By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) – Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has said several times that winning Serie A for an eighth year in a row would be “something extraordinary” but, for all the impressive statistics and records, it turned out to be all rather mundane.
The Turin side extended their dominance of Italian football when a 2-1 home win over mid-table Fiorentina on Saturday to clinch the championship with five games to spare — equalling the record for the earliest title win jointly held by Torino, Fiorentina and Inter Milan.
Juve, who have the joint-best attack and best defence in Serie A, also became the first team in one of Europe’s big five leagues to win eight titles in a row and are still on course to equal their own domestic Serie A record of 102 points.
Yet, despite Allegri’s protestations about how winning should never be undervalued, it was strangely unsatisfying, especially as it came four days after they were knocked out of the Champions League — the competition they really wanted to win — in the quarter-finals by Ajax Amsterdam.
This was partly because the outcome was so predictable — adding Cristiano Ronaldo, still regarded as one of the world’s two best players at the age of 34, to an already dominant team was never likely to improve the league’s competitive balance.
But there were also none of the awe-inspiring displays served up by teams such as Manchester City or Barcelona, nor the raw passion of Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri is a pragmatic character and his Juve side do not have an easily identifiable style of play,
their strengths being their resilience, flexibility and an uncanny knack of always being able to step up a gear, or sometimes get a lucky break, when it matters.
There were, of course, highlights such as Ronaldo’s stunning long-distance winner at Empoli — a wickedly dipping shot from 25 metres — and the emergence of teenage forward Moise Kean.
The 19-year-old played a grand total of two minutes in their first 26 league games but, in his first start, scored twice in a 4-1 win over Udinese and netted another three goals in his next five matches.
Yet in most games it was a case of getting the job done as efficiently as possible and leaving enough energy for their ultimately failed assault on the Champions League.
Fourteen of Juve’s 28 victories have been by one-goal margins, nine by two and five by three.
They were certainly versatile, with Allegri fielding 33 different line-ups in the 33 matches and effortlessly switching formations, often catching opponents cold.
They have also been at their most dangerous when cornered, coming from behind to win on six occasions.
In their first match, on a sweltering afternoon in Verona with Ronaldo making his debut, they trailed 2-1 at Chievo with 15 minutes left before an own goal by Mattia Bani and a last-gasp winner from Federico Bernardeschi gave them a 3-2 win.
Juve also fell behind at home to bitter rivals Napoli but hit back to win 3-1 and survived another scare in late October when they trailed at lowly Empoli before two Ronaldo goals — a penalty and his stunning long-range strike — gave them the win.
They avoided a first defeat of the season at Atalanta when they recovered from 2-1 down to draw 2-2 with 10 men and also came from behind to beat Lazio 2-1 and AC Milan by the same score in their previous match.
The last two were exactly the sort of performances — winning games they could easily have lost — that summed up why Juventus are so exasperating to their rivals.
“Winning eight titles in a row is never easy,” said Allegri.
But, in the end, they made it look exactly that and, in doing so, turned it into a largely forgettable Serie A season.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)