Juventus' Bayern Beating Shows Once More the Decline of Serie A

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Juventus' Bayern Beating Shows Once More the Decline of Serie A
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Come full time at the Juventus Arena this evening, one could only feel sorry for a Juventus side for whom the quarterfinals of the Champions League had looked every inch a step too far.

Whilst Bayern Munich looked like potential European champions with a display that oozed control and authority, their hosts left the field demoralised by a 90-minute showing where they barely threatened the German champions.

Yet, whilst the epitaphs will now be written about the Old Lady's first season back amongst the European elite, does the biggest question not concern Juventus themselves, but rather Italian club football as a whole? Because this was their best. And their best, at nine points clear atop their national league, never even came close.

Make no mistake about it, Italian football has an illustrious history. Regular watchers of Calcio in the 1980s and 1990s will tell you the Italian sides were the pinnacle.

In more recent times, however, Serie A has been in a seemingly irreversible decline (as noted by its drop in the UEFA coefficients from third to fourth, which has seen the league lose a Champions League qualifying spot) and its clubs no longer look capable of competing in the later stages of European competition.

Since the Champions League's inception back in 1992, only three Italian sides have reached the semi-final (Juventus, Milan, Inter) on a total of 14 occasions.

Yet, more worryingly for the powers that be in Italian football, since Milan's victory against Liverpool in the final back in 2007, only one Italian side has reached the final four in the intervening six-year period—Jose Mourinho's Inter in 2010 proving the anomaly, when they went on to win the tournament.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

During the same six-year spell, the two nations who have long been viewed as Italy's rivals for Europe's best league, Spain and England, have had nine and eight semifinalists, respectively.

This season has proven to be another mixed bag. Whilst Juventus did exceedingly well to qualify top of their group ahead of both Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk, fortune favoured them in the second round, when they met probably the weakest of the 16 remaining sides in Celtic.

An AC Milan side in transition under Massimiliano Allegri squeaked through a group in which they were top seeds, taking a mere eight points from six matches, and finishing behind Spanish club Malaga. Their second-round first-leg display against Barcelona was a fantastic display of counter-attacking football, but quality transpired to eliminate them with a certain degree of comfort in Spain with Tito Vilanova's side running out 4-0 winners.

As for the third Italian side in this year's competition, does anyone remember them? Udinese, knocked out in the third qualifying round by Portugal's Sporting Braga.

It has been another season where the Italian sides—fresh from a terrific summer where the Azzurri reached the European Championship final, lest we forget—have simply shown that they aren't up to the level of the true European elite.

To sum it up succinctly, the Spanish sides are light-years ahead. In recent years, Manchester United—England's best—have been head and shoulders above any Italian side put in front of them.

And now, the Italian game has to contend with a resurgent Bundesliga, perhaps the most consumer-friendly league in Europe. Its thrilling regular watchers thanks largely to the quality of its two biggest clubs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, both of whom have taken their place in the Champions League semi-final.

Meanwhile, Serie A, with its half-empty stadiums and tarnished recent history, has been firmly demoted. Wednesday's clinical dissection of its runaway league leaders and champions has only served to further display that fact.

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