It should have been blood and thunder, two of Italian football’s biggest clubs squaring off on the penultimate weekend with Champions League football on the line. Juventus and Milan instead gave us dull, with blunders, in front of a listless crowd.
Significant sections of the Allianz Stadium were empty at kick-off. Fewer than 500 Milan supporters had made the short trip to Turin, others balking at the €80 ticket price in the away section. Juventus Ultras from the Curva Sud, meanwhile, were staging a protest outside against what they perceive as heavy-handed treatment from their club, including restrictions on flags, banners and instruments that can be brought into the ground.
Their eventual entrance did not lift the home team. Juventus, needing a win to stay within touching distance of fourth-placed Milan heading into the final round, only carved out a couple of half-chances before falling behind to an Olivier Giroud header in the 40th minute.
This was an isolated moment of quality in a match short of it. Timing his leap to reach Davide Calabria’s outswinger from deep on the right, Giroud met the ball by the penalty spot and directed it back across goal into the bottom corner. It was the Frenchman’s 12th strike of this Serie A campaign – one more than he managed on the way to helping his team claim the Scudetto last year.
After that came a whole lot of nothing. Juventus sent on Arkadiusz Milik and eventually Samuel Iling-Junior but none of it helped them to build a coherent attack. As La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Luigi Garlando put it in his match report, these were “11 lads in an orienteering competition, without a map or a compass”.
Milan could also have done more. Rafael Leão, anonymous for much of the game, had a chance to put things to bed when he ran through on the counter, twisting Federico Gatti inside out, but pelted his shot far over the bar.
Avoiding defeat, though, was all that really mattered for Stefano Pioli’s side. This result locks them into a top-four finish, remarkable when you consider they were fifth, and four points adrift, with three games left to play. That was before Juventus were docked 10 points by the Italian Football Federation’s appeals court in its second hearing of the case against them for false accounting.
The Napoli manager, Luciano Spalletti, is set to leave the club after guiding them to their first Serie A title in 33 years.
President Aurelio De Laurentiis said that the 64-year-old, who took over the Partenopei in 2021, has asked to take a sabbatical and will leave the club with a year left on his contract.
"He's a free man, now it's right that he continues to do what he wants. I thank him," De Laurentiis told Italian broadcaster Rai as reported by Sky Italy.
Napoli clinched their first title since 1990, when Diego Maradona led them to the Scudetto, with five games to spare.
Spalletti's final game in charge is set to be at home to Sampdoria next Sunday.
A number of their star players such as top scorer Victor Osimhen and centre-back Kim Min-jae have been linked with moves away from Naples this summer, with a host of Premier League clubs interested.
The chaotic process of Italy’s sporting justice has drawn criticism from all quarters. Juventus were served a 15-point penalty by the same body in January, only for the verdict to be suspended by the Italian Olympic Committee’s highest appeals court in April. That body returned the case to the federation, seeking clearer justification for the extent of the punishment.
We are still awaiting the full judgment for the amended points deduction, which should be published in the next week. Juventus, in theory, could appeal to the Olympic Committee again, though the words of their chief football officer, Francesco Calvo, on Sunday suggested they may not.
“We have expressed our opinions and our feelings regarding these sentences very clearly from the start,” he said. “We believe that we were punished unfairly, we believe it was not proportionate, we began these various judicial processes accused of violating one article, then finished up condemned of another … [But] now that’s water under the bridge. It’s definitive, and today we are concentrated on the pitch.”
Further challenges loom. Juventus face a second trial over allegations that they made false statements about player wage deferrals during the Covid pandemic. A first hearing for that case in the sporting courts is scheduled for June.
Putting the merits of these cases to one side, a dragged-out process has damaged both Juventus and the league as a whole. Managers of other clubs have lamented the lack of clarity – José Mourinho describing it as “a joke” to not know where things stand two games from the end. The latest points penalty was announced before Juventus faced Empoli last Monday, a game they wound up losing, 4-1.
“It’s not an alibi,” said the Juventus manager, Massimiliano Allegri. “But finding out that you’ve lost 10 points a quarter of an hour before kick-off is at least extenuating circumstances.”
This summer will be complicated for the Bianconeri regardless of what their next day in court brings. They are missing out on Champions League football for the first time in more than a decade, and a squad overhaul is due. Adrien Rabiot, Ángel Di María and Juan Cuadrado are at the end of their contracts while Leandro Paredes’s loan from Paris Saint-Germain is also set to end.
Not all of those farewells will be so painful, but Rabiot is coming off easily his best season for Juventus, with eight goals and four assists. Plugging the gaps in a season with no Champions League revenue is only complicated further by the weight of Paul Pogba’s contract – reported to be costing as much as €11.1m per year on the balance sheet. Injuries have limited him to just 161 minutes played since rejoining last summer.
Ultras continued their protest against the club’s leadership at full-time, with chants of “we aren’t clients”. Milan’s players shared a relieved celebration with the tiny pocket of fans who had come to support them.
The fear for the Rossoneri had been that their run to a Champions League semi-final would cost them the energy they needed to qualify for that competition again. Losses to Udinese and Spezia this spring looked like they might prove decisive. Juventus’s points penalty brought them back to life.
Pioli threw out a challenge to his club’s directors on Sunday, saying that “if we want to be competitive to win the league and go far in the Champions League it’s clear our squad needs to be improved. You need strong players to play in two competitions at this level. If they’re young players that will make me even happier, because they can be like sponges who absorb.”
It might be a step back from last season’s Scudetto, but the manager has plenty to feel proud of after securing three consecutive qualifications to Europe’s top club competition for a club who previously had gone seven years without. He knows that he cannot go on forever relying on decisive moments from a 36-year-old Giroud.