Serie A title race: More than just a one-team league

Arianna Caruso and Andrea Staskova of Juventus.
Arianna Caruso and Andrea Staskova of Juventus during the Women Serie A match against UC Sampdoria at Stadio Riccardo Garrone on 5 November 2021 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by Getty Images)

Over the last few years Serie A has been regarded as a ‘one-team’ league and who could argue? After winning their first title in 2018, Juventus have dominated the top-flight of Italian football. How does the Serie A title race look this season?

A dominant force

Despite winning their first two championships by narrow margins, Juventus have won the last two titles at a canter. Although having played one game more, Juventus still won the curtailed 2019-20 season by a nine-point margin. Their dominance was total last season, as they swept aside all challengers. Their 22 league matches resulted in 22 victories, with 75 goals for, and only 10 against. While they were far and away the best team in Italy, from a competitive standpoint, their increasing dominance over Italian football was a concern.

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So, as we entered the current campaign, there was no thought given to a title race. How could there be? Juventus were just that much better than everyone else.

The season so far

Sassuolo did their utmost to stick with Joe Montemurro’s side through the first half of the season, but as the Neroverdi began to drop points, title number five for Juventus was slowly coming into view. The goals may not have been flowing as freely as last season, but the defending champions were doing enough.

They were at least, until a 2-2 draw against Fiorentina on January 22nd. For the first time since February 2020, Juventus dropped points in Serie A. But it could have been substantially worse.

La Viola were 2-0 up within 34 minutes, courtesy of a Valentina Giacinti strike and a Sara Gama own goal. Juventus hit back in first-half stoppage time through Valentina Cernoia before Arianna Caruso equalised in the second period to avert disaster.

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It was certainly a result that raised a few eyebrows, but Juventus remained on track for the title. That was until a February afternoon in Tuscany blew the title race wide open.

This past Saturday, Montemurro took his team to face Empoli – a side that are currently involved in an almighty relegation battle. No games are easy, but this seemed a contest that would result in a comfortable away victory. Empoli had other ideas though.

Empoli do the unthinkable

In the eighth minute, Valeria Monterubbiano somehow wriggled through the centre of the Juventus defence, before poking the ball beyond Pauline Peyraud-Magnin. The Juventus goalkeeper’s response was to ask questions of her defence. Seven minutes later, she was interrogating them once again. Chanté-Mary Dompig dug out a sublime cross to the back post, where Cecilia Prugna had snuck in unguarded to nod home. Empoli in dreamland. Juventus living a nightmare.

Despite the disastrous start, this was still an Empoli side that had won but three league games all season, and had yet to win in 2022. With 75 minutes left to play, Juventus would surely comeback, as they had done against Fiorentina.

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Perhaps later than expected, Lisa Boattin pulled a goal back with 13 minutes left on the clock. Then, just three minutes later, it seemed as though order would be restored. Boattin was once again involved after she was brought down in the box to give Cristiana Girelli the chance to level from the penalty spot. Alessia Capeletti guessed right though, with the Empoli goalkeeper diving down to her right to parry away the spot-kick. And that save proved to be enough as Empoli held firm to send shockwaves through the top-flight of Italian football.

A 54-game unbeaten league run had come to an end. For the first time since March 2019, Juventus had lost in Serie A.

To compound the champions’ miserable weekend, Roma overcame Inter Milan to cut the deficit to three points, while Sassuolo remain interested onlookers with five points separating them from the top spot. The Serie A title race has opened up.

Have Juve dropped the ball?

For many, the conclusion would be that Juventus’ levels have dropped, however, that is far from being the case. This is a team that this season has already beaten Wolfsburg in Germany and held Chelsea to a point at Kingsmeadow to ensure their progression to the Champions League quarter-finals.

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Rather than a Juventus decline, we are witnessing an improvement from the rest of Serie A. Teams boast more quality and are no longer fearful of the four-time champions. The top five all believe they have what it takes to compete in the Champions League, while teams like Empoli and Fiorentina have demonstrated that on their day, they can trouble the very best.

Undoubtedly, Juventus possess an abundance of quality, but encouragingly for the league as a whole, so do many other sides.

Title Tussle in Turin

Eyes will now turn to this coming Saturday. Roma travel to Turin to face Juventus, and with just seven games to go, the importance of the contest for either side cannot be understated. Montemurro will be looking for his team to offer a response as they bid to crush Roma’s hopes to even the Serie A title race. But with the door left ajar for a serious title race, Roma could smash right through it with a victory on Saturday. Whatever the result may be, it seems that Serie A can no longer be regarded as a ‘one-team’ league.

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