Juventus return to the summit
Juventus celebrated their 28th Scudetto at the weekend, a triumph down in no small part to 42-year-old coach Antonio Conte, the ‘Guardiola of Piedmont’, who made a spectacular impact on his return to the club he represented for so long as a player.
In a season completely dominated, unusually, by just two clubs, Juve’s only rivals were defending champions AC Milan, whose challenge faltered on the home straight. Milan’s ageing squad ultimately proved unable to keep up with the frantic pace of the title race, despite the efforts of forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has the consolation of finishing as Serie A’s top scorer.
Comparisons between Juve and Barcelona are difficult to avoid, given that they are two historic, attack-minded clubs who have turned to iconic former players to continue their tradition of success. The similarities between Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte are just as striking, and the fact that Juve have just become the first unbeaten champions in Serie A's 20-team format (23 wins and 15 draws), and in such style, is surely no coincidence.
Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
At the age of 26, Claudio Marchisio cannot really be described as a revelation. But Il Principino (Little Prince) has certainly taken on a new dimension this season alongside midfield magician Andrea Pirlo. Marchisio is often compared to Juve greats Marco Tardelli, for his powerful shot and ball-winning abilities, and Alessandro Del Piero, for his elegant style and eye for goal. And given his progress this term, Italy will be expecting big things from him at this summer’s UEFA EURO 2012.
Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
With 23 goals this season and a series of sparkling performances for Napoli in the UEFA Champions League, Edinson Cavani has become one of the hottest properties in European football. Graceful, quick and a real poacher in front of goal, the 25-year-old Uruguayan has established himself as Napoli’s new idol.
Fabio Borini (Roma)
Fabio Borini has been the biggest revelation of the season, despite what has been a disappointing campaign for Roma. After starting his career at Bologna, Borini moved at a young age to Chelsea before spending a spell on loan at Swansea. The striker then joined Parma, who in turn loaned him to Roma, where he has spent the past season. After a long and meandering journey, the 21-year-old finally appears to have found his niche this season, scoring 10 goals in 20 appearances in an under-performing side. And having found stability in the capital, there is every chance that he will continue his positive progress next season.
0 – The number of times AC Milan beat Juventus in four league and cup encounters in the season just finished. Juve, for their part, recorded two wins (2-1, 2-0) and two draws (2-2, 1-1), and their dominance in those head-to-heads no doubt had a significant psychological impact on AC Milan’s season.
The memorable moments
2 October 2011 – Conte sent his side out to play at a high tempo against AC Milan at the Juventus Stadium, knowing his opponents would be weary from their recent European efforts. Juve’s pressure eventually paid off, Claudio Marchisio scoring twice in the closing stages, with help from Alessandro Matri, to snatch a late victory.
30 October 2011 – Upon returning from an away match in Rome, AC Milan’s Antonio Cassano was taken ill at Milan airport. The forward had suffered an ischaemic stroke and underwent surgery three days later, before defying the medical odds to make his comeback 7 April. His return came too late for AC Milan, however, whose midfield terrier Gennaro Gattuso had also been sidelined by a stubborn case of myasthenia, a condition that affects the eye muscles. The absence of this influential pair was no doubt one of the factors behind AC Milan’s failure to win the title.
15 January 2011 – After losing in Naples (3-1) and Turin (2-0), AC Milan then suffered defeat in the Milan derby. Diego Milito scored the only goal to secure a much-needed win for Inter, with Juventus taking full advantage of AC Milan’s slip-up to move above them and take the symbolic ‘winter champions’ title at the halfway stage of the season.
6 May 2012 – The tussle between the two clubs came to an end after Juventus sealed the title away to Cagliari. Mirko Vucinic scored in the sixth minute to help Juve secure a 2-0 victory and open up a four-point lead going into the final round of the season. Inter, meanwhile, won their second Milan derby of the season, Diego Milito’s hat-trick inspiring them to a 4-2 victory that effectively ended the title challenge of their great city rivals.
13 May 2012 – There was an end-of-an-era feeling at the weekend as the Serie A season drew to a close. AC Milan said farewell to Filippo Inzaghi, 38, who scored his final goal for the Rossoneri on Sunday, as well as Gianluca Zambrotta, 35, Clarence Seedorf, 36, Alessandro Nesta, 36, and Gennaro Gattuso, 34, all of whom have been key figures in the club’s recent history. Juve, meanwhile, gave a huge standing ovation to Alessandro Del Piero on Sunday after he scored his 289th and final goal in all competitions for the Bianconero.