Juve in control for 33rd title
Juventus’ dominance of the domestic season was never in doubt
In the end, Juventus wrapped up the domestic season with the sort of clinical efficiency that has marked their triumphal progress all season long. In the space of just four days in May, they lifted both the Italian Cup and their 33rd Serie A title.
At the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, it took them just 25 minutes to score twice against Lazio in the Cup Final to put the game to bed and win 2-0. Four days later, they were equally effective, leading relegation battlers Crotone 2-0 after 39 minutes of a game that they eventually won 3-0 to secure a recordbreaking sixth consecutive title.
To a large extent, Juve finished their domestic season in cruise control, keeping their powder dry for the Champions League Final appointment with Real Madrid. That was especially evident in their third-last game of the season when they faced closest rivals Roma in Rome, just three days before the Italian Cup Final.
Holding a seven-point lead over Roma, Juve opted for discretion in the face of one of the hungriest, most aggressive Roma performances of the season and lost 3-1. This was a game that had appeared to be following the expected triumphal script when Mario Lemina put Juve in front after 21 minutes. But the goal prompted a fierce second-half fightback from Roma, during which, in the words of coach Massimiliano Allegri, his side got “a bit distracted”.
Significantly, at his post-match press conference, Allegri cheerfully pronounced that he was “not worried”. Nor, frankly, had he reason to be. Basically, with their thoughts on Cardiff, a number of players reasoned that, rather than risk everything against Roma, they would live to fight another day and win the title the following week against Crotone. In the meantime, they still had the Cup Final to play, so, for once, discretion maybe was the better part of valour.
The reality of this season, unlike last year, is that it was utterly dominated by Juventus. Last season, for example, Juve had to recover from a poor start which saw them lose three of their first 10 games. At that point, of course, the team moved into gear with an astonishing run which
Juve finished the domestic season in cruise control, keeping their powder dry for the Champions League Final
saw them pick up 73 out of 75 points with 24 wins and one draw.
This year, no such dramatics were required. From the beginning, things were looking good. A 2-1 win against Fiorentina on the opening day augured well, while by the fifth game of the season Juve had gone top of the table, remaining there without interruption for the rest of the season. Basically, notwithstanding defeats by Internazionale and Milan, there was never a moment when the title seemed destined for any club other than Juventus.
A number of factors contributed to this highly successful season. For a start, it helps if you go out in the summer and buy your closest rivals’ two best players, namely Napoli’s Argentinian ace Gonzalo Higuain and Bosnian playmaker Miralem Pjanic from Roma.
Allegri obviously earns plenty of plaudits too, not only for the manner in which he integrated Higuain and Pjanic but also for ensuring that his team remained hungry and ultra competitive all season long. Allegri was also responsible for a tactical flash of genius which certainly appeared to galvanise the whole Juventus season.
That moment came last January when he abandoned his cautious 3-5-2 system for a more audacious 4-2-3-1 formation which saw Juve line up with all their most-talented attacking players: Pjanic behind Caudrado-Dybala-Mandzukic, with Higuain on his own up front. That move and the eventual impact of Higuain, have arguably upped the Juventus game.
Bought by Juventus to score goals in big games, the talented Argentinian did exactly that.
When it mattered, he scored some very important goals, be it against Fiorentina on day one of the season, or against his old club Napoli last October, or against Roma last December, or even his double in the Champions League 2-0 semi-final, first leg win against Monaco.
Higuain might have scored a record 36 Serie A goals for Napoli the previous season, but it is arguable that his 29 Serie A and Champions League goals for Juventus this term had a far more
When the final balance sheet is drawn up for this season, a number of other issues present themselves: the continuing rise and rise of Napoli, who played some very attractive football; the remarkable achievement of Atalanta in finishing fourth and in the Europa League with a young and talented side ably coached by Gian Piero Gasperini; the partial decline but not fall of Milan, Internazionale and of Fiorentina, who finished sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
No review of the season, however, would be complete without some mention of the remarkable scenes which marked the official retirement of Roma’s ever-faithful icon, Francesco Totti. That came on the very last day of the season when 40-year-old Totti appeared as a 54th minute substitute in Roma’s last gasp 3-2 home win against Genoa.
This was not an irrelevant game. Had it not been for Argentinian Diego Perotti’s injury-time winner, Roma would have finished third rather than second in Serie A. As it was, the Perotti goal saw them finish just one point clear of third-placed Napoli, which means that Roma will avoid the qualifying stage of the Champions League next season, matches that often come too early in the late-starting Italian league campaign.
Despite the fact that this was a game that mattered, the atmosphere at the Olimpico in Rome was very different, with a packed house concentrated, above all, on paying a final, emotional and deeply felt homage to their idol.
There may have been better players (though not many), more brilliant schemers, more lethal goalscorers (although he was not bad in both roles), but it is at least arguable that no player has ever been the object of such unconditional love and affection from his fans than Totti.
As he did a lengthy lap of honour in his home stadium, in a splendidly choreographed setting, there were many tearful eyes among the adoring Roma fans. For them, Totti’s greatest merit was his fidelity to Roma. He joined the club in 1989 as an already talented 12-year-old and he spent the rest of his career with Roma. In all he played 786 times for Roma, scoring 307 goals for his club.
Winner of the 2006 World Cup with Italy and 2001 scudetto with Roma, Totti didn’t exactly finish his career emptyhanded. However, had he gone looking for a career elsewhere – and Real Madrid were just one possibility – he might have won more.
That matters little now. What does matter is that he won himself a totally unique place in the hearts and minds of Italian football fans. And not just Roma fans either.
No player has ever been the object of such unconditional love and affection from his fans than Totti
Juve duo...Miralem Pjanic jumps on Gonzalo Higuain’s back
Deby...Inter keeper Samir Handanovic keeps out Milan
Double...Juventus’ Paulo Dybala (right) in action against Lazio in the Italian Cup Final
Legend...Francesco Totti at the end of his last game for Roma
Surprise...Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez (right) and Bryan Cristante