MILAN (Reuters) – If Tottenham Hotspur were left with the frustrating feeling that they let Juventus off the hook on Wednesday, it is one that the Turin side’s Serie A rivals have felt numerous times over the last few years.
The resilience and cunning which helped Juve turn around their Champions League tie, coming from behind for a 2-1 win which sent them through 4-3 on aggregate, has been displayed time and again over the last few years in Serie A.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side, winners of six titles in a row, have made a habit of sneaking single-goal wins, often with late efforts and sometimes in controversial circumstances, to break the will of Napoli and AS Roma, the only teams who have challenged them during that period.
Last season’s campaign was effectively decided by a match in Turin which Roma dominated, but Juventus won 1-0.
The season before that, it hinged on a Juventus-Napoli match in mid-February.
Napoli went into the match as leaders but, almost inevitably, Juventus snatched victory with a last-gasp goal, scored by unsung substitute Simone Zaza. They never looked back and went on to win the title by nine points.
There are signs that it could happen again this season.
Napoli have led the table since early December, stringing together a run of 10 successive wins as they threatened to break Juve’s stranglehold.
Yet it has not been enough to shake off Juve who have doggedly matched them step for step, with a 10-match winning run of their own.
Then, last Saturday, Napoli finally cracked, collapsing to a dramatic 4-2 win at home to AS Roma.
Juventus, meanwhile, produced a typical backs-to-the-wall performance at Lazio before snatching a 1-0 win with a Paulo Dybala goal scored, naturally, deep into stoppage time.
Juventus are still one point behind Napoli but they have a game in hand, at home to Atalanta next Wednesday.
Juventus also appear to have an easier fixture at the weekend as they host Udinese while Napoli are away to an Inter Milan side who led the table in early December before their familiar mid-season slump.
Many felt last Saturday’s events could be the turning point and there is an increasing feeling that Napoli will end the season feeling like Tottenham did on Wednesday.
Juventus have already won at Napoli this season despite spending much of the game on the back foot in their usual fashion.
“Our self-confidence has grown every year and we made the most of our experience,” said defender Giorgio Chiellini after Wednesday’s game. “Year by year, you learn and you improve.”
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said after the Roma defeat that Juventus had been favourites all along.
“Our fans know that we are not the strongest club in Italian football, but we’re doing well regardless,” he said.
“We had the strength to make life difficult for Juventus in the title race but it seems obvious to me that they were the favourites all along. We will continue to try to make life difficult for them to the end.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Toby Davis)