Which Side Is the Most Likely to Topple Juventus in Serie A?

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistMay 23, 2017

Juventus' Leonardo Bonucci drinks from the trophy after winning the Italian Cup soccer final match between Lazio and Juventus, at Rome's Olympic stadium, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Juventus won 2-0. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

They were made to wait, but Juventus were eventually crowned Serie A champions again on Sunday. The Bianconeri have now won the league title for a record six consecutive seasons, an unparalleled era of domestic dominance of the Italian football scene.

With a UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid in Cardiff awaiting them on June 3, the Turin giants have a chance to prove that their excellence has put them back among Europe's elite teams.

However, that is unlikely to be of interest to their rivals on the peninsula, many of whom will start the 2017/18 campaign fully aware that they have no chance of finishing top of the table.

This is not the same league that came to prominence in the UK in the early 1990s. Back then, Serie A was home to Le Sette Sorelle—the Seven Sisters—with the likes of AC Milan, AS Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina, Inter Milan and Parma regularly competing with Juve for silverware.

Perhaps it was a trend that could not last, but in the 17 seasons between 1985 and 2001, seven different teams won the title, with only Juve and Milan managing to repeat the feat in back-to-back campaigns during that spell.

Since then, the Bianconeri and the two Milan sides have dominated the landscape, with no other team managing to claim the Scudetto and in truth never coming close. Things are only getting worse too from a competitive standpoint, as Juventus are head and shoulders above their rivals.

Were it not for their progress in the Champions League, coach Massimiliano Allegri and his men would've put this season to bed a long time ago, a fact that raises the question of just who could be the next side to topple Italian football's grand Old Lady.

Recent campaigns have done nothing if not highlight the mental fragility of her two closest rivals. In 2013/14, Roma got off to the best start in Serie A history, reeling off 10 consecutive wins under new boss Rudi Garcia.

After drawing the next four games, however, the Bianconeri took pole position and went on to finish a staggering 17 points ahead of the capital club, who have never come close to mounting a sustained push for top spot.

Their repeated failures cost Garcia his job, with Luciano Spalletti returning to take over from him last season.

But the problems continue, despite the Tuscan boss pointing out the flaws in the Roma squad during an interview with the club's official website (h/t Forza Italian Football) in January 2016:

"It's hard to change things in football at the flick of a switch, and I think it's mainly a mental issue at the moment. Hopefully by pushing the right buttons and speaking clearly to the players we can find the right spirit and character again, that comes before any numbers or formations.

"It's a difficult place to work as lots of people love Roma and have lots of passion, but we must be professional. At the same time it can be a distraction for our players, the fans being all-consuming means they can give you a lot but also take away a lot."

He has been unable to correct any of that, while the same problem affects Napoli. Over the last two seasons, Maurizio Sarri's men have looked incredible—often playing the best football on the peninsula—but when it came to the crucial moments, they fell short of expectations and imploded.

For some time they topped the table last term, only to lose at Juventus Stadium and then implode against Udinese. Gonzalo Higuain was particularly at fault in the latter game, the video in the tweet above showing how he completely lost his cool with opposition defenders, the referee and even his team-mates.

He would be banned for four matches and fined €20,000 as a result, per Football Italia, with Napoli never recovering. Higuain had seen enough, adopting an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality last summer when he signed for Juventus.

Inter are another club where madness reigns supreme; no fewer than four different coaches have led them this term. Despite their excellent work off the field, it is difficult to see anyone doing what Jose Mourinho did in bringing stability to the Nerazzurri.

Roberto Mancini, Rafael Benitez, Frank de Boer and countless others have tried and failed, which is why—after considering all the external factors—it is difficult to imagine anyone but Milan being the next team to win the Serie A title.

Yes, that's right, the Rossoneri; a club that have recently undergone the most drawn-out takeover bid in the history of football and are sat a frankly embarrassing 25 points behind Juventus.

Since Allegri was fired in January 2014, they have seen Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi and Sinisa Mihajlovic each take a turn on the bench, finishing eighth, 10th and seventh, respectively.

No one from that trio of managers was able to even qualify for a European berth, with results—and the gulf between Milan and the top of the table—growing exponentially as time marched on.

They were the sleeping giant, one that dozed off at the wrong moment and allowed a number of teams to slip past them as their approach grew outdated and out of touch.

Now, however, they have hope. Vincenzo Montella has arrived on the bench, with the coach instantly working hard to rectify the defensive lapses that had previously blighted their performances.

That was a huge departure for the former Roma striker too. His previous spells in charge of Catania and Fiorentina had seen him become known for a Spanish-style approach that championed possession at the expense of almost everything else.

Much more pragmatic than in the past, he still brings a stylistic approach to the attacking play of the Rossoneri, a factor that helped them beat Juve to lift the Supercoppa Italiana in December.

The victory marked their first trophy since 2011, and they outplayed the Bianconeri, with Montella insisting that the result could inspire his young team to go on to greater accomplishments.

"It's a nice feeling to win," the 42-year-old coach told RAI Sport shortly after the final whistle (h/t FourFourTwo). "The lads have to see this as a good starting point for the future, as we played on a par with a great side like Juventus."

With a young core that includes the likes of Suso, Giacomo Bonaventura and Manuel Locatelli, their recent takeover should enable the club to reinforce in problem areas and hand Montella a squad capable of quickly rising up the table.

They also boast Alessio Romagnoli, the kind of central defender who could become a cornerstone of future success, and it would be impossible to overlook both the incredible growth and limitless potential of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

With Gianluigi Buffon coming to the end of his playing days, the 18-year-old is the future for both his club and the Italy national team. With him between the posts, the sky's the limit for the Rossoneri, who have already taken steps to ensure he remains with them for the foreseeable future, per La Stampa (h/t the Daily Express).

The club has an incredibly loyal fanbase, one that reacts to even the most outlandish transfer stories with a "well, we are Milan" type response, and it is that mindset which separates them from Juventus' other Serie A rivals.

They are Milan, and that matters. It is a name and a team that inspires fear and demands respect. A packed San Siro remains an intimidating venue for travelling sides, and Montella has already delivered results with a team that is far from complete.

Maybe next year is too soon for a Scudetto tilt, but give him better players and this is the club that will next win Italian football's top division.

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