Juve in con­trol for 33rd ti­tle

Ju­ven­tus’ dom­i­nance of the do­mes­tic sea­son was never in doubt

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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

dra­matic im­pact.

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

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