A 0-0 draw with AS Roma on Sunday was enough to see Juventus crowned champions of Italy for the seventh consecutive occasion. No-one had ever done this before, but the unprecedented dominance shown by the Old Lady was tested right to the very limit by Napoli this term and, while the final outcome was perhaps expected, the Serie A title race has provided no end of entertainment in 2017/18.
This stands in stark contrast to Europe’s other top four leagues, all of which have been sewn up by the first-place teams with plenty of time to spare. However, the story of Italy’s domestic campaign took plenty of twists and turns until it reached its conclusion on Sunday evening, a tale that started before any action had taken place last summer.
Since Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri had arrived at the club in 2015, the Partenopei spent two seasons gradually getting closer and closer to mounting a credible title challenge with Juventus. In that first campaign, it took a last-gasp away defeat to Juve in February before the Bianconeri overtook them, Max Allegri’s men remaining unbeaten until they lifted the trophy in May.The Partenopei had developed a legion of admirers for their slick passing style and indeed several members of their squad were highly sought-after in the transfer market. However, this summer those players made a so-called “Scudetto Pact”, a promise to each other that they would ignore any such interest, instead concentrating on one last try to defeat their omnipotent opposition.
It certainly seemed they were closer than ever to doing so when this season began as Napoli went unbeaten until 1st December when they suffered a 1-0 loss to – yes, you have guessed it – Juventus. Yet in addition to the silky football that has become synonymous with Sarri’s men, the Neapolitan outfit had been displaying a newfound resilience, and aside from a blip in weeks 15 and 16, they would lead Serie A right up until matchday 27.
While Juve secured a 1-0 win over Lazio that day, Napoli succumbed to a 4-2 defeat to Roma, a result which would see the serial league winners move into top spot. Sarri’s men would never regain that top spot, but a thrilling win over Juve saw them move within just one point of the Bianconeri on April 22nd. Napoli supporters went wild as they achieved their first win at Juventus Stadium, however a 3-0 defeat to Fiorentina the following weekend would see them negate any ground they had gained.With just three games left to play, the Partenopei were back to square one on that Sunday in Florence, their rivals having beaten Internazionale 3-2 in stoppage time the night before. “We needed to go to bed early on Saturday night in Florence…,” admitted Sarri after Juve finally clinched the title in Rome this weekend. “The team suffered a psychological blow and felt it for the timing and the way that result came about. The only regret I have this season is that we lost the Scudetto in the hotel and not on the pitch.”
Of course, Napoli made mistakes during the course of the season and Sarri certainly should have used the players at his disposal in order to rotate his regular XI more. This could have avoided a situation where his starters were physically exhausted and mentally drained as the season drew to a close. However, this side have once again recorded a record points haul in this campaign and their current tally of 27 wins places them fifth in the all-time record for a single game season in Serie A.
Ultimately though, the credit must go to Juventus and Allegri for having become an embodiment of the club’s motto “Fino alla Fine” (until the end), their unshakable mentality arguably their best weapon that has served them so well as they battled harder than ever bring home the Serie A crown.