Spalletti's charges bounce back from defeat? If Mauro Icardi maintains his torrid form, it's a good bet they will.
Napoli reacted well to its loss to Juventus and barren draw against Fiorentino, winning 3-1 away at Torino.
Roma has yet to take its turn in ascension, although one gets the feeling Eusebio de Francesco's side will.
For its part, Juventus must be feeling the pressure. With two early defeats and its rivals feeling strong, Allegri and company can't afford to drop many more points. After being alone for so long, the Old Lady has several interested suitors.