MILAN, Italy, Jul 26 – Italian giants Juventus claimed a ninth consecutive Serie A title on Sunday after a 2-0 win at home against Sampdoria.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five things that helped Maurizio Sarri guide the Turin giants to a 36th Scudetto with two matches to spare:
Inter double whammy
Juventus got the better of title rivals Inter Milan twice this season, winning 2-1 in the San Siro in October, and crucially 2-0 in Turin on March 8, the final game before the season was suspended for over three months amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala scored behind closed doors in the Allianz Stadium, with the Argentine also on target in the away game, as the champions took a one-point lead and the psychological edge over second-placed Lazio into the lockdown.
Antonio Conte’s Inter were nine points adrift in third at that stage with a game in hand.
Lazio had been one of the most vocal teams pushing for a return to action as they had the best chance in years to lift a third league title in the club’s 120-year history.
Simone Inzaghi’s side eased past Juventus twice in December with a 3-1 scoreline, in the league and the Italian Super Cup, and were on a 21-match unbeaten run.
But their ‘Scudetto’ battle fizzled on the return to action on June 20, and hit with injuries and poor form they fell 2-1 at Juventus on July 20, ending their challenge.
Ronaldo, Dybala strike duo
Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala’s goal-scoring prowess was central to Juventus’ title surge.
Ronaldo, 35, now has 62 Serie A goals since arriving in Turin in July 2018, and 31 this season.
Ronaldo scored ten goals since the return from lockdown, more than any player in the top European leagues.
Italy’s top scorer — ‘Capocannoniere’ — is up for grabs, as he battles Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who has scored 34 goals so far with two games left.
Dybala, 26, who had looked set to exit Turin last season, has scored 11, including four goals in as many games after the return of football in Italy.
“Cristiano and Dybala made the difference,” said Sarri on Sunday.
“This scudetto is in large part thanks to them.”
De Ligt steps up
Dutch left-back Matthjis De Ligt came into his own during his first season at Juventus, stepping up in the absence of 35-year-old Giorgio Chiellini with long-term knee damage.
After a clumsy start to life in Turin with penalities conceded because of handballs the former Ajax player often saved the club, particularly in the title run-in after the lockdown.
At just 20 years old, one of Europe’s most sought-after players proved he was worth the 75 million euros ($82 million) investment last summer, forming a solid back line with Leonardo Bonucci, 33, and even found the net four times.
Buffon in the wings
Gianluigi Buffon returned to Juventus after a season with Paris Saint-Germain, playing understudy to Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Buffon set a new Serie A appearances record on July 5 in a 4-1 win over Torino to overtake the previous record of 647 appearances he jointly held with AC Milan great Paolo Maldini.
Juventus were unbeaten in the eight games the 42-year-old stood between the posts.
The former World Cup winner needs to play 35 games to equal Alessandro Del Piero’s overall record total of 705 Juventus appearances.
“I’ll stop when the ability to play at the top is lacking, I myself will decide when to take a step back,” he said.