While league leaders AC Milan and Inter Milan are taking turns in passing the crown back and forth like a hot potato, the third team in one of the most hotly contested Scudetto races in over a decade has slowly become as irrelevant as they have always been ever since one Diego Maradona left Naples.
That team of course is Napoli, and to be quite honest as a Juventus fan, watching Aurelio De Laurentiis coming this close to finally winning the title and then getting it snatched away yet again brings a certain level of satisfaction and mirth that is only surpassed when we are the ones winning the Scudetto, of course.
To heap ignominy on the one-time league leaders, Juve are now in a position where they are just one point behind the Neapolitans and with just four games left to play, could easily overhaul the title contenders too.
Juventus have successfully overcome a horror start to the campaign in Massimiliano Allegri’s second spell at the club to claw all the way back into the Scudetto race before a crucial top of the table six-pointer against Inter went against them to end that. Frustration from the fanbase over Allegri’s conservative tactics have overshadowed the fact that this squad dragged themselves back into contention from 18th place in the league after Matchday 4 despite injuries continuing to plague this oddly-assembled squad, with Mattia De Sciglio the latest to join the long list of players out.
As Allegri has stated a number of times over this long and grueling season, his priority has been to secure Champions League football. With Juve eliminated from the premier European competition at the Round of 16 stage yet again that was not happening, leaving the only path through finishing at least fourth in the league.
However, just like the top three have been unable to grab a hold of the top spot and driven the narrative, Juve’s challengers for fourth spot have also been a clown car of sorts with nearly half a dozen teams all taking turns to press the Bianconeri. Since Juve have climbed into the top six in late November, their inevitable march into the top four has continued relentlessly and now Napoli’s recent slip-ups have opened the door for Allegri to actually secure what was a very unlikely third place.
To do that though, Allegri is going to need a huge helping of good fortune because his threadbare squad has some challenging games upcoming. This weekend Juve are at home to bottom side Venezia, and while the visitors are not mathematically relegated as yet, their survival is looking tenuous considering they have lost eight straight games. Napoli meanwhile take on Sassuolo in Naples, with the Neroverdi still smarting from their midweek loss at home to Juve. Allegri’s side performed the perfect smash-and-grab against Alessio Dionisi’s attacking side with a late winner stealing all three points at the Mapei. If Luciano Spalletti cannot navigate his team to a win on Saturday, Juve could be in third place come Sunday evening.
Juve then go to Genoa on Friday May 6th to kick off the Matchday 36 fixtures, with the Rossoblù sitting in 19th place and fighting for their survival. Despite the Bianconeri comfortably winning the reverse leg of this game 2-0, the three points will not be a given by any means. Napoli face a difficult test of their own on Saturday going to 11th placed Torino, who showed in their 4-4 draw on Wednesday night at Atalanta that they can be a force to be reckoned with.
The penultimate weekend of the season sees Napoli get their turn against Genoa, while Juve are at home against Lazio who are in sixth place locked in battle against their city rivals AS Roma for fifth place and a spot in the Europa League. You can expect the Biancocelesti to bring their absolute A-game because Fiorentina and Atalanta are hot on their heels and their spot in the Europa Conference League will be at risk if they slip up. The Bianconeri will be playing the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday May 11th against Inter so their home game against Lazio will be played on Monday May 16th.
It all comes to a head on Sunday May 22nd. While the Scudetto might still be up for grabs, Juve have a difficult away tie to negotiate as they go to Fiorentina. There is no love lost between the Viola and Bianconeri, with the transfer of Dusan Vlahovic in January and a contentious Coppa Italia semi-final that Juve won both legs of has certainly added to the smoldering heat that always burns in the hearts of the two sets of fans. Fiorentina might still have a spot in continental competition to play for at that point, so you can expect this one to be fast and furious. Napoli’s season ends with a trip to 15th place Spezia who should have Serie A survival sewn up and little to play for but pride.
All in all, Juve’s schedule looks the more difficult primarily due to their last two games while the Neapolitans face three midtable sides along with a relegation candidate, but as we have seen many times this season, it’s all been about momentum, and how none of the top sides have been able to sustain it when it has mattered the most.
Juventus league fixtures -
Sunday, May 1 - vs Venezia (20th), Home
Friday, May 6 - at Genoa (19th), Away
Monday, May 16 - vs Lazio (6th), Home
Sunday, May 22 - at Fiorentina (7th), Away
Napoli league fixtures -
Saturday, April 30 - vs Sassuolo (10th), Home
Saturday, May 7 - at Torino (11th), Away
Sunday, May 15 - vs Genoa (19th), Home
Sunday, May 22 - at Spezia (15th), Away