Serie A

Seventh heaven for Juventus - Serie A in 2017-18

 
1:00pm on Wednesday 15th April 2020
By
Martin Macdonald

Juventus continued their domination of Italian football with a superb double in 2017-18, but in order to secure the Scudetto and fight off the fierce challenge of runners-up, Napoli, they had to record a huge tally of 95 points.

The title race was a rollercoaster of emotions for both sides, who shared the top spot throughout the season, but it would be Juve who would emerge on top, with their ability to grind out wins their most notable characteristic of the campaign. At the end of the season, they bid farewell to their legendary goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, who exited Serie A for PSG after 23 years.

In deviation from tradition, Serie A had the highest average goals per game in any of the top five leagues, and with the championship, European qualification, and relegation spots still to be decided going into the final few weeks, it made the division the most competitive in Europe.

The season will be overshadowed by the tragic death of Fiorentina captain, Davide Astori, who passed away in his sleep from a cardiac arrest before a match in March.

CHANGES

The biggest alteration in Italian football saw the official introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for the first time, which saw referees utilising video replays in order to make match decisions. Traditionalists pointed to the negatives of VAR, but postseason research found that mistakes had decreased from 5.48% to 0.98% per match.

Juventus continued their spending to to tighten their stranglehold on the league, spending in excess of €140 million on the likes of Federico Bernardeschi, Juan Cuadrado, Blaise Matuidi, and Douglas Costa (on loan). Veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci exited acrimoniously after a disagreement with senior management, moving to an AC Milan side as active as they had been in recent years. Andre Silva, Andrea Conti, Lucas Biglia, and Matteo Musacchio were also brought in for big fees, while Franck Kessie and Nikola Kalinic were signed on loan with obligations to buy. Their exuberant spending would eventually see them punished by Financial Fair Play.

Across the city at Inter, Matias Vecino, Roberto Gagliardini, Milan Skriniar, Dalbert, and Borja Valero joined.

Napoli and Roma didn’t spend big but did make some shrewd signings in the form of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Marko Rog.

Three of Italy’s biggest clubs, Fiorentina, Roma, and Inter, all had new head coaches for the season in Stefano Pioli, Eusebio Di Francesco, and Luciano Spalletti.

SEASON SUMMARY

In the first half of the campaign, Juventus struggled at times, the departure of Bonucci appearing to compromise what had previously been a rock solid defence. A period which included a disappointing draw against Atalanta and surprising losses against Lazio and Sampdoria gave Napoli hope in the title race.

Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli drew plenty of superlatives for their energetic, exciting style of play, with Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne, and Dries Mertens continuing their excellent form from the 2016-17 season. The two title rivals exchanged league victories; at the San Paolo in December, a goal from former son Gonzalo Higuain secured a 1-0 away win for Juve but Napoli responded in kind in April, with Kalidou Koulibaly bulleting a header home in the last minute to blow the race wide open.

However, in the Serie A game of the season, Juventus would prove their worth as champions. With just four matches remaining and both sides neck and neck at the top, Juve found themselves 2-1 down with just three minutes remaining but the Old Lady scored two goals in two minutes, Higuain heading home the winner from a free-kick to spark incredible celebrations from those in black and white.

Serie A Player of the Year, Mauro Icardi

Napoli, just a week after their win over Juve, were shellshocked, losing comprehensively 3-0 to Fiorentina and drawing with Torino to effectively end their hopes. Juventus eventually clinched the title thanks to a 0-0 stalemate against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico.

One of the stories of the season involved promoted side, Benevento. The Streghe lost their first 14 matches and were on course to break all unwanted records, but in a match for the ages against Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan, goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli went up for a corner in the 95th minute to smash a header home, earning his team a 2-2 draw. The team were still relegated, but earned plenty of fans for their sense of pride and bravery against bigger teams despite being so clearly out of their depth. Joining them back in Serie B would be Crotone and Verona.

Qualification for the final Champions League position went down to the wire. Both Lazio and Inter were on 72 points going into the final fixture against one another at Stadio Olimpico, and the hosts stormed into a 2-0 lead. But Inter showed superb resolve, turning the match around to win 3-2 and clinch the coveted fourth spot courtesy of their superior head-to-head record.

AWARDS

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

MAURO ICARDI

The Argentine banged in 29 goals for Inter, but his relationship with the club and its fans would deteriorate beyond repair soon enough.

MANAGER OF THE SEASON

MAURIZIO SARRI

Pep Guardiola is a fan, and though Napoli ultimately came up short in the title race, their style of play meant they became the neutrals’ choice across Europe.

TOP GOALSCORER

CIRO IMMOBILE, MAURO ICARDI - 29 GOALS

Twenty-nine goals each for the pair, as they went head-to-head until the final day of the season, like their teams Lazio and Inter.

TEAM OF THE SEASON

ALISSON; CANCELO, KOULIBALY, CHIELLINI, SANDRO; MILINKOVIC-SAVIC, PJANIC, NAINGGOLAN; DYBALA, ICARDI, IMMOBILE.

MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER

Leonardo Bonucci

Juventus to MILAN

€42m

KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON

Juventus, on the cusp on dropping three vital points in the title race, scored two goals in the final two minutes to defeat Inter 3-2 at San Siro, with Gonzalo Higuain scoring the headed winner, and Napoli never recovered.

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