This was an historic weekend, as Juventus, Napoli, Roma and Inter had not all played goalless draws in the same matchday since Week 17 of the 1965-66 campaign. I’d love to say it was not for want of trying, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Some tried considerably harder than others.
Juventus have won the Scudetto for the last six seasons in a row. They have clearly more strength in depth than any other side in Italy and reached two Champions League Finals in the last three years. The Scudetto is considered the absolute minimum target every time they begin a new term. Max Allegri cannot keep trying to make us believe the Old Lady is some frail biddy who needs a stairlift to climb towards the top of the table. It’s a powerhouse of a squad, start acting like it.
Leaving Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Alex Sandro on the bench for the Derby d’Italia was bizarre. It also confirmed Allegri’s desire to neutralise Inter first and foremost, then perhaps score on the counter or from a set play. After all, it worked against Napoli a week before and earned their lone point with a weakened Barcelona in Turin. There comes a time when Juve fans – and players – will want more than just to scrape by. They’ve got more resources than several other teams put together, yet persist in torturing neutrals with their negative tactics. It’s understandable when the provincial clubs like Chievo play for a goalless draw against Roma, but Juventus were on home turf and they could’ve gone for the jugular with Inter. Imagine the wave of enthusiasm when seeing off both Scudetto contenders back-to-back, ending their unbeaten records? Instead everyone left the Allianz Juventus Stadium feeling deflated, none more so than whoever had to sit through that dirge of a football match.
When Napoli or Roma play out goalless draws, you can tell they have at least failed in their original objective. It wasn’t the plan all along. As predicted, the lack of strength in depth and squad rotation has finally caught up with the Partenopei and they’ve run out of steam. It was inevitable and the only hope now is to ride it out with Champions League commitments finished or hope Maurizio Sarri learns to trust someone outside the core 14 players.
It’s amusing to see so many people sniping about Napoli’s “beautiful football” suddenly hitting the skids, but they miss the point. Sarri’s style demands pace, moving the ball quickly so that we all know the routines, but they are still extremely difficult to stop. When the players are exhausted, it slows down and simply becomes predictable. I’d still much rather have a team with limited resources that tries to play exciting football rather than one with a huge squad that actively goes out seeking a 0-0 or 1-0 result.
Some, like Milan, are content at this stage simply to have some points on the board. Thank goodness Gennaro Gattuso threw the three-man defence into the bin where it belongs and brought back some logic to the side. Who knew actually putting players in their preferred positions would make a difference, eh? Even Riccardo Montolivo was rushing back to make two decisive defensive interceptions in the box, although I have the sneaking suspicion he was running so much purely to keep warm in the snow of San Siro after unwisely opting to wear short sleeves.
It was a weekend of draws, whether we saw them coming or not. Sampdoria and Verona both fumbled 2-0 leads against Cagliari and SPAL to finish on 2-2, but Udinese held firm under new Coach Massimo Oddo, mainly because Benevento couldn’t find a way to top last week’s goalkeeper-scoring stoppage-time drama.