Juventus fans had it all planned out. Get a point against Roma on Sunday for the Scudetto, win the Coppa Italia on Wednesday and return to Turin for the title party in the final home game against Crotone. That leaves a good week to prepare for Real Madrid in the Champions League Final, as Bologna are nothing but a footnote in the campaign. Open-top bus booked, stage set, singers arranged. Such hubris from the Old Lady.
Max Allegri and his players continue to declare “we’ve won nothing yet,” but the message really hasn’t gone through. For weeks and even months there has been talk of doing the Treble and following in the footsteps of Inter in 2010, but Juve are getting way ahead of themselves here.
There were signs of trouble when scraping draws with Atalanta and Torino, then they ran into a Roma side that was clearly more motivated. It had little to do with the title race and all about trying to avoid the dreaded Champions League preliminary round. Juve were playing for a point and it showed, but the real worry is that this performance was the culmination of a trend rather than a one-off blip.
In the past, the Bianconeri have used defeats to shake themselves out of their torpor and get focused again. After the loss to Genoa in November, they surged up the standings. Following Fiorentina in January, Allegri switched to 4-2-3-1 and never looked back. Perhaps this setback at the Olimpico is just what they needed to prevent a potential slide right at the business end of the season.
Don’t already look ahead to Cardiff and Real Madrid. Lazio are on fire at the moment with Keita Balde Diao and Ciro Immobile in particularly sparkling form. They have a bad record against Juve, losing their last six meetings, but the same was true in the Derby della Capitale before smashing Roma twice between Serie A and Coppa Italia in a matter of weeks.
While Juventus have their gaze towards the horizon for the Scudetto and Champions League, Lazio’s campaign trajectory is all aimed squarely on this night. They’ve already secured Europa League football and can happily throw all their eggs into this final basket.
Keita’s pace and the strength in the air of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, particularly on set plays, can be deadly weapons against what remains an ageing Juventus defence. Yes, they can read the game like no other, but will we see the same absolute focus they showed against the likes of Barcelona and Monaco? If not, the Treble talk can collapse at the first hurdle.
That’s not to even mention the upcoming match with Crotone, a side who are desperate to avoid relegation and amassed 17 points in seven rounds – more than any other side in that period. If the Bianconeri are rotating the squad in the hope of simply bullying their way to three points, that could be a huge mistake. It’d also leave the Scudetto hanging in the balance to the final round at Bologna, a team with nothing to play for, but with revitalised confidence lately.
It’s too easy to stay committed and focused against Real Madrid. Lazio, and Crotone, will be no pushovers and Juventus cannot take this lightly.