While the “magic” of the FA Cup is widely discussed in England, the Coppa Italia rarely holds such allure, often seen as a consolation prize, with many of the peninsula’s biggest clubs fielding heavily rotated lineups whenever they take to the field to contest it.
Lazio’s victory two years ago was significant because they defeated bitter rivals AS Roma in the final, earning bragging rights in the capital for years. Inter have lifted the trophy four times in the past decade, but the only time it felt significant was as part of the Jose Mourinho-inspired treble of 2010, coming alongside the league title and Champions League triumphs.
Neighbours AC Milan most recently won the cup back in 2003, while Juventus have to look even further into their history, last lifting it fully 20 years ago. Since that 1995 final, the club have been runners-up three times—in 2002, 2004 and 2012—but have never appeared to take the competition seriously, fielding a number of reserves, even when glory was just 90 minutes away.
All of which brings us to the current campaign, with Massimiliano Allegri guiding the Bianconeri to the semi-final stage where Fiorentina hold a 2-1 advantage ahead of next week’s second leg. Coming just days after travelling to Germany to take on Borussia Dortmund and then facing a top-of-the-table clash with AS Roma, the coach understandably still rotated his side for the first meeting.
Yet he paid the price for that decision, with Mohamed Salah taking advantage of both Angelo Ogbonna and Simone Padoin to net both goals, the two defenders making costly errors that members of Juve’s strongest XI would simply not have committed.
Given that he has steered the team to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and is enjoying a 14-point lead in Serie A, Allegri could perhaps be forgiven for overlooking the Italian Cup, yet during the international break, he has spoken of a desire to overcome Vincenzo Montella and the Viola.
“It’s been a long time since we won the Coppa Italia,” the 47-year-old said as part of a Q&A session with supporters via the club’s official Twitter account. “We can overturn the first-leg and will give our all to secure the trophy!”
That will not be easy given Fiorentina’s recent form, tasting defeat just once in their last 18 matches in all competitions and having held Juventus to a 0-0 stalemate when the Bianconeri visited the Stadio Artemio Franchi back in December.
Yet the Turin giants do not have to look back too far for a positive note, beating their Tuscan rivals in the Europa League last season, notching a 1-0 away win en route to their semi-final appearance in that competition. At their best, Italian football’s grand Old Lady has proved to be far too strong for her domestic peers, as her lead atop the Serie A standings shows, and that cushion may also help here.
With just 10 games remaining, Allegri could do just the opposite of what other coaches have done in the past and actually rest players for the Coppa Italia. Juventus face Empoli this weekend before that vital second leg against Fiorentina, and it is not difficult to imagine a number of key men being rested with one eye on the Viola.
Having looked on as others have tasted Cup glory, former boss Marcello Lippi made some timely comments this week, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport he can see similarities with Allegri. “I see myself in him, he came to Juve more or less the same age I did” the World Cup winner told the pink paper (h/t Football Italia).
It must be noted he too was in first year in charge of the Bianconeri back in 1995, winning a domestic double while reaching the final of a European competition. The comparison is—for now at least—nothing more than flattering for Allegri, but with victory over Fiorentina, he would take another step towards emulating the incredible achievements of Lippi.
To do so by taking the Coppa Italia as seriously as he has promised could not only end two decades of waiting for Juventus, but it could also breathe some much-needed legitimacy back into the competition.