By Michael Ottolenghi
It’s all looking quite good for Juventus and their fans.
It has been clear for months now that they would in all likelihood secure a record-breaking sixth consecutive Serie A title this May. But thanks to Roma’s 3-1 loss in the derby with Lazio, the bianconeri are now in the enviable position of clinching the title either just after this Saturday’s derby della mole against Torino or the following week against Roma. The Champions League semi-final against Monaco will be the main talking point over the next two weeks, but for Juve fans it is hard to imagine a better feeling than securing the title against one of their bitterest rivals.
And that starts with this Saturday’s home derby against Torino. The timing of the games mean that even if Juve win they will have to wait for Roma to play Milan on Sunday in order to secure the title. And on current form it is hard to see Torino troubling Juve too much. Juve’s 2-2 draw against Atalanta last weekend was only the second occasion they have dropped points in Serie A since January, and they have recorded an impressive 33 consecutive home wins in Serie A. Champions League hangover or not, combined with Juve’s squad depth those are intimidating numbers for Torino.
And Torino could do with a win in the derby to lift an otherwise anonymous season. The promise of increased success under manager Sinisa Mihaijlovic and the arrivals of big name signings such as Joe Hart last summer have been largely frustrated by inconsistencies and defensive frailties (they have the fifth worst defense in the league).
The granata are firmly ensconced in mid-table mediocrity, with few prospects of climbing above their current ninth place. For their fans a derby win would make the season a success, although Mihajlovic will no doubt be focusing on ensuring Andrea Bellotti wins the title of top goalscorer (he is currently tied with Roma’s Edin Dzeko with 25 goals) and figuring out which players (beyond Bellotti) he wants to fight to retain in the summer in order to mount a more serious challenge for European qualification next season.
And so to the round’s other big game – Sunday’s clash between Milan and Roma on Sunday at San Siro. Both teams go into this game with a point to prove and a season to save. Milan have collected just 1 point from their past 2 games against relegation threatened Empoli and Crotone, and their qualification for the Europa League next season is at risk.
They remain in the qualifying sixth place (largely due to Inter’s even worse collapse), but they need more points to ensure the new Chinese owners do not summarily dispatch manager Vincenzo Montella this summer.
The arrival of Roma would not normally be good news for Milan, but the Romans are mired in their own post-derby debacle. That defeat and the draw against Atalanta a couple of weeks ago now leaves them just one point ahead of Napoli in second place, which means automatic qualification for the Champions League next season. With Juve coming to town following this trip to Milan, Luciano Spalletti needs a statement win to ensure his second spell at Roma doesn’t end with a late season collapse.
Which brings us to the two big refereeing controversies in Serie A, one significantly more important than the other, but both showcasing key problems that the Italian game has not managed to resolve. The lesser issue was the granting of a penalty to Roma in the derby following one of the most blatant dives you will ever see on a football pitch by Kevin Strootman. The other involved an ugly incident of racism during Pescara’s 1-0 loss to Cagliari in Sardinia. Former Ghana international Sulley Muntari, who now plays for Pescara, was racially abused by an element of the home crowd, and towards the end of the game he protested loudly with the referee. Instead of adhering to Serie A’s newish protocol of considering suspending the game, the referee booked Muntari, who left the pitch in protest and was then sent off. The football authorities have since suspended Muntari for one game – proving yet again that racism is not taken seriously in Italian football.