While other leagues around Europe have been concluded as early as December of last year, one remains strong with two teams going toe-to-toe for the title. The country is Italy and the league is Serie A, with Juventus chasing their seventh consecutive Scudetto, while Napoli are in search of their first league title since 1990.
What has been truly magical is how these two teams have not eased the pressure on one another at any point throughout the season so far. Even when Juventus took the lead for the first time during the campaign after Napoli’s collapse to Roma, the Neapolitan club kept their faith and just made sure they picked up points in their following two games.
In what has been the strangest result of the entire season, Max Allegri’s men drew 0-0 to SPAL Ferrara away from home - a team that is battling relegation and has conceded the joint-third most amount of goals in the league.
The Bianconeri, as expected, had 65% possession during the 90 minutes, but could only conjure up three shots on-target. A disappointing day at the office for some of Juventus’ forwards, who failed to impose themselves on the game and cost their team two vital points in the hunt for the Scudetto.
Two points dropped is, on the surface level, not the end of the world, but it now means that Napoli are only within a win to leapfrog them once more in the league. Why Maurizio Sarri’s players will be feeling more confident is that they have to play their rivals before the end of the season - albeit, at the Allianz Stadium.
Juventus will always be nailed-on favourites for the Italian title, purely because they have the knowhow, experience and quality to deliver time and time again, as they have shown in the past six years. But while Juventus have been winning their trophies, Napoli’s uprising has been taking place, and this is the first year in which they have truly competed with the Italian giants, attempting to dethrone them for the first time in their very successful reign.
Napoli have been playing some of the best football in Europe this season, perhaps only second to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. The Neapolitan club play in effervescent manner, zipping the ball from side to side, back to front, exposing the gaps in the opposition’s defence for Dries Mertens, José Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne to exploit.
While some of these players in Napoli’s team have not felt pressure like this before when competing against Juventus all season long, they have done a remarkable job in keeping their minds focussed on what’s at hand, and not being swayed by emotions. It could have been very easy to launch into a downward spiral when they lost to Napoli in what was a humiliating performance, but, instead, they scraped through it with an important 0-0 against Inter.
Why this Serie A title race is not nearly over yet is partly down to Juventus’ presence in other competitions, most notably, the Champions League. After the Bianconeri’s draw in Turin against Tottenham in the first leg, they won their next three domestic matches 1-0; performances were not at the highest level they usually operate at, and better opposition on the day might just have nicked two or three points away from them.
Napoli were knocked out of the Europa League thanks to RB Leipzig, and so have their eyes firmly on the Scudetto. That’s all that matters to the people of Napoli this season, they do not care for anything else - it’s just about winning the Championship for the first time since Diego Maradona’s men did over two decades ago.
Allegri’s team play five of the top eight teams in the division before the end of the season, while Napoli only have three, with the other’s being relatively easier fixtures to negotiate past and keep the pressure on.
Two points, in the great landscape of things, is an incredibly slender lead and can cause Juventus to start playing within themselves, knowing that any little mistake could cost them the Scudetto. With their minds also on Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League, their league form is certainly going to take a hit. Whether that is seen in their performances or results, or both, remains to be seen, but fatigue, especially at this stage in the season, is going to be a huge factor.
Whatever fate is sealed by the end of the season, these two teams have fought gallantly throughout the year and will continue to do so until the very final whistle. Italian football has been criticised for being a one-horse race and bereft of excitement, but this engrossing battle between two heavyweights has shown that Serie A is alive and kicking once again, and it’s here to stay.
This article was written for Soccer Box by Liam Canning. Shop with us for all your official Serie A football shirts including the latest Juventus and Napoli kits while supplies last.