Juventus hold off Napoli to grind out another title as Serie A splits in two

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Even VAR could not stop Juve making it seven titles in a row, while many clubs with distinguished pasts seem happy just to survive in the top division

24 May ~ The final Serie A table shows a gap of 11 points between joint ninth Fiorentina and Torino on 54 and 11th-place Sassuolo on 43. There are just eight points between Sassuolo and relegated Crotone in 18th place. This season there was a Serie A1 and a Serie A2, and, if we exclude Benevento and Verona, who finished well below the pack, any one of eight teams could have gone down. It made for an uncertain end to the season, but it has been calculated that the bottom ten have never taken fewer points.

At the top no team has taken as many as Napoli’s 91 points without winning the Scudetto. So their season was very successful, and they have a case when they say that Juventus, who finished on 95, did not earn all their points. Juventus are immensely strong, and you cannot win seven titles in a row purely by luck, but there is still a nagging feeling, even in the days of VAR, that they get the rub of the green more than any other club. This season they were not particularly attractive and not all fans are happy with coach Massimiliano Allegri. As well as Gianluigi Buffon, others might leave this summer, so perhaps it will be someone else’s turn next season.

It might be Inter, whose dramatic last-day win over Lazio in Rome saw them return to the Champions League after six years. With no Europe and only 40 games played, they left it very late. The other Champions League spot went to Roma, while Lazio are again saddled with the Europa League. As are Milan and Atalanta, who must start in the preliminaries in July (though Milan may be banned for financial irregularities). Both improved in the second half of the season, but Milan remain basically a provincial team. Fears that Europe would jeopardise Atalanta’s league form proved largely unfounded. They did not repeat last season’s 72 points, but 60 was an excellent haul and they gained a lot of experience from their impressive run in Europe.

Torino again disappointed, while Fiorentina did as well as could be expected after Davide Astori’s death in March. Sampdoria started brilliantly but faded badly in the second half of the season.

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The bottom half of the table is full of clubs, some with distinguished pasts, who seem to have little ambition beyond remaining in Serie A. It is a depressing spectacle for the fans of teams such as Bologna and Genoa. The finishing positions of Chievo (13th) and Udinese (14th) belie the fact that only on the last day did they know they were safe. Udinese had the unenviable record of remaining on 33 points for 11 games, from round 24 to round 34.

Cagliari and Spal also guaranteed their safety on the last day. Spal’s effort, after 49 years out of Serie A, was especially praiseworthy. They always tried to play football, and were backed by fanatically loyal supporters in their tiny stadium. And so Crotone, after last season’s miraculous escape, filled the last relegation spot. This time the fixture computer dealt them a difficult hand, Napoli away, and they lost 2-1. They join Benevento, who showed everyone how to go down with dignity, and the hugely disappointing Verona in Serie B.

So not a vintage season, but one in which attendances were 11.7 per cent up, with the most attractive football coming from Lazio (89 goals scored, 49 conceded), Napoli and Atalanta. But at least a season with few dead games because most issues were not settled until very close to the end. And, of course, it was the season of VAR. I expressed my doubts at the halfway point of the season, and I have not changed my opinion. But the refereeing hierarchy insist that it has been a great success, so it is here to stay. As it has not changed the pecking order, I cannot see what benefits it brings. Richard Mason