Champions in any sport are bound to fall. That’s why we keep watching. Juventus, on the other hand, are proving with each passing year that they’re going nowhere.
“It ain’t how hard you hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” It’s almost as if this saying has been plastered all over Juventus’ training ground for the past five years. Each time the Italian champions have suffered a setback in recent times, they have come out of it a better team. How did they react after a tough loss to Inter in September? How about a six-game win streak in all competitions re-asserting their dominance? After losing to Milan in the league in October, the bianconeri went on another six-game win streak beating the likes of Napoli and Sevilla in crucial affairs.They reacted the same way after surprisingly losing to Genoa in match-day 14. This is a pattern that Juventus have so religiously followed after recent losses. Their most recent defeat came at the hands of Fiorentina about a month ago. As you’d expect, Juventus bounced back in impressive fashion.
That defeat marked the end of the 3-5-2 (for now) for Allegri’s men and they have since played an attacking 4-2-3-1. In their next four games, Juventus beat Lazio, Milan, Sassuolo and most recently Inter. Even if they didn’t play their best game in the Derby D’Italia, Juventus demonstrated just enough resolve to see off Stefano Pioli’s Inter. While it definitely helps having some of the best players in Italy including the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic among others, there’s one thing about Juventus that separates them from the rest: Their mental toughness. Few teams can do what they do week in, week out and churn out tough results. Their competitors, and I use this term loosely, always seem to falter at the last hurdle.
Take Roma’s game against Sampdoria, for example. By beating the blucerchiati, Roma would have brought themselves within one point behind Juve, albeit having played one more game. Up 2-1 with 20 minutes to play, Spalletti’s men crumbled and conceded two goals within three minutes. The defeat condemned them to third place, seven points behind Juventus, who made the most of the giallorossi’s slip up. Throughout the season, Roma have also dropped inexplicable points at the hands of Empoli and Cagliari.
Napoli are no better. Having overcome their early season blues, Sarri’s side once again found themselves in the title race. Again, I use “title race” loosely. That was until they took on cellar dwellers Palermo. Despite peppering the rosanero’s goal with 19 shots, Napoli were only able to muster a 1-1 draw, thanks to a Josip Posavec howler. And this comes against one of the worst Palermo sides in recent history. As coincidence would have it, it was the same match-day fellow competitors, Roma, fell at the hands of Sampdoria. Juve’s result that match-day, you ask? A comfortable 2-0 win over Sassuolo. And like that Juventus were once again alone in first.
It’s match-days like these that ensure Juventus’ domestic dominance over the rest of the pack. But why is it that each season these games are a regular occurrence? Is it because Juventus have the better players? Perhaps. Does it have to do with coaching? Not really. One aspect that some fail to consider in all this is Juve’s mentality. There’s a reason “vincere non è importante, e l’unica cosa che conta” (winning isn’t important, it’s the only thing that matters) is embroidered on the players’ shirts and that’s because the club lives and dies by the saying.
Until Roma, Napoli and whoever else challenges for the Scudetto changes their approach and defeatist mentality, Juve’s domestic dominance will continue. It’s time for everyone to stop blaming the referees, the differing wage bills and their infrastructure among other things and finally assume responsibility. If not, it will take some doing before the Scudetto changes hands.