Can Anybody Close The Gap On Juventus Next Season?

SerieA

Once again, Juventus look odds on certainties to claim their third title in a row even despite suffering their second defeat of the season last weekend away at Napoli. La Vecchia Signora remain 11 points ahead of second place Roma, though Juve have played one more game than their rivals.

With Napoli a distant six points further behind Roma in third and they in turn a further 12 points ahead of fourth placed Fiorentina, it does look already as if the three key Champions League places are sewn in up Serie A with seven weekends of the season remaining.

Juventus have once again strolled to the title under Antonio Conte and despite a disappointing showing in the Champions League, their dominance in Serie A has never really been in question, especially over the latter stages of the season.

So with the Serie A season 2013-2014 effectively coming to a somewhat predictable end, is there any chance any of the main rivals to Juventus can close the gap next season and perhaps put up a much sterner fight for the Scudetto?

Roma – Rudi Garcia’s team have improved markedly on their 6th place finish in 2012-13 and have only lost twice all season. Compared to Juventus though, they have drawn too many games,  especially two games at home to Cagliari and Sassuolo.

The venerable Francesco Totti remains a key player, even at age 37 and this is perhaps a problem for Garcia as it is clear that the striker is no longer the player he once was. A potential long term replacement could be the talented Mattia Destro, who has netted 10 goals in 16 Serie A games this season.

There’s a good mix of youth and experience in this Roma side and with a careful signing or two, they could be serious challengers again next season, provided they can hold onto key players such as Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and Destro.

Napoli – If any team has the financial power to bully their way to the top of Serie A, it may just be the Azerbaijani-backed Napoli. Manager Rafa Benitez has experienced of chasing down big clubs in both Spain and England and he certainly has the credentials to turn Napoli into Serie A contenders.

After spending heavily last summer to bring in players like Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol to the club, This was always likely to be a transition season but the signs are there that Napoli could be a real force next year, especially if they can add further quality to the squad.  The signing of ex-Verona midfielder Jorginho in the January transfer window could prove to be very shrewd business too.

The club seem keen to make Pepe Reina’s loan move from Liverpool permanent but expect Benitez to be busy in the market this summer as he attempts to bridge the gap between 3rd and 1st in Serie A.

Inter Milan –  It’s fair to say Walter Mazzari’s team have underperformed this season and there is already talk of a serious overhaul of the squad in the summer. Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic will arrive for certain, and Inter are also being linked with United pair Patrice Evra and Javier Gonzalez.

Inter’s problem this season has been their inability to turn draws into wins, as well as some serious thumpings at the hand of top three sides.  They have dropped 18 points to teams below 10th in the Serie A table at presen and that is just too many to sustain a title challenge.

Expect major surgery at Inter this season as Mazzari’s squad needs it. There’s still plenty of talent in the squad, Mauro Icardi, Rodrigo Palacio, Andrea Ranocchia, Hernanes and Fredy Guarin are very talented players, but they do need extra quality if they are to mount a serious challenge next year.

AC Milan – Clarence Seedorf inherits arguably the worst performing Milan side in living memory as he seeks to turn a team who are currently 11th in Serie A into title contenders. It will be a tough task for the likeable Dutchman in his first coaching role.

Milan do have some real talent in their squad, Balotelli, El Shaarawy, de Jong, Zapata, Montelivo, Abate, Mexes, Robinho, Pazzini, Muntari and Honda are all top class talents, yet they are unable to perform as a team on a regular basis.

Their performances against top six teams this season is awful with just one win and one draw from ten games. They have lost home and away to Juventus, Napoli, Parma and could still do so against Inter Milan and Sassuolo this season.

With no Champions League football, Seedorf won’t have limitless funds to improve the squad, but he shouldn’t need to given the talent that is already there. The Dutchman needs to shape the talent he has into a working team and if he can, Milan could surprise a few in 2014-2015.

Of the other sides outside this quartet of teams, Fiorentina, Lazio and Parma look like they could have the wherewithal to break Juve’s dominance, however both lack the spending power, or the lure of Champions League football, to attract the top players that arguably they would need.

Yet the biggest obstacle to teams wanting to de-throne Juventus will come from The Old Lady herself. Antonio Conte has shown himself to be a shrewd manager and the consistency of his team is what sets Juventus apart from their peers at the present.

What will be interesting will be to see how long veterans like Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo can continue playing at the highest level. How Conte manages their eventual replacement over the next year or so, could determine how dominant Juventus are in the future.

The biggest problem however for Italian sides is that Juventus dominance is not just on the football field, but off it too. Chiefly in terms of their new stadium, regular income from the Champions League and a crop of hugely talented players who know how to play as a team and get results. This mean that more than likely they will start the 2014-2015 season as hot favourites for Serie A with other teams trailing in their wake.

BenHolmes

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