Mixed-bag Juve in 7th heaven
Juventus' seventh successive Serie A title was not as emphatic as some of its previous campaigns and it took a mixture of luck, cunning and sheer bloody-mindedness to see it through as it was pushed all the way by a gallant Napoli.
There was plenty of suffering along the way but it always seemed to muddle through — whether it was with a contentious penalty at bottom club Benevento, a stoppage-time winner at Lazio or 2 goals in the last 5 minutes to beat Inter Milan.
“We know how to suffer. We made life more complicated for ourselves and then we managed to turn it around,” said defender Andrea Barzagli after Juventus’ 3-1 win at home to Bologna last week.
The first key moment in Juventus season came after a 2-3 defeat at Sampdoria in November when coach Massimiliano Allegri changed the 4-2-3-1 formation for a 4-3-3 to strengthen his side defensively.
Blaise Matuidi, signed during the close season from Paris Saint-Germain and used irregularly up to that point, was given a key role in plugging the holes which left the team looking unusually vulnerable.
The Frenchman’s combination of expert tackling, commitment, boundless energy and tactical awareness transformed the team as it won 14 and drew 2 of its next 16 league games, conceding 1 goal in the process.
That run included a defensive masterclass in a 1-0 win at Napoli and the smash-and-grab-raid at Lazio where Paulo Dybala snatched a stoppage-time winner.
Hours later, Napoli, which had won its last 10 games, lost 2-4 at AS Roma and Juventus was top where it has remained for the rest of the season.
But Juve also enjoyed plenty of lucky breaks, such as a Fiorentina penalty controversially revoked by VAR with Jordan Veretout waiting to take the kick or the even more contentious penalty in its favor at Benevento
With the score at 2-2, Gonzalo Higuain’s legs crumpled without any clear contact being made, yet the referee awarded a penalty which was converted by Dybala. Juve went on to win 4-2.
All this time, Napoli — widely regarded as the more eye-catching of the two — managed to keep pace and, 3 weeks ago, re-ignited the title race with a last-gasp 1-0 win away to Juve.
But in the end, it was Napoli which cracked as Juve pulled through with that familiar combination of determination and good fortune.
Trailing 1-2 to an Inter Milan side reduced to 10 men after 15 minutes Juve scored twice in the last 5 minutes to win 3-2. The next day, Napoli self-destructed in a 0-3 defeat at Fiorentina, leaving its hopes in tatters.