THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Only Roma gave a serious title challenge

icon seriea21 May ~ Under fanatical coach Antonio Conte, Juventus ended the Italian season with 102 points, 17 more than Roma, and with a 100 per cent home record. But their travails in Europe against mostly modest opposition suggest that this is not a great Juventus side. They dominated Serie A because they had no credible opposition, apart from Roma and Napoli for a time. Their traditional rivals, Internazionale and AC Milan, finished respectively 42 and 45 points behind them and closer to bottom-of-the-table Livorno than to the top.

Juventus are a muscular team and very good at grinding opponents down. Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Giorgio Chiellini epitomise this strength, with Andrea Pirlo the only real concession to artistry. They also had in Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente two inspired purchases who dovetailed to form a very prolific striking partnership. Roma, with ten straight victories, were the early pacemakers, but once Juventus hit the top they were always going to stay there,  especially after they beat Roma 3-0 in January.

Roma were much improved under Rudi Garcia, and only three straight defeats at the end of the season left them apparently well adrift of Juventus. For a long time their defence was almost impregnable, and playing pleasing football they scored plenty of goals too.

Third-place Napoli dropped too many points against some of Serie A's lesser lights. They were also penalised by Rafa Benítez's chronic unwillingness to pick the same team two weeks running. They were well served by newcomers Gonzalo Higuaín and José Callejón, but Marek Hamsik had a disappointing and injury-plagued season.

Fiorentina paid a heavy price for losing strikers Mario Gómez and Giuseppe Rossi to injury for much of the season. Giuseppe Rossi's hat-trick in the 4-2 defeat of Juventus in October shows what they missed when he was injured in January. Even so Vincenzo Montella had his team playing some of the more attractive football on offer in Serie A.

Milan and Inter were very disappointing, the Rossoneri missing out on Europe for the first time since 1998-99. Both clubs are in transition, with the Indonesian Erick Thohir taking control of Inter and Milan racked by internal strife. Walter Mazzarri was a slight improvement on Andrea Stramaccioni as Inter coach, while Clarence Seedorf's reign as Massimo Allegri's replacement seems likely to be short-lived.

With the excellent Roberto Donadoni at the helm and Antonio Cassano having one of his best seasons, Parma took the final Europa League spot. It would have been Torino's had Fiorentina's Antonio Rosati not saved Alessio Cerci's 94th-minute penalty on the final day, which meant that the 2-2 draw was not enough. But in Ciro Immobile, with 22 goals, they did have Serie A's top scorer. Other clubs who could be pleased with their efforts were Atalanta and newly promoted Verona. Lazio, whose fans are in open conflict with owner Claudio Lotito and boycotted several matches, finished a disappointing ninth and Udinese also returned to the ranks after years of European qualification.

At the foot of the table Livorno were out of their depth, Bologna paid for selling their one creative player, Alessandro Diamanti, to Guangzhou Evergrande in February without a replacement, and Catania were betrayed by appalling away form, only five points out of 57. Serie A new boys Sassuolo's largely Italian team took 13 points from the last seven games to stay up, along with perennial survivors Chievo, even though they lost 12 and 11 home games respectively. The highlight of Sassuolo's season was undoubtedly the 4-3 home win against Milan in January.

The game here continues to be plagued by sporadic outbreaks of violence and racism which none of the repressive measures adopted in recent years seems to be able to halt, and one of the results is often depressingly empty stadiums. Overall it was a disappointing season, and Serie A now is as weak as it has ever been, though on the plus side most games are competitive. No striker averages a goal a game here, not even if they play for 102-point Juventus. Richard Mason

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