Relentless Juventus push Serie A rivals to new heights

Ninety-one points. If Juventus can manage just three more points this season, they’ll be on 91 points. It may not be enough for an incredible seventh Serie A title on the bounce, but it will match or best their points totals for five of the six Scudetto winning seasons in their recent, historical dominance of Italian game.

It’s an interesting thought given talk of their demise had been rife in the wake of last week’s defeat by title rivals Napoli.

Another interesting thought. With three games left, Juve have managed to score more goals this season (81) than in any of the previous six.

Demise? Certainly not when it comes to amassing points or finding the back of the net. Defensively? No – 22 goals conceded this term, well in line with any of the previous six and even with games left, likely to remain so.

Points, goals for and goals conceded suggest Juventus are maintaining their impressive consistency. But they also show how the Partenopei have grown stronger, particularly from a defensive standpoint, allowing them to properly put it up to Allegri’s champions this season.

Loved for their eye-catching, front-foot football, Napoli’s rear-guard have improved impressively this season. Last term, they conceded 39 times. This time round its 26, albeit with games left to play.

Points-wise, we also see an improvement. Insigne and co have amassed 84 points, already passing the 82 of Sarri’s impressive 2015-16 debut season and surely set to best the 86 they managed last term.

And while the goals for column may come up well short of last season’s tally of 94, they have clearly developed into a much more rounded team. Juve haven’t declined. Napoli are just bridging the gap.  But can they actually bridge it?

Two weeks ago, Juventus sloppily let slip a lead at struggling Crotone while Sarri’s men came from behind to take all three points against Udinese. And then Juve’s four-point lead going into last week’s game was dramatically reduced to just one, and for many, the momentum had shifted toward Sarri’s men.

And if the Bianconeri looked lifeless in Turin, then against Inter on Saturday night, they looked shot. Despite taking an early lead and Inter having to play for 75 minutes with ten men, Juventus found themselves deservedly behind with three minutes left. Incredibly, out of the blue, two goals in a minute from Cuadrado and Higuain turned the game on its head and wrecked many a night out down in Naples.

Juve have looked physically out on their feet in recent games. It should be no surprise when you consider that since the 2014-15 season Allegri’s sides have played 212 of a possible 220 Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia games. Of course they are tired. Tired, but clearly not beaten.

Saturday night’s amazing comeback was the result of pure guts – you don’t win six titles on the bounce without serious mental toughness – and was in stark contrast to Napoli’s meek 3-0 surrender at Fiorentina a day later.

That defeat should probably seal things. But there may still be a twist or two left yet. However, if Napoli are going to break Juve’s Serie A stranglehold, deprive them of an historic seventh Scudetto in a row, they are going to have to match their phenomenal resilience and wrestle it from them.

We know the Partenopei have the technical quality, but the last few fixtures look like being all about the mental side of the game.

“Fino alla fine” – the Juventus motto – translates as “Until the end.” Allegri’s men will fight all the way there. Take it to 91 points and beyond. Can Sarri’s men go there with them and take the title race right down to the wire?

Author Details

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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