While Lazio put in a good effort this season, Juventus have once again shown that they are the best team in Italy.
It was fun while it briefly lasted. I’m talking about the Serie A title race. Following a three-month hiatus as a result of the pandemic, everyone expected a down-to-the-wire battle between powerhouse Juventus and plucky Lazio.
Instead, it all fizzled faster than Cristiano Ronaldo could fake out a defender and put the ball in the back of the net.
Back in March, Lazio had everything going for it — momentum, tenacity and skill. League top scorer Ciro Immobile was unstoppable. It really looked like Juve’s decade-long dominance was coming to an end.
Then came the coronavirus and the lockdowns. Serie A, like all sports, came to a stop. It looks as if the stoppage hurt Lazio more than Juventus. What was a one-point lead in the standings is now seven.
Playing in the heat and every few days is best suited for a talent-laden side like Juventus. Their deep bench and veteran stars like goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have stepped up. They look sharp again for the most part after losing the Coppa Italia final to Napoli on penalties.
Lazio, on the other hand, has lost three times since the restart. Loses to Atalanta, AC Milan and Lecce have made it easy for Juve to surge. Immobile is no longer a factor. To make things worse, Inter Milan and Atalanta threaten to take over second place.
Juventus, however, have succeeded not because of first-year manager Maurizio Sarri, but in spite of him. When the moment came for the players to rise to the occasion, they did. It had very little to do with tactics. It had everything to do with skill and the motivation to win.
Juventus did hit a wall this past Tuesday, losing 4-2 to AC Milan. The defeat, however, did little to hurt the Bianconeri since Lazio had also lost to relegation-threatened Lecce 2-1.
There’s less than a month left in the season. While anything can still happen, it looks very likely at this point that Juventus will lift the league trophy for a ninth consecutive season. Juventus do face Atalanta on Saturday, a game it could very well lose. Lazio, meanwhile, host Sassuolo.
Despite this, Juventus are never free of criticism. The defeat to AC Milan highlighted a vulnerable backline, a frequent knock leveled against “Sarriball” and the sometimes risky use of the high line in his 4-3-3 lineup. A repeat of such a poor performance against tougher opposition in the Champions League could easily result in utter disaster.
“I think our first 60 minutes were world class. We were in total control and had this blackout,” Sarri told DAZN following his team’s collapse late in the second half. “There’s not even much use thinking too much about it, because we have another game in three days.”
Asked if Lazio’s defeat had made Juventus complacent, Sarri blamed it on what he called a “blackout.”
“I don’t think it made a difference, otherwise the initial approach would’ve been poor. Instead, we were focused for most of the match. I don’t even think we relaxed after going 2-0 up,” he added.
For Juve, the bigger challenge will come in August when they try to win the Champions League. While Juventus have enjoyed clobbering teams domestically, the Holy Grail for Ronaldo and his teammates remains European glory. None of this will really matter if Juventus once again fail to win the Champions League.