A Week Is A Long Time In Serie A
Six years after being relegated to Serie B because of their orchestration of a large match-fixing scam, Juventus won their 28th Serie A title on Sunday night, thanks to Inter’s 4-2 victory over Milan and the Turin’s side 2-0 win over Cagliari in Trieste.
The irony of Juventus owing their title to arch-rivals Inter was lost on no-one, but the Juve fans will not let that sour their celebrations.
The team that wins the league over 38 games always deserves to do so – there is little luck involved in winning Serie A. Even though the standard of play in Serie A has continued to plummet, Juventus are deserving champions, still unbeaten with one game to go (although with so many draws that Milan and their 6 defeats were in the running for the title until this week).
As is now traditional in this column, the Serie A winners receive a pagella – or report card – for their season. Readers will recall that there is no grade inflation in an Italian pagella – 7/10 is a good grade.
Gianluigi Buffon 7,5 With his back problems resolved, Italy’s number 1 was back to his best, transmitting confidence to his back line. Half a mark deducted for being dishonest about Sulley Muntari’s disallowed goal at San Siro.
Stephan Lichsteiner 8,5 The non-Pirlo transfer of the season. Became the best right back in Serie A with searing runs and endless energy.
Andrea Barzagli 8 Quietly authoritative, he established himself as a no-nonsense centre back after the disappointment of his Bundesliga experience.
Leonardo Bonucci 6,5 A disappointing start to the season, with long spells on the bench. Rejuvenated in Conte’s 3 man defense, but still below par.
Giorgio Chiellini 7,5 More noteworthy for his steely determination than his defensive timing, Chiellini was the soul of the team in the absence of Del Piero. Useful going forward.
Arturo Vidal 7,5 A crucial part of Conte’s midfield after a questionable start. True grit in midfield as well as a good shot (7 goals) and vision to boot.
Andrea Pirlo 9 Without question the transfer of the season (particularly as he was free). Protected by his younger midfield colleagues, the 32 year old directed the game like his old self. 7 goals, countless assists, and a calm elegance that no other member of the squad could dream of.
Claudio Marchisio 8 The essential counterpart to Pirlo in midfield. Did a lot of dirty work but came up with very important goals (9 in total) in the middle of the season when the strikers were misfiring.
Simone Pepe 7 A useful winger, never gave up and scored a crucial goal against Napoli. Lost steam as the season went on.
Mirko Vucinic 7,5 Only took off in March, and contributed 6 goals from then on, staving off a number of difficult situations and adding that touch of inspiration that the other strikers lacked.
Alessandro Matri 7 The triumph of the will. Not the most gifted, but benefitted from being in the right place at the right time. Top scorer nonetheless with 10 goals.
Antonio Conte 9 The real genius behind this scudetto. He arrived with a winning aura, fairly rigid ideas and a thin skin (reacting with little humour to repeated taunts about his hair transplant). But after a promising start he became far more than a popular former player who could transmit energy to the squad. He ditched his preferred 4-2-4 formation in favour of a flexible 4-3-3 that could easily become a 3-5-2, confounding more experienced managers. Showed ruthlessness in dealing with some players (Milos Krasic, Eljero Elia, even Del Piero) while transmitting new belief to the Juventus family. European competition will be his big test next season, but he deserves to celebrate an impressive first Serie A title as manager.
– Michael Ottolenghi