As it stands, Juventus sit seven points clear at the top of Serie A. They are on course for a sixth straight Scudetto, one which would break the record for consecutive title wins in Italian football. Furthermore, they are in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, which they won in both of the last two seasons. Their domestic dominance is undoubtable, but who is best placed to put an end to it?
Here, Football Whispers takes a look at five of Juventus’ main rivals – Inter, Lazio, Milan, Napoli and Roma – and assesses which one is most likely to end their reign. Each team will be ranked based on the following criteria:
In Lucas Biglia, Lazio have arguably the finest defensive midfielder in Italian football today. The Argentina international offers firm tackling, sound passing and leadership in the centre, where he is supported by the ceaseless running of Marco Parolo. Elsewhere, Stefan de Vrij is an excellent centre-back and the front three of Felipe Anderson, Ciro Immobile and Keita Baldé Diao provide pace and penetration.
Simone Inzaghi spent his formative years in coaching with Lazio’s youth sides before stepping up to take charge temporarily at the end of last term. Winning more than he lost, he was appointed permanently after the club’s experiment with Marcelo Bielsa lasted less than a week.
With less than one full season of management under his belt, Inzaghi is inexperienced, but his results show promise.
Anderson and Keita are still only 23 and 21 years of age respectively, while 21-year-old midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić possesses refined technique, versatility and physical presence. Furthermore, with home-grown talent such as Cristiano Lombardi and Alessandro Murgia coming through, there’s a lot more to come from this Lazio side.
Lazio seem to have been moving in the right direction, the Bielsa debacle aside, for much of the last few seasons. In addition their transfer policy, led by sporting director Igli Tare, has brought in a good volume of young talent.
One of Milan’s major issues is a lack of squad depth. For, while the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso are among the best in their respective positions in Serie A, their backups (Marco Storari, Cristian Zapata, Mario Pašalić and Keisuke Honda) are nowhere near the same level.
Vincenzo Montella led Fiorentina to three consecutive fourth-place finishes in Serie A, also reaching a Europa League semi-final and a Coppa Italia final during his time with the club. That spell was sandwiched by one positive season with Catania and a less positive one with Sampdoria. Renowned for an aesthetically pleasing possession game, he is widely respected in Italy and has restored some pride to Milan since taking charge last summer.
Milan have arguably the finest young team in Europe right now, with 17-year-old Donnarumma, 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli, 22-year-old Romagnoli and 23-year-old Suso showing serious potential.
Unfortunately, Milan’s potential is undermined by a complete lack of direction in the club hierarchy. The ownership situation remains messy, with a takeover discussed since last summer still not yet completed. On top of that, their transfer policy remains incredibly wayward.
With a spine of Kostas Manolas, Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Edin Džeko, Roma are a physically strong outfit filled with energy. And, in pacey winger Mohamed Salah, adventurous wing-backs Bruno Peres and Alessandro Florenzi, and fluent attacking midfielder Diego Perotti, they have quality throughout the side.
Luciano Spalletti is perhaps one of the more underrated managers in football today. His first spell with Roma included two Coppa Italia wins and three runners-up finishes in Serie A, and he has rejuvenated the club again since re-joining them in January 2016. Tactically versatile and experienced, he also two Russian Premier League titles with Zenit and did good work at Udinese.
Roma have a tendency to let go of or ignore their best young talent. They did so with Romagnoli, who was sold to Milan, and appear to be doing the same with Leandro Paredes, an extremely promising regista who, at 22 and with a season of outstanding performances with Empoli, has made just seven starts for Spalletti’s side this term.
With a strange transfer policy and a proposed new stadium for which building still hasn’t commenced, Roma are lacking the direction needed to seriously challenge Juventus in the longer term.
Inter have te best defensive record in Serie A outside of Juventus and Roma this season. This is primarily down to the solid trio of goalkeeper Samir Handanović, experienced stopper Miranda and combative centre-back Jeison Murillo. In addition, their midfield is packed with talent thanks to some big spending in recent years, with Geoffrey Kondogbia, João Mário, Ever Banega, Roberto Gagliardini offering a combination of visionary passing and defensive muscle. Up front, Mauro Icardi is a consistent scorer with good suppliers in Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perišić.
Stefano Pioli deserves more praise than he receives. His appointment as Inter boss was generally met by shrugs and head-shakes, but in guiding Lazio to third in 2014-15 he proved his ability to get the best out of a group of quality individuals. He has done the same since joining the Nerazzurri, winning 11 of his 16 matches in charge so far.
Inter have a wealth of good young players, if only they started using them. Promising academy graduates such as Federico Dimarco, Senna Miangue, Assane Gnoukouri and Rey Manaj find themselves out on loan, while the likes of Eloge Yao and Andrea Pinamonti are on the fringes of the first team. Even Brazilian sensation Gabriel Barbosa has struggled for game time since joining last summer.
With new ownership and the possibility that their Financial Fair Play restrictions could be lifted next season, Inter may soon be investing more money in improving an already strong squad. The only uncertainty is at coaching level, where the shadow of Diego Simeone looms large over Pioli.
Napoli’s central defensive quartet of Kalidou Koulibaly, Raul Albiol, Nikola Maksimović and Lorenzo Tonelli gives some insight into the depth of their squad—all four would play regularly for almost any other Serie A side.
The midfield is led by captain and icon Marek Hamšík, while in attack the departure of Gonzalo Higuaín has been compensated for by Dries Mertens, who has thrived since being moved to a false nine role with Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón on either side of him.
Maurizio Sarri is one of the most intriguing coaches in Italian football. A former banker with no playing experience beyond amateur level, he has worked his way up the ladder to end up at Napoli. The football played by his teams, including Empoli previously, is viewed as the most attractive in the country.
In 19-year-old deep-lying midfielder Amadou Diawara, Napoli have a prodigy on their books. Alongside him, energetic 22-year-old Piotr Zieliński has settled quickly to the club’s high expectations. In attack, 22-year-old Arek Milik has already proven he has what it takes to score consistently in Serie A.
Napoli’s transfer policy has not always been the most effective in terms of getting deals done. However, there is clarity over the type of player needed not only to suit Sarri’s style, but to improve the team both now and going forward.