Juventus should be on cloud nine after clinching their ninth consecutive Serie A crown. Their fans won’t be present to join in on the title celebrations but, even with them there, this won’t have felt like a Scudetto worth cheering about. That’s not to say the Bianconeri don’t deserve credit for making more history, exposing the laughable lack of competition, but that is precisely what allowed them to get away with doing the bare minimum. For a club that prides itself on setting the bar high, its standards seem to be dropping.
Of course, there have been some positives. Paulo Dybala, in particular, has been a shining light, finding his feet in Juve’s front three with 17 goals and 14 assists. Such has been his impact this season that the Old Lady have not lost in Serie A when he has played and made a goalscoring contribution. And through all of Maurizio Sarri’s trials and tribulations in trying to transform the team’s style of play, they haven’t lost their ability to ground out results when the chips are down, even after a three-month break and global health emergency.
Sadly, they are far outweighed by the negatives. Some haven’t been of Juve’s own making, namely their lack of continuity at centre-back, characterised by the loss of captain Giorgio Chiellini to a serious knee injury. Most of them, on the other hand, are. As I’ve already highlighted in a previous blog, Andrea Agnelli and Fabio Paratici dealt Sarri a poor hand last summer, expecting him to work wonders with a squad so drilled into the Max Allegri ethos – the polar opposite of ‘Sarrismo’. The results of that work, so far, have been painful to watch.
That said, it is a damning indictment on Serie A as a whole that the worst Juve side for some time are able to win the title with two games to spare. Atalanta’s sudden surge in form, while admirable, was too little too late. Lazio looked like pushing the Bianconeri all the way, but a thin squad coupled with buying into their own hype a little too much proved costly. Then there’s Inter, who appointed Antonio Conte and backed him to the hilt in the transfer market but still came up short, failing to capitalise on every one of their arch-rivals’ slip-ups.
In Juve’s defence, however, this was always supposed to be a transition season and Sarri has still managed to deliver a Scudetto, not discounting the Champions League if he masterminds a turnaround against Olympique Lyonnais. The recent 2-1 defeat to Udinese was a microcosm of where the Old Lady are at the moment. The result and how they threw a winning position away would normally be dismissed out of hand as a misstep. Yet the coach is doing away with the pragmatism and introducing a more holistic approach.
“We lost our shape and organisation in Udine, but the positive aspect is we did that because we were trying so hard to win,” Sarri said before the visit of Samp. “I prefer that as a reason to lose rather than being passive, which is what we experienced a few other times. I like that desire to win, but we weren’t perfect in the execution. I do like always going forward, but you have to read the situation too. I am not going to deny I prefer the all-attack mentality, though ... Faced with evident difficulties, I think the team has done well.”
What seems certain is that Juve won’t be able scrap out another Scudetto without being punished. The signings of Arthur Melo and Dejan Kulusevski, coupled with Miralem Pjanic’s sale, suggest they are moving in the right direction, but they are still two full-backs, another midfielder and another forward away from reasserting their dominance on Serie A. For this freak season, Juve should refrain from celebrating, keep the champagne on ice and move straight on to the Champions League. That is where the real success lies.
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