Napoli reminded Juventus that there's still plenty of work before the Old Lady is ready for European double duty next year.
They're already going to spend the summer talking about fashion. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and Internazionale patron Massimo Morratti have started exchanging petty press jibes about adding a third star to Juventus' jersey next year. The gold star above the crest represents 10 Scudetti. Officially, Juve has only won 28 because of the two stripped in the aftermath of Calciopoli.
Luciano Moggi helpfully suggested nailing the third star to Morratti's head.
A mere week after winning the title Gianluigi Buffon told Radio Deejay that "talking about the '30' Scudetti gets boring." So imagine how tedious the arguments about Juve's unbeaten record would have been had the Old Lady won the Coppa Italia.
"It was almost unthinkable to beat Juventus over 90 minutes when it hadn’t lost all season," said Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri.
Except Juve had lost. Kind of. Alright, not really. But maybe?
In the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal, regular time finished with AC Milan ahead 2-1. Since Juventus had won the first leg by the same scoreline, the tie went into extra time and a Mirko Vucinic goal led Juve into the final. It sure didn't feel like losing.
Still, Milan vice president Adriano Galliani wrote a letter to La Gazzetta dello Sport with a contorted argument about why Juventus had to consider it a defeat. Napoli's win kindly excused us any more pedantry, at least on that point.
In some small way, perhaps with logic as convoluted as Galliani's, the Partenopei – which Antonio Conte called "made of steel" before the game – may have helped Juventus as well. As Neopolitans rushed the field and Marek Hamsik shaved off his mohawk in the locker room, Juventus felt – truly felt – a defeat.
Juve's season was incredible. No other team has gone 38 games unbeaten in the Serie A. Perugia avoided defeat for 30 games in 1978-79 (and still didn't win the league), and Milan's unblemished season in 1991-92 lasted 34 games. But this Juventus team still has work to do before it can hang with Europe's elite, which it will do in next season's Champions League.
Only three teams have bettered Juve's 84-point total in the past decade in Serie A. But in Europe's top six leagues (Spain, England, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands) the only champions to finish with fewer points this season (Borussia Dortmund and Ajax) had 34-game seasons.
Juventus drew a hefty 15 times. That's a testament to the team's relentless spirit. It's also an indicator of room for improvement.
The obvious deficiency is in attack, where Alessandro Matri led the team in the league with 10 goals but didn't score after February. He wouldn't have finished top scorer on any team that qualified for the Champions League from Europe's top five leagues.
The only club top scorer from that group to bag less than 17 was Siem De Jong (13). But Ajax scored 93 goals total in 34 games, dwarfing Juve's 68 goals in four extra games.
The Old Lady will buy an elite striker this summer, with reports linking nearly every available – and some less than available – forward in Europe. Edinson Cavani, who scored a penalty to open the scoring the Coppa Italia final, is one possibility.
Anyone who comes in will have to immediately conform to Conte's ruthless work ethic, which has proved the undoing of Milos Krasic and Elias Elia. Talent isn't enough, and just a striker might not be either.
"Firstly, we have to congratulate Juve," Milan forward Antonio Cassano said to the Milan Channel. "But we had a billion injuries, without which we would have won by a six or seven-point margin.”
He's got a point. Cassano himself missed half a year to a freak heart complication. This season, through April 11, Milan players had missed 237 games through injury. Juve had missed 33.
Milan will replace departing veterans Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel, Filippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Guttuso with younger, more limber, ostensibly healthier bodies. Holding onto the title will take a struggle, and that's without even factoring for a roster stretched by European obligations.
"For the first time ever, my team has been playing in the Champions League," Mazzarri said before the final. "I am convinced that if we had not competed on three fronts this year, we would be at least 13 points higher in the standings."
Mazzarri's oddly specific hypothetical would mean Napoli would have finished third.
That won't do for Juventus next season. It has a gold star to chase – hold the caveats.
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