Serie A domination: Can Juventus make it 8 Scudettos in 8 years?
It’s been an unusually competitive season in Serie A. Juventus’ usual dominance was nearly checkmated. First, it was Inter Milan, Lazio, AS Roma, and Napoli all threatening to dethrone the reigning champions. Then Inter, Roma, and Lazio fell away. Napoli shouldered the burden alone.
The Gli Azzurri were convincing. They topped the table for the greater portion of the season. But only the team that leads after 38 games is champion. As early as February, the handwriting was on the wall for Napoli. The southerners' lead grew fragile. The top spot was there for Juventus to take.
Soon enough, Juventus did just that. In the time since, the Old Lady hasn't looked back. Even when the team capitulated in some matches, like the unexpected defeat to Napoli at the Juventus Stadium, they remained atop the pile.
With two matches to play, the Bianconeri sit on 91 points. That’s six more than Napoli. For Napoli to draw level on points, Juve must lose both games. Because their head-to-head records comprise matching 1-0 victories away, goal difference decides. Juve hold a 16-goal advantage. Essentially, Juve would have to lose by four goals in each match and Maurizio Sarri's pursuers would have to win theirs by the same margin. When was the last time you saw such a barrage of goals in Italian football. I'll wait for you to google.
Right, can we agree this is not going to happen?
Playing Roma away in the next match may prove difficult, but all the Zebras need to do even if they lose to Roma is to beat already-relegated Hellas Verona in Turin. Then they can celebrate a seventh consecutive title win before home fans.
Some Napoli players have not given up the ghost. Club captain Marek Hamsik stated they will "keep believing until the maths no longer allow it.” Defiance is admirable but reality is reality. With six points behind and two games left to play, the Scudetto is gone. Sorry.
It's cruel for Napoli faithful for their side to come so close only to realise the nearly 30-year wait is not about to end. But there’s always another opportunity. It’s time to start planning for next season.
The good news is Juventus have already shown signs their power is fading. Allegri may leave for greener pastures. He is heavily linked with a move to Arsenal.
Whether he stays or leaves, the club is due for another rebuild. Beppe Marotta and co have preyed upon rivals who grew too quickly in past seasons. They've retooled on the fly. But the progress made by the Milan and Rome duos may stack the numbers against them. They can't sign the best players from all four squads. As well, their rivals have found new money. Milan even swooped into Turin for Leonardo Bonucci. Expect them all to strengthen in the summer and mount even stiffer challenges.
Champions League disappointment and an ageing squad may also play a role in Juve’s downfall. Some important players may leave this summer. Paulo Dybala is already being eyed by Bayern. Gianluggi Buffon (40), Andrea Barzagli (37), Giogio Chiellini (33) and Claudio Marchisio (32) are all past their prime. Buffon has confirmed he will leave this summer.
Seven from Juve’s starting XI against Real Madrid in the Champions League return leg are in their 30s. None of the remaining four is younger than 25. Other key members of the squad are winding down their careers. Stephan Lichtsteiner is 34. Juan Cuadrado will be 30 later in the month. Kwadwo Asamoah clocks 30 this year, too.
The Serie A is primed for a power shift. The Scudetto is there for the taking. Juventus’ days of domination are likely over. It’s now a free-for-all for the title contenders.