Il Tempo (Alessandro Austini) Juventus-Sassuolo, 2-0 after 10 minutes and 3-1 at full time. The Bianconeri were 2-0 up in just 8 minutes in Juventus-Sampdoria before going on to win 4-1. These are just the most recent examples of their current dominance at the Juventus Stadium, where the Old Lady have now won 22 times in a row and 105 of the 136 games played overall since the stadium was inaugurated in 2011. In Serie A. Because in Europe, it’s very much a different story: this season, they have drawn both matches in the Champions League against Sevilla and Lyon.
So what, you might ask? They’ve been the best side in Italy by some distance for years (that point is indisputable) and the level of opposition is bound to rise in European competitions. It’s one thing to stroll past Chievo, but another thing altogether to take on Bayern Munich. Equally, there’s nothing that strange about the fact that Juventus have won 13 of their 24 games at home in European matches. Just over half, though much less than their recent performances in the league (84 wins in 101 games).
Completely normal, completely logical. Isn’t it? Because it’s in Turin where this big difference in achieving results, depending on which competition Juventus are playing in, is seen as an anomaly. So much so that Buffon, the captain, the most experienced player in the squad, is said (according to La Gazzetta dello Sport) to have told his team-mates in the dressing room after the win against Napoli: “Guys, we won’t get anywhere playing like that. In Italy, we win because other teams step aside, that doesn’t happen and won’t happen in Europe. In Italy the only 2 teams who haven’t stepped aside have beaten us [Inter and Milan]. We need more personality, more determination, more desire to help each other, otherwise we’ll make like more difficult for ourselves in the league and we’ll struggle in the Champions League.”
Teams “step aside”? Did he really say that? The Bianconeri swiftly made their inevitable denial, vaguely stating they had carried out an ‘internal enquiry’ and saying what was written in Gazzetta was “false and has the sole purpose of feeding an unpleasant prejudice against Juventus.” Given that the Milanese newspaper has hit back and confirmed everything in the story, perhaps now the Old Lady have found an opposition to compete against: that’s always been their strength, after all.
Although we’re currently in a situation where it’s one person’s word against the other’s, and no one will ever be able to prove the truth, the Juventus-Sampdoria game referred to earlier is at the very least a strong indication that some teams really do step aside for Juventus. They think it’s pointless even trying to take them on in their own stadium. It was a midweek match and the Blucerchiato coach Giampaolo took out all of his best players from the starting line up – Muriel, Quagliarella, Linetty, Torreira and Fernandes – justifying his decision after they beat Inter 4 days later by saying: “I was forced to change the team in Turin, otherwise 4 or 5 of my players would have been physically exhausted. I knew that we wouldn’t have been able to cope with Juventus’ fitness and experience, because in one way or another they always win their games there.” In other words, they were beaten before they had even started. And who knows how many other teams have thought the same thing.
But if every coach were to do the same, what point would there be in contesting the championship? Why should Roma and Napoli believe that they can seriously compete for the scudetto? It’s difficult to find a reasonable answer. It would be a bit like asking why no one outside of Naples has asked themselves about what was said by Sarri to Vialli after Napoli’s defeat to Juventus: “They dominated the game? You can’t buy physicality, you need pills for that, though I don’t think they’re legal…” It was a joke, obviously. Because doping certainly isn’t necessary to beat teams who have already stepped aside for you.