Juventus are Serie A champions again - but they're not Italy's best team

Comments()
Juventus Sarri GFX 2020
Getty
The Bianconeri have won a ninth successive Scudetto, but they lack the flair and fluency of Atalanta, which is why Maurizio Sarri is under pressure

How Atalanta must annoy Andrea Agnelli.

The Juventus president has previously questioned whether the Bergamaschi deserve to play in the Champions League.

One wonders if he now resents their mere presence in Serie A.

Juventus may have been crowned champions on Sunday, but it is Atalanta who are regarded as the best team in Italy right now. Even at a club founded upon the belief that 'Winning is the only thing that counts', that must grate.

After all, Agnelli has become increasingly preoccupied with appearances, which is why he was willing to pay €100 million (£90m/$115m) for a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2018.

To turn Juve into a global brand, he needs a team of superstars playing attractive, attacking football. Merely powering their way to another league title is no longer acceptable.

So, while Juve have extended their record-breaking run of Scudetti to nine, it is arguably their most unsatisfying triumph to date.

The Bianconeri were not meant to just win this season; they were supposed to do so in style, which is why Agnelli hired Maurizio Sarri last summer to give the Old Lady a makeover.

The banker-turned-coach had transformed Napoli into one of Europe's most aesthetically pleasing sides; the expectancy was that he would replicate that success in Turin, even in spite of the resistance to his methods in his previous position, at Chelsea.

Juve, though, remain very much a work in progress; caught somewhere between Napoli and Chelsea. There is a willingness to change at Juve but also scepticism towards Sarri.

The unrest has not quite reached the levels of "F*ck Sarriball", which we saw at Stamford Bridge, but #Sarriout has been trending on Twitter at regular intervals in Italy in recent weeks.

Even before Monday's game against Lazio, sporting director Fabio Paratici had to dismiss talk of the coach being dismissed. That is how strange a season it has been.

Maurizio Sarri Napoli Juventus

Sarri has admitted himself that Juve are a perplexing side; one that plays only in patches and is worryingly prone to total blackouts, particularly at the back. Indeed, this is Juve's worst campaign in terms of goals conceded (38) since 2010-11, when they finished seventh.

Ostensibly, things are fine from an offensive perspective.

Ronaldo is the first Juventus player to score 30 goals in Serie A since John Hansen in 1952, while the team had netted at least twice in 11 consecutive games for the first time in the club's history before Thursday's 2-1 defeat to Udinese.

However, if you delve a little deeper, these numbers are not as impressive as they seem. Context is key. Ronaldo's tally has been significantly boosted by a record-setting 12 penalties, and while Juve have scored 75 goals, Atalanta have racked up 96 – the most in Serie A for more than 60 years.

Consequently, it is Gian Piero Gasperini's side – not Sarri's – who are being heralded across Europe for their fantastic, free-flowing football.

Atalanta are presently preparing for a Champions League quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain, but have already qualified for next season's tournament, having broken their record points haul in Serie A (75).

Robin Gosens Atalanta Napoli Serie A

Most pleasingly of all for those enraged by Agnelli's attitude towards smaller clubs, Atalanta have made Juve look bad, most notably of all when they travelled to Turin last week.

At one point, Juve were denied a single touch in the Atalanta half for a mind-blowing eight minutes and 11 seconds. It was an utterly humiliating passage of play for a side of Juve's resources.

Remember, the Bianconeri pay Ronaldo a net annual salary of €31m (£28m/$36m); Atalanta pay their entire squad €36m (£33m/$42m).

Juve earned a 2-2 draw on the night, thanks to a couple of farcical penalty decisions, but they were, tellingly, grateful for the point.

Leonardo Bonucci and Sarri both tried to talk up the result afterwards but, in doing so, they merely highlighted their shortcomings.

Did the 10th-biggest club in Europe in terms of revenue really deserve credit for scraping a draw at home to the club with the seventh-lowest wage bill in Italy?

Of course, one could argue that this is all irrelevant: Juventus have won the title, and that is the only thing that counts.

Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus Atalanta

Unfortunately for Sarri, it is not that simple. Winning the Scudetto was the very least he had to do to save his job.

The primary target all along was the Champions League. It is extremely worrying, then, that Atalanta presently look a better bet to conquer Europe than Juventus. After all, the Bergamaschi are unbeaten in all competitions since January 20, while the Bianconeri have won just two of their last six games.

As well as being on the tougher side of the Champions League draw, Sarri's side have a worrying problem with high-energy sides that play a short, sharp passing game, as underlined by Atalanta and even Sassuolo in recent weeks.

So, even if their team should overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit at home to Lyon, Juve fans would hardly approach a potential quarter-final clash with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City with any great confidence.

A fit-again Sergio Aguero would relish going up against the worst Juve defence since the 2010-11 season, while Kevin De Bruyne is likely to run riot in midfield, which is where their primary problems lie.

Juve are aware of their issues, of course. Arthur Melo and Dejan Kulusevski have already been signed for next season with a view to adding more control and goals, respectively, to a team that can so often look bereft of creativity.

Indeed, were it not for the resurgent Paulo Dybala, and the ridiculous handball rules, Juve would hardly have sealed the Scudetto with two games to spare.

Ultimately, though, the title race came down to resources.

Serie A Table GFX

Atalanta have a fine set of players coached to within an inch of perfection by Gasperini but, even with the likes of Luis Muriel, Mario Pasalic, Ruslan Malinovskiy and Timothy Castagne in reserve, they simply do not have the same strength in depth as the champions. At the start of the season, they struggled with the demands of Champions League football, and left themselves with too much ground to make up.

Inter, meanwhile, were unable to cope with playing every three days after the restart due to Antonio Conte's hyper-intensive style, while an excellent Lazio XI simply succumbed to injuries.

Indeed, when the Romans travelled to Turin for what many thought before the coronavirus-enforced break would be a title decider, coach Simone Inzaghi was shorn of the services of five first-team regulars and could only name eight players on the bench.

Juve, by contrast, were at full strength thanks to their ability to rotate players. Even when they lost Gonzalo Higuain to injury in the warm-up, Sarri simply replaced him with Dybala, who played a pivotal role in an unimpressive but vital 2-1 victory that effectively clinched the title.

It merely hammered the point that Juventus have the best squad in Italy.

Just not the best team.

Close