How Juventus won its 7th straight Serie A title
MILAN (AP) — Juventus keeps on breaking its own records.
And it did so again on Sunday when it clinched a record-extending seventh successive Serie A title, with one game to spare, following a 0-0 draw at Roma.
That also completed a fourth successive league and cup double — after Juventus beat AC Milan 4-0 in the same stadium on Wednesday.
Before that run, no Italian club had ever achieved back-to-back doubles, while the last time Juventus had won the league and cup in the same season was in 1995.
It was coach Massimiliano Allegri's fourth league title in as many years in charge of Juventus. No club in Europe's top five leagues has won as many league titles as Juve's overall total of 34.
How did Juventus do it and what makes the club so dominant in Italy?
Here are a few reasons:
Juventus already had the best squad in Serie A and — apart from AC Milan — it was the club which strengthened the most in Italy during the offseason.
The club spent approximately 150 million euros ($180 million) on the likes of Federico Bernardeschi, Blaise Matuidi, Benedikt Hoewedes, Mattia De Sciglio and Wojciech Szczesny, while it also signed Medhi Benatia and Juan Cuadrado to permanent deals after loan spells in Turin.
However, it was Brazil winger Douglas Costa who was arguably Juve's best signing.
Douglas Costa said he wanted to provide "many assists" after joining Juventus on a season-long loan from Bayern Munich for 6 million euros (then $7 million) in a deal which required the Italian champion to purchase his full rights within a year for 40 million euros (then $45 million).
And he has done precisely that.
After a slow start to the season while he adapted to Italian football, Douglas Costa has been key to the title run-in, with 12 assists in the league as he propelled the team to its seventh straight title.
Seven of those assists have come when Douglas Costa has been brought on as a substitute, highlighting the 27-year-old Brazilian's ability to change matches.
COPING WITHOUT BONUCCI
There were questions over how the Juventus defense would cope following Leonardo Bonucci's shock departure to AC Milan. For six years, he linked up with Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini and won six league titles.
However, after an inconsistent start to the campaign, which saw Juve concede 14 times in 13 league matches, the back line settled down.
Benatia stepped up to fill the void left by Bonucci and the Morocco international has formed a solid partnership with Chiellini, after both missed several matches through injury.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri also had more time to work with his players after a packed fixture schedule and a stop-start season which saw three international breaks before the end of November.
After a 3-2 loss at Sampdoria, the suddenly solidified back line let in just one goal in its next 16 league matches. Juventus has conceded a total of 23 goals in Serie A this season.
The Bianconeri defense has been helped by the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus captain keeps on pulling off fantastic saves at the age of 40 but has also been given time to rest and recover in what is likely to be the final season of his career.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
From Szczesny being a reliable understudy to Buffon at the back, to Bernardeschi being able to slot in up front, Juventus has a number of options in every position.
Its rivals don't have that luxury.
Napoli has played some of the best football in Serie A and pushed Juventus all the way in a season where it broke its club record of league points.
But it has clearly showed signs of fatigue as the season wore on.
Its star attacking trio of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens started almost every single match — not helped by another serious injury to fellow forward Arkadiusz Milik — as did midfielders Allan and Marek Hamsik.
The toll it has taken can be seen by Napoli's recent results as Maurizio Sarri's side followed up its impressive 1-0 win at Juventus with a hefty defeat at Fiorentina and a draw at home to Torino.
Sarri has had little options on the bench when matches aren't going Napoli's way. In contrast, Allegri has had a wealth of choices and has also shown himself to be astute in his use of substitutions, often making game-changing replacements.
While Napoli has been rightly lauded for its entertaining football, Juventus has been criticized at times for playing ugly football this season.
But it is results that matter as Allegri knows.
Juventus has seemed content to soak up pressure and conserve their energy during many matches this season — especially after taking the lead.
The team is so used to doing this against weaker teams in Serie A that it tried the same tactic in the first leg of its Champions League last-16 meeting against Tottenham and it proved costly as it let slip a two-goal lead to draw 2-2.
Even when things aren't going its way, Juventus never gives up. The club motto is "fino alla fine" (until the end) and it has collected a number of points by scoring late on in matches.
That determined attitude is aided by a winning mindset which looks set to continue.