The Serie A Title Might Be Decided but Sarri’s Napoli are Here to Stay4 min read
With an outstretched glove, Gianluigi Donnarumma may have handed Juventus a seventh straight Scudetto. The AC Milan goalkeeper pulled off an astonishing save to deny Arkadiusz Milik a stoppage time winner for Napoli on Sunday, holding the title chasers to a goalless draw at San Siro. That result, and that save, opened up a six point gap for Juve at the top of Serie A.
Until last weekend, Italy had been the only major footballing nation in Europe to still boast a top flight title race. Across the continent, there has been a dearth of excitement this season, with the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 all essentially wrapped up by the turn of the year. Serie A had been different, though.
For months, Napoli had kept on the tails of perennial pace-setters Juventus, with Maurizio Sarri’s side playing an exhilarating brand of fast and furious football. Over the past few weeks, though, Napoli have seemingly run out of puff. While Juve have kept winning, Napoli have dropped points against Inter Milan, Sassuolo and AC Milan.
So should we start tying the black and white ribbons to the trophy? Is the Italian title race as good as over? Have we, as neutrals, been denied the finale that for so long looked to be on the cards? “There are still eight points up for grabs,” Marek Hamsik said after the goalless draw at AC Milan at the weekend, maintaining a positive outlook.
“The gap between us and Juventus is getting big, but we must keep believing until it’s no longer mathematically possible. The draw against Milan leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, especially given how many chances we made compared to the Rossoneri. We just have to think about our next game against Udinese. We must forget what happened at San Siro and focus on our next objective.”
Juventus’ exit from the Champions League last week will surely work against Napoli, with Max Allegri’s side now able to apply their full focus to domestic matters. Although, the Bianconeri will face a difficult run of fixtures to end the league season, with games against Inter, Milan and Roma looming on the horizon. Therein lies encouragement for Sarri and his players.
What’s more, while Juventus went 13 domestic games without conceding a goal to start 2018, they have looked somewhat vulnerable at the back in recent outings. Spurs and Real Madrid have set a precedent for others to follow, exposing some of the defensive weaknesses that exist in Allegri’s team. If opposition teams are bold enough, this could make things interesting in the final few weeks of the Serie A season.
Whatever happens, Napoli have enjoyed a successful season. Sarri has rejuvenated one of Italian football’s most storied and romantic clubs. Even if they miss out on the Scudetto, they must find a way to carry this momentum forward. Napoli might have dropped out of this season’s title race, but there will be other races to run.