If the last two summer transfer windows have proven anything, it’s that Juventus now consider themselves more a European club than an Italian one.
The signings of Cristiano Ronaldo and Matthijs De Ligt followed the well-worn Bianconeri strategy of snatching away the top players of their fiercest rivals, only now this approach is being applied on a continental rather than domestic scale. It’s hard to blame them.
The Scudetto has become almost a formality for the Old Lady: Juve have largely been uncontested en route to eight straight Serie A titles, winning by an average margin of 9.4 points over that span.
By now it’s painfully evident that the club’s ultimate goal is to win the Champions League, a feat they haven’t achieved since 1996, despite appearing in two of the last five finals. This is why they should be thrilled with Inter’s unbeaten start to the Serie A campaign.
Not to discount either Roma or Napoli, both of whom have at times made valiant attempts to play the foil, but Juve have lacked a serious domestic rival for close to a decade now. And while the club may continue to try and distance itself even further from the rest of the league—whether by arguing for a greater share of TV revenue or looking towards a possible European Super League — a competitive title race this year could prove more beneficial than anything in their quest to conquer Europe.
In some ways, Juventus have become victims of their own success. By dominating the Serie A so thoroughly, they have in a sense destroyed the balance necessary for any league to thrive, both at home and abroad. The numbers show that it is extremely rare for a team to win the Champions League if their own championship isn’t at least somewhat competitive.
Only three times in the tournament’s 27-year history has a side won the trophy and won their domestic championship by more than nine points. The evidence strongly suggests you are better off playing meaningful matches late into the season as opposed to having wrapped up a league title with time to spare.
This past year’s Champion League is a perfect example of this, with both Liverpool and Tottenham having something to play for until the Premier League’s final day.
It’s safe to say that most neutral supporters will be behind Inter during this weekend’s Derby d’Italia. A genuine title fight would invigorate the league as a whole. Furthermore, should the situation become even more unbalanced, the Serie A could risk coming to resemble Ligue 1, where PSG have won six of the last seven titles by an average of 15.3 points yet, tellingly, have never advanced past the quarter-final stage of the Champions League.
Sunday’s match in Milan will tell us a lot about how serious Inter really are. For all the hype surrounding them and their early season lead in the table, Juventus remain the firm favorites to retain the Scudetto once again. Yet already, just over a month into the season, there is a new energy surrounding the Serie A that just might help Juve reach new heights by at the same time bringing them back down to earth.
For even in the era of the “Super Club,” it’s clear that the strength of the league as a whole is still vital. Maybe this year will be the year.