By Kris Voakes
Even before the season began, most onlookers seemed resigned to the probability that Juventus would clinch a third straight Scudetto in 2013-14. Largely pointing to the continued weakening of Serie A in the list of leading domestic competitions, the Bianconeri were deemed to be the only quality side in an otherwise ailing league.
But the Turin outfit’s triumph, clinched thanks to Catania's shock 4-1 victory over Roma on Sunday, was a much more spectacular effort than many believed would be necessary. That they had to wait until they had racked up 93 points before celebrating the title win says much about the effort that was required to become only the fourth team ever to claim a hat-trick of Serie A wins.
TREBLE HEROES | Scudetto hat-tricks
|Torino 1942-43, 1945-49|
But that is exactly what they did.
A sensational 30 wins in 35 games have put Antonio Conte’s side on the verge of recording Italy’s first-ever 100-point haul. While in the Champions League they foundered without even a whimper, in Serie A they were sensationally consistent.
Conte is a hard task master. He demands nothing less than 100 per cent effort, and it has been that unwillingness to ask for anything but the best that has at times hindered their hopes on the continent. But his fostering of a win, win and win again attitude has been the main factor in Juve’s latest title success.
The coach’s reaction to the 2-2 draw at Verona in February said much about his obsession for perfection. Despite boasting a comfortable lead at the top of the table, the loss of two points from 2-0 up was a source of great anger for Conte.
“It's inexplicable,” he said to reporters after the game. “Matches like these last 95 minutes, and not 45.
“We could've done a lot, lot better. It leaves me perplexed how we could dominate the game for the first half and then end up like this.”
Andrea Pirlo talks in his autobiography of a stirring speech from Conte on his first day at the club.
"We need to do whatever it takes to pull ourselves up and start being Juve again," the boss had told his players. "Turning round this ship is not a polite request; it's an order, a moral obligation."
And they have fulfilled that. He demanded that they beat every team because they were simply better than everybody else. They are now within a pair of victories against Atalanta and Cagliari of recording a 100 per cent home record over the entire season. And away from home, they have been almost as clinical at times. Games like the one against Verona were notable for their rarity.
In Gianluigi Buffon, they still have the best goalkeeper in Italy, while their regular back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli has been broken up a little more than in recent years but yet they have still conceded only 24 goals in the entire campaign.
Four of them came in one manic 15-minute period at Fiorentina which threatened to mark the start of a slide. Instead, Juve responded like champions. Twelve successive league wins later, they were clear of the dogged challenge of Roma. Since that 4-2 defeat in Tuscany in October, they have dropped only seven points in 27 games. Simply put, they have been phenomenal.
For a third straight year, their midfield has been the basis for success. With Andrea Pirlo at the heart of most attacks, Arturo Vidal has again proven to be the driving force both offensively and defensively. Alongside them, Paul Pogba has not only seen off Claudio Marchisio in the battle for a starting shirt but also further developed his reputation as a world star. Out wide, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah remain two of the best proponents of the wing-back art.
The first-team squad has had to be bigger than ever given the weight of fixtures added by runs in the Champions League and Europa League, with names such as Martin Caceres, Angelo Ogbonna and Mauricio Isla appearing more regularly on Serie A surfaces than might have been expected, but rarely have Juve been let down by their reserve stocks.
If they needed to add anything after back-to-back Scudetti, it was more goals from their forwards. And Conte will be delighted with the way Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente have performed in their debut seasons in Turin.
With 19 strikes to his name, the Argentine has added exactly what they were missing in terms of an all-round forward, while Llorente has overcome early question marks to become the target man Juve never previously had, racking up 15 goals of his own.
Serie A may not be what it was, but Juve are as good they have been in a very long time. Failure in the Champions League and then the Europa League may have tainted their season somewhat, but in Italy they have been better than anyone before them, with the points tally to prove it.
Roma’s concerted challenge demanded that Juventus be as good as they possibly could be. They have been all that and more.