Fifth of May, it had to be and so it did. The most memorable day in the modern history of Juventus was once again noted down with great pride and joy as Antonio Conte’s men secured their 29th (Unofficially 31st) title beating Palermo in front of a capacity crowd at Juventus stadium. Unlike last season, Juventus could not remain unbeaten in this title winning campaign but this was certainly a more dominant triumph as the gulf in quality between them and the challengers has remained pretty evident all throughout the season. With three more games still to play in the league, Juventus are currently 11 points clear of second placed Napoli and 18 ahead of Milan.
Right from the start of the season, Juventus were deemed favourites to defend the title as the additions made to their squad were not the most high profile ones but were shrewd nevertheless and gave coach Antonio Conte the perfect set of players to deploy his much favoured 3-5-2 formation over a complete course of the season. The depth in their squad becomes clearly visible when you note that a player of Paul Pogba’s merit spent a major portion of the season warming the bench. Although their European campaign ended on a bitter note after a thumping handed over by eventual finalists Bayern Munich, that did not put them off the track in Serie A at all. The focus was set and in a large number of the games, they were just too good to be stopped.
If Andrea Pirlo was the fulcrum of the title winning side of the last season, it was Arturo Vidal’s turn this season to rise to the heroic status. Not only did the Chilean notch the highest number of goals for Juventus, he was – by a margin – their best player throughout the season. Industry and grit are the prime assets in Vidal’s armoury and having a partner of that level of work rate is extremely essential for a defensively error prone Pirlo to flourish. While many hail Pirlo for his imaginative play from the centre of the park and quite rightly so, few acknowledge the fact it is the presence of Vidal who offers him a protective shield which allows the genius of the Italian to surface so frequently to leave the spectators in awe.
It was only fitting for Vidal to score the goal that sealed the title – albeit from the spot. Juventus kept threatening the Palermo goal from time to time and both Mirko Vucinic and Fabio Quagliarella came pretty close to doubling the lead but failed to convert – a story of Juventus’ season as far as their strikers are concerned. No wonders Beppe Marotta is under immense pressure to add muscle to this department despite delivering two back to back title winning squads. Coach Antonio Conte should be particularly elated with what the team has achieved after serving a touchline ban for almost the first third of the season. Post his appointment nearly two years ago, in his very first team meeting, he had made his intentions clear conveying the players that the mediocrity must stop – stopped indeed it has, one must say.
With the title race now even mathematically settled, the only battle to look forward to is the one where Milan and Fiorentina are engaged in a dogfight for the last Champions League spot. Ahead of this round of fixtures, Milan were walking on a tight rope with only a one point lead to protect their third place on the table. However, both the games involving the two sides have produced results extremely favouring for Milan to consolidate the position from here on as they see themselves four points clear of the Viola.
Fiorentina were playing on Saturday and were in with a chance to put Milan under pressure registering a win over Roma and considering their recent form and Roma’s propensity to steal a defeat out of the jaws of victory, this result looked far from unlikely. The game was a visual delight for the neutrals as despite the two sides being watchful of each other and paying some rather undue respect to one another’s offensive prowess, the movement, trickery and exquisite passing that was on display made it a wonderful watching experience. The second half though was a different story with Fiorentina taking command of the proceedings leaving Roma out of shape often. Adem Ljajic in particular kept causing the fragile looking Roman defence problems aplenty and the midfield comprising Aquilani, Pizarro and Valero quite easily outplayed their opposite numbers. It is beyond explanation how Fiorentina managed not to convert any of those numerous chances they created.
The fans may feel hard done with a legitimate looking shout for a penalty from a De Rossi handball having been denied straightaway. In the stoppage time, it was a Pablo Osvaldo header that left the home fans in complete shock and agony as a game Fiorentina would find hard to come to terms with not having won, they actually managed to lose – pretty much what Roma under Zeman would do. Ironically it was another goal scored by Osvaldo five years back playing for Fiorentina back then that had kept Milan out of the Champions League the following season. This one may complete the full circle of life. Funny sport, this football is.
Milan however are not known for keeping things easy for themselves. Against Torino, in what was believed to be a routine outing at San Siro, they made things difficult with a lackluster display. In the absence of Montolivo, the midfield looked terribly out of ideas and there was close to nothing assisted on the attacking front by the three pronged bank of Flamini, Muntari and Nocerino. Allegri added a number of attack minded players through substitutions, to little avail though as Milan, with great difficulty, managed to score the solitary goal, customarily through Mario Balotelli. With 9 goals in 10 games for the Rossoneri, Balotelli is only growing in stature in the red half of the city. The goal may go on to be a decisive one in determining the final standing for Milan in three weeks’ time.
The other half of the city, it seems is only further slipping into doldrums. Last week saw Inter lose out on iconic skipper Javier Zanetti in what could probably be a career threatening injury and the misery only continued with an Edinson Cavani show at San Paolo. The mercurial Uruguayan forward netted in three past an Inter defence that perhaps has more leaks than the Iraqi navy, Mark Wahlberg would say. The only response Inter had to this onslaught was a goal scored from the spot by Ricky Alvarez. It was a relatively livelier affair than what you’d otherwise expect from a game involving Inter. Both the sides wasted a handful of opportunities which may have read the full time scoreline slightly different – not that it’d have changed the result much though. With the win Napoli are pretty safe at the automatic qualification to Champions League while at this rate, Inter may very well finish the season outside Europa League zone – you may doubt they’d actually mind that.
Miroslav Klose had not scored a single league goal in the year 2013 – till Sunday that is. Enough is enough, felt the German and felt he hard. Activating the demolition mode, he rediscovered his own version of World Cup 2002 netting in five to complete the 6-0 routing of Bologna. The win still keeps Lazio in hunt for a Europa League spot. But if Klose won the headlines from the weekend, Antonio Di Natale was not far behind in making his mark as well. Courtesy two goals from the captain, Udinese comfortably beat Sampdoria 3-1 at Friuli which now places them at sixth position on the table.
Genoa dismantled a hapless Pescara 4-1 with Marco Borrielo of all people claiming a brace to his name. The defeat confirms the demotion for Pescara which is pretty heartbreaking considering the promise they had showed last season in the second division. The loss of Zeman and three key players was indeed too much to deal with. Genoa on the other hand inched closer to safety with the win. Three points now separate them from Palermo while Siena too after a shambolic performance against Catania are more or less certain to go down. The current standings make the clash between Fiorentina and Palermo on the penultimate day extremely interesting. Palermo shall fight till the last drop of sweat and blood to avoid relegation against a Fiorentina side that will give their everything to make it to the Champions League spot.
Trivia: With four more goals in the remaining three games, Cavani can become the first striker in Serie A to cross the 30 goal mark in a season after Luca Toni did in 2005-06. Here comes the most interesting part. The last striker to achieve the feat before Toni was Inter’s Argentine forward Antonio Angelillo and he achieved this in the 1958-59 season. It took 45 years for a striker to score 30 goals in a season since. Not for nothing do they call it the league with maximum tactical organization.