Well, after nine months of action, the 2016/17 campaign ended the same way as the previous five. Juventus are once again crowned champions of Italy, clinching a record sixth consecutive Serie A titles, something no other club has ever accomplished before.
Adding a third Coppa Italia triumph – another first for that competition – this season saw a major evolution for the Bianconeri, one led by Max Allegri and embodied in the attacking talent at his disposal. Indeed, while their earlier successes were built upon the defence and Gigi Buffon, a tactical shift to 4-2-3-1 brought so much more effort and excellence from the likes of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic.
Dani Alves and Alex brought an unpredictable edge to their play, while the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini ensured that they remain difficult to beat, once again conceding fewer goals (27) than any other side in the division.
However, while there was something of a predictable air to Juve’s dominance, it should not be said that they had it easy. AS Roma pushed them hard for long stretches, but ultimately their own emotional fragility was their undoing, prompting Coach Luciano Spalletti to leave just two days after the season came to an end.
Napoli – playing unquestionably the most attractive brand of football on the peninsula – came in third, with Dries Mertens worthy of mention as Serie A’s Player of the Year. With Higuain in Turin, Arkadiusz Milik injured and Manolo Gabbiadini proving ineffective, the Belgian winger was asked to play as an out-and-out striker despite standing just 5’ 7” tall.
He responded in spectacular fashion, netting 28 goals as he finished off so much of Napoli’s thrilling attacking play. That put him just one goal behind leading scorer Edin Dzeko, but it must be noted that he took 30 more shots than the former Manchester City man, who remains as wasteful as ever for Roma.
Perhaps rivalling Mertens’ scoring outburst as the shock of the year was Atalanta’s fourth place finish, a rise inspired by Coach Gian Piero Gasperini decision to find space for products of the club’s incredible youth sector.
With the likes of Mattia Caldara and Franck Kessie in the side, the Bergamo-based outfit shocked some of Serie A’s biggest clubs, but they will now surely lose a number of them before next season gets underway. The same teams they have beaten have already begun to pick off some talented youngsters, and it will be interesting to see how Atalanta fare in the Europa League.
Elsewhere, disappointing campaigns for Milan, Inter and Fiorentina will certainly lead to changes. For the former, now owned by a Chinese consortium and finally back in Europe, that seems to mean major investment in the playing squad, while the other two will be looking for a new Coach and some fresh impetus over the summer months.
There was a major surprise at the bottom of the league too, where Crotone managed to survive at the expense of Empoli on the final day, recording a famous win over Lazio to escape the drop zone.
That meant the Tuscan minnows will drop into the second tier along with Palermo and Pescara, while Crotone will extend their first ever stay in the top flight by at least another twelve months.
The best news for fans of Serie A arguably came from UEFA, the governing body announcing that from next year Italy will send four teams directly into the Champions League group stages. It is a move that should allow Napoli, Roma, Milan, Inter and Fiorentina to realistically dream of a place in the elite competition and in turn close the gap to Juventus.
When your star striker leaves for your bitter rivals and his replacement blows out his knee, even the most optimistic of supporters would struggle to expect a slightly-above-average winger to fill the void. 27 goals, nine assists and a Champions League berth later, the Belgian star did exactly that.
Starting the campaign as a bright prospect way down the pecking order, the 23-year-old forced his way into the first-team, then did well enough to force a big money move to Inter in January and even became part of the Italian national team. A star on the rise.
The most expensive signing of the summer turned out to be the best, the €90 million striker finishing as Juve’s leading scorer and helped secure a record-breaking sixth consecutive title. Netting in the biggest matches, he shrugged off questions over his big-game temperament to deliver when the Bianconeri needed him most.
Few coaches in world football could reinvent their side midseason, but the Juve boss did just that as the Bianconeri stumbled into January. Unleashing a previously untested 4-2-3-1 formation, Allegri’s switch was the moment everything clicked and the Old Lady went on to win the league and Coppa Italia while earning a place in the Champions League final.
He certainly isn’t the first expensive Inter signing to flop, but former Santos striker Gabigol could be the one with the most misleading nickname. “Gabigol” was deemed not good enough for the Nerazzurri, managing just 113 minutes of action in a truly forgettable season.
The season turned on Juve’s loss to Fiorentina, but the Viola managed to be even more entertaining when they took on Napoli back in December. Going down 1-0 and 2-1, they took a 3-2 lead only to see a Manolo Gabbiadini penalty peg them back.
From that same game, Zarate’s stunning volley following a wonderful pass from Federico Bernardeschi was simply sublime. Pepe Reina stood no chance of stopping what was a sensational finish.
Next season, fans will be hoping for an actual title race. This term both Napoli and Roma failed to make it close, only Juve’s decision to concentrate on European commitments cutting the gap between them and the chasing pack.