Juventus programmed to win while rest of Serie A struggle to keep up

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Juve took their sixth Scudetto in a row, Atalanta were the shining light from the chasing pack and, at the bottom, Crotone pulled off a shock escape

2 June ~ A total of 1,123 goals were scored in Serie A in 2016-17, an average of 2.96 per game. An analysis of the matches between the top five (Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Atalanta and Lazio) and the bottom seven (Chievo, Bologna, Genoa, Crotone, Empoli, Palermo and Pescara) shows that of the 70 matches, 59 were won by the top five, seven were drawn and four were won by the bottom seven. So there were a lot of weak defences, and there was an abyss between the top and the bottom.

Roma dropped just two points in their 14 games against the bottom seven, while Juventus and Atalanta won 13 and lost one. Napoli, however, drew with Palermo, Pescara and Genoa. And that, plus two defeats against Atalanta in which they did not score, is why Napoli did not win the title. Roma also dropped too many points in winnable games. A draw at Empoli, a draw and a loss against Atalanta, defeats away to Sampdoria and Torino. These are games that Juventus rarely lose or draw.

Juventus won the title by four points. That sounds close, but they were always just out of reach, and never really looked as if they could be caught. The same is true of individual matches. Usually they did enough to win and little more. A common result for them is 2-0, whereas 5-3 or 7-1 are unheard of. The arrival of Dani Alves, Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuaín more than compensated for the loss of Paul Pogba. They have now won a record six consecutive Scudettos. They are programmed to win, the others are programmed to try to win.

Neither of the Milan clubs was among the top five but Atalanta were. After a terrible start, with four defeats in five games, coach Gianpiero Gasperini found a near perfect blend of experience and youthful exuberance and had the team playing some exhilarating football, inspired by the brilliant Alejandro Gómez with 16 goals and 15 assists. Only four more games were lost as they reached 72 points and fourth place, both club records, and returned to Europe after 26 years. They even recovered from a 7-1 hammering away to Inter in March, staying unbeaten for the last ten games.

Lazio and AC Milan took the other two Europa League places, but Milan will have to start on July 27 in one of the preliminary rounds. They struggled because they don’t have the players, and lost two of their better performers, Giacomo Bonaventura and Riccardo Montolivo, to long-term injuries. Inter finished seventh. They had the players but not a team. Both Milan clubs are now under Chinese ownership, but the way back will not be easy.

In late January the three relegation places seemed to be already decided. Empoli had at least double the points of Pescara, Palermo and Crotone. Then seven consecutive defeats saw the gap begin to narrow. Away wins against Fiorentina and Milan and a home win against Bologna should have ended Empoli’s worries, but Crotone were on a run that saw them move from 14 to 31 points in seven games.

The last game saw Empoli on 32 points away at relegated Palermo and Crotone on 31 at home to Lazio. Palermo did their duty, winning 2-1, and Crotone deservedly stayed up with a 3-1 win. Empoli paid for assuming too soon that they were safe. At least the season stayed alive right to the end, which seemed unlikely in January. Even so, there were still scores of matches between teams with nothing to play for.

Not a vintage season, but a lot of promising young players were blooded. The future of Italian football looks brighter than the recent past. And one very old player, the nearly 41-year-old Francesco Totti, bid an extremely emotional farewell to his beloved Roma after 25 years. Coming up will be SPAL, from Ferrara, after an absence of 49 years, Verona and Carpi or Benevento. Richard Mason