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Five-star Juventus too good for Serie A – the Champions League must now follow

It promised to be one of the most exhilarating Serie A title races in recent years. Then Juventus throttled the life out of it.

Roma’s 1-0 win over Napoli on Monday confirmed the Old Lady will lift the Scudetto for the fifth year in a row, but their name has long been on the trophy. Sunday’s 2-1 victory away to Fiorentina, inspired by the brilliant Paul Pogba, the imperious Gianluigi Buffon and, yes, the luck of the woodwork, left nobody in any doubt.

In truth, Juve’s triumph in Florence has reflected the season at large since a 1-0 loss to Sassuolo on October 28 left them with 12 points from 10 matches. They have won 24 of the 25 games since. They have conceded just nine goals in that run, allowing Gianluigi Buffon to break Sebastiano Rossi’s 22-year record of 929 minutes without conceding. It’s been relentless, spectacular, and utterly predictable.

“After our loss against Sassuolo in October, no one gave us a chance of competing for the title,” Paulo Dybala summed up. “Everyone had written us off. Now, here we are.”

Those ‘write-offs’ were not without merit. The departures of Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo appeared to have been too much as they took just one win from their first six. Massimiliano Allegri was questioned for his tactics on an almost weekly basis, and Dybala became a €40million scapegoat for the shocking form of a side who almost claimed the treble just months earlier.

Like Juve, Dybala survived the rough patch – the “trial by media” as Allegri described it – and watched their closest rivals collapse in their redoubtable wake.

Roma caught the scent of blood after beating them in the capital, but Luciano Spalletti came too late to arrest their decline. Maurizio Sarri’s unleashed Napoli burned out long before Gonzalo Higuain’s explosive tirade against Udinese, or Monday’s loss in the capital. Inter scrapped their way to the top but a fragile squad could not hold on. They all fell beneath the Juve steamroller.

It is hard to see that changing next season. Roma still have issues in defence and attack to resolve – not to mention Spalletti’s Francesco Totti-shaped problem. Napoli cannot expect to emerge stronger should they now cash in on Higuain, while the same can be said for Inter and Mauro Icardi. As for AC Milan, they are still many years and many millions of euros from getting close.

Juve have proved, if they hadn’t before, that they are too good for Serie A. Like Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, their domestic rule is absolute. Like the champions of France and Germany, they must now be weighed and measured in Europe.

They boast one of the continent’s best defences and a tactical flexibility unseen at Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Bayern. They outplayed semi-finalists Manchester City in two wins in the group stage and were seconds from knocking Pep Guardiola’s side out in the last 16, despite key injuries. It took the best team in the world to stop them in 2015, and they could be stronger next year than they were in that final against Barca.

“Next year we must target winning the Champions League,” Allegri himself admitted on Sunday. “It’s reductive to focus just on Serie A. 

“We can improve the players we’ve got and help them reach maturity. We were naive against Bayern Munich when in control of the situation.

“The club will focus on improving the squad, as it did last summer, bringing in young players with great technique.”

Paul Pogba’s future is the first hurdle. The France star has blossomed into an all-round creative force in the absence of Vidal and Pirlo; no single player in the top flight is quite so influential.  

Offers for Pogba seem inevitable, but his departure is not. Barcelona are his team of choice but a new centre-back, a Neymar pay rise and a new stadium are all higher in their financial priorities. Manchester City, PSG and Antonio Conte’s Chelsea will all be linked in the coming months but none is the obvious suitor, even with the rumoured sums on offer. “I joked the other day that as the €100m wouldn’t go to me, I’d rather keep Pogba!” was Allegri’s view.

If conquering Europe is now the target, the key pieces are already in place. Keep Pogba, spend wisely, and Juve will fear few teams in the Champions League.

They certainly don’t in Serie A.

Mon 25 Apr, 2016
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