The world stopped for last Sunday’s El Clásico, including Roma coach Rudi Garcia who watched the game at home. “It was a great advert for football,” he said, “even if there were a few too many yellow cards.” What really struck him though was how close the title race was in La Liga.
At the time, Atletico were level with Real Madrid on points but led the way on head-to-head. Barcelona meanwhile were only a point behind the pair of them.
“It’s a joy for the fans and for TV,” Garcia claimed. “It’s boring when the championship is already decided two months before the end of the season.” His comment was a general one. It applied to the Bundesliga where Bayern this week became the earliest ever champions of Germany. But it was taken more as an indication of his frustration with Serie A.
Roma are the most improved team in Italy this season. Following Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory against Torino they are 20 points better off than at this stage last year. It’s also worth remembering how Roma started the season. They won each of their opening 10 games, establishing a new Serie A record. So far they have lost only twice in the league. Never before in their history have Roma had as many points after 29 games as they do now.
Before this season, the expectation was Juventus would be run closer. The competition has picked up the pace, but the champions have responded to it by kicking on even more."
To add another layer of perspective, their current total of 67 would be enough for them to be leading Serie A in 11 of the 12 years since their last Scudetto in 2001. If Roma maintain their seasonal points-per-game average over the remaining nine games, they will finish on 87, the total that an improving Juventus retained their title with last May.
And yet, quite incredibly, but for an improbable collapse, Roma won’t be lifting the shimmering Serie A trophy aloft at the end of this campaign. There’ll be no pitch invasion at the Stadio Olimpico, no celebrations in Circo Massimo. Somehow this Roma side, which most neutrals would argue really deserves a piece of silverware to commemorate what has been an unprecedented campionato by their standards, are in second place and trailing Juventus, who have played a game more, by 14 points.
To be that far ahead of their closest contenders, who appear on course to be the ‘best runners’ up’ in Serie A history, is absolutely extraordinary. Before this season, the expectation was Juventus would be run closer. The competition has picked up the pace, but the champions have responded to it by kicking on even more. For the first time ever, the 100-point barrier looks likely to be surpassed in Serie A. Inter got close post-Calciopoli in 2006-07 when they finished on 97 under Roberto Mancini. For the time being that remains an all-time record, but if Juventus continue at their current breath-taking rate, they will finish on 102.
That’s one of eight records Antonio Conte’s side can break between now and the end of term. The first one fell on Wednesday night when Juventus stayed perfect at home with a win against Parma. It was their 15th consecutive in front of their own fans, eclipsing the 14 managed by Gigi Radice’s Torino in 1975-76.
Be victorious in their remaining four games at the Juventus Stadium and not only will the Old Lady conclude with a 100% record at home, she will out-do Milan in 2005-06 and Torino in 1948-49. Both those teams won 18 of their 19 outings in their own backyard. It would follow that by obtaining a maximum 57 points at home that would also be an all-time high, one that obviously can’t be bettered.
On the road, Juventus can also match the 15 wins Inter achieved in 2006-07 if they claim victory in their final four trips away from Turin, starting at Napoli on Sunday, an encounter you can catch live on BT Sport 1 as part of the European Football Show (Sunday, BT Sport 1, 6.30pm). The list goes on. Another of the landmarks set by Mancini’s Inter - 25 wins from 38 games - is in danger. Beat six of their last nine opponents and Juventus will scrub that out and once again write their name in the history books.
Will Juve coach Antonio Conte succeed where Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi failed and claim three Scudettos in-a-row? (Getty)
It’s of great credit to Roma that the gap between them and the league leaders hasn’t reached the 22 points that separated them from Inter eight years ago, another record. Should their pursuit falter a little more, however, then Juventus could win the Scudetto with five games to spare like Torino did in 1947-48, Fiorentina in 1955-56 and Inter in 2006-07.
Never one to get ahead of himself, Conte is not taking anything for granted. He is unrelenting. In front of him is the opportunity to become the first Juventus coach since Carlo Carcano in 1932 to win the Scudetto three times in a row, a feat that proved beyond Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi. That’s the priority, not the records. “They mean nothing if you don’t win something,” Conte insists.
And what about the Europa League? Would he like to win that too and do a league and continental double for only the third time in Juventus’ history. “Sure,” he said. “I’d even like to win a trophy for playing trumps and scopa [another Italian card game].” That’s Conte. His will to win is insatiable. What’s Juventus’ motto again? “Winning isn’t important. It’s the only thing that counts.” No one better exemplifies it than he does.
Serie A Talking points:
- Roma revealed their plans for a new stadium at an impressive presentation on Wednesday. Construction is due to begin on a site in the Tor di Valle area of Rome. The state of the art privately-funded ground will have a capacity of 52,500. It is expected to open for the 2016-17 season and will cost an estimated €300m. Will Totti still be playing then?
- Clarence Seedorf is “safe [for now]” claims La Gazzetta dello Sport after taking four points from six away at Lazio and Fiorentina. Wednesday’s 2-0 win in Florence was arguably Milan’s best performance under his management. It led Il Giornale to muse “perhaps the worst is over.” That, however, remains to be seen.
- Inter’s owner Erick Thohir flew in for another series of board meetings. Asked about recent transfer speculation, he replied: “We have never had any contact with Patrice Evra. And if Bacary Sagna decides to stay in the Premier League we will understand and sign a young player instead.”
- Atalanta coach Stefano Colantuono doesn’t like the “euphoria” around the club after his side’s midweek victory against Livorno. Surely he can understand it though. The Dea have won five in a row equaling their club record set in 1991. Remarkably Atalanta are in the conversation for a place in the Europa League. “We can’t be thinking about it,” Colantuono insisted. Why not?
- Once a revelation, Verona are no longer. Beaten 1-0 away at Cagliari it was their fourth defeat in a row. They have now gone 495 minutes without scoring a goal. Still, the newly promoted side are safe and in 10th. If you’d asked coach Andrea Mandorlini to sign for that at the beginning of the season, he most certainly would have done. After 11 years outside the top flight, not even this run can take the shine off what has been a better than expected first campaign back in Serie A.
Live Serie A on BT Sport this week:
Inter Milan v Udinese, Thursday, March 27, BT Sport 1, 7.45pm
AC Milan v Chievo, Saturday, March 29, BT Sport, 7.45pm
Sassuolo v Roma, Sunday, March 30, BT Sport 2, 11.30am
Lazio v Parma, Sunday, March 30, ESPN, 2.00pm
Napoli v Juventus, Sunday, March 30, BT Sport 1, 7.45pm
Livorno v Inter Milan, Monday, March 31, BT Sport 1, 8.00pm