Juve reaffirms elite status

Juve reaffirms elite status

Juve reaffirms elite status

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Conte’s crew nails down third straight Serie A crown

Juventus underlined its status as Italy’s top team by claiming a 30th Serie A title on Sunday – but a feeling of unfinished business and doubts over the club’s future direction lingers.

Juve’s third successive championship was its first such feat since a five-season winning streak in the 1930s, and came with three games to spare and a week ahead of a much anticipated clash with Roma.

Roma, the next closest title challenger, handed the crown to Juventus on Sunday by dropping a 4-1 shocker away to Catania.

“After the five-title winning streak, this is a feat that no other great Juve sides have achieved,” coach Antonio Conte said.

Club CEO Beppe Marotta heaped praise on the 44-year-old coach and said winning the crown was “an extraordinary and unique achievement.”

“We said and knew that it would be a difficult season, but we were able to count on a superb coach and a team that had great hunger and motivation to achieve this third title,” Marotta said.

Yet the success comes with the bitter aftertaste of what might have been.

Having crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages, Juve then let a possible Europa League title slip from its grasp.

With the May 14 final being held at Turin stadium, the Serie A giant had plenty of reason to believe it could walk off with a domestic and European title.

But a 2-1 defeat to Benfica in Lisbon proved fatal to Juve’s second leg hopes in Turin, where Conte’s men dominated in a scoreless draw but failed to notch the single goal that could have given its season a much brighter complexion.

Conte faced criticism for fielding a full-strength side ahead of a 3-1 league win over struggling Sassuolo last Monday, three days ahead of its crucial Europa League semifinal decider against Benfica.

It remains to be seen whether Conte will be given the funds to buy the world-class players needed to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

And current speculation suggests Juve will struggle to resist the overtures, and the millions of dollars being offered by some of Europe’s big spenders for highly-rated midfielder Paul Pogba, less than two years after the Frenchman arrived on a free transfer from Manchester United.

Marotta, meanwhile, suggested Conte would be given the necessary resources.

“It’s our duty to build on what we’ve got every summer, and we’ll also do this this year, with great shrewdness while also remaining in line with financial fair play and the club’s financial guidelines,” he said.

This season, despite its reliance on an almost unchanged 3-5-2 formation that fared miserably in Europe, Juventus has been the best in a championship which, some critics argue, lacks quality in depth.

When Juve triumphed last season, it relied largely on the goals of Chilean offensive midfielder Arturo Vidal, its top scorer in 2012-13.

Vidal remains a pillar for the club, but this season the contribution of Argentinian Carlos Tevez and Spaniard Fernando Llorente, who have scored 34 of Juve’s 75 goals prior to Monday’s match against Atalanta, has been decisive.

Despite their scoring prowess, neither player is likely to travel to Brazil for the World Cup.

Tevez has made light of his expected omission from Spain and seems to have settled well into life under Conte, a coach in whom he sees similarities with his former manager at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson.

“I think he’s already on a par (with Ferguson),” Tevez told Sky Sport last month.

“He’s got everything and shows it in every game and in every competition he’s involved in. He’s a top, top coach.”

Under Conte, Juve lost only one game in 2011-12 – 2-0 to Napoli in the Cup final.

This season, with three games remaining, Juve has lost only twice – a 4-2 reverse at Fiorentina and a 2-0 defeat away to Napoli – and been held to a draw three times.

“Juventus is accustomed to winning in Italy,” said Roma coach Garcia. “We learned a lot this season, but need to end the campaign better.

“Not only do the fans expect more next season, but so do I and the players.”

 

Juventus supporters celebrate in Turin after their club won the Italian championship on Sunday. Juventus captured its third consecutive and 30th official Serie A title after its closest rival Roma was stunned 4-1 away to relegation-threatened Catania. MARCO BERTORELLO / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 05/06/2014 page24)

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