It took some time to splutter to life but Juventus’s “crazy, incredible” rollercoaster ride towards a record-equalling fifth consecutive Serie A title was the “best” of the lot, said goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon.
A hard-fought 2-1 win at Fiorentina on Sunday allowed Juventus to stretch their lead over closest rivals Napoli to 12 points.
And when Napoli were stunned by Radja Nainggolan’s 89th-minute winner at Roma on Monday, the Turin giants succeeded in their bid to emulate their feat from 1935.
“The title this year is the best (of the last five) yet,” Buffon said on Sunday after producing a last-gasp penalty stop on Nikola Kalinic to take the champions’ unbeaten run to 25 games and spark jubilant scenes in Florence.
“Because this season was really crazy. It was incredible.”
Barely eight months ago, the pundits pondered the end of Juve’s four-year reign.
From the highs of last season — when coach Massimiliano Allegri oversaw a first league and Cup double in 20 years and a first Champions League final appearance in 12 years — the Turin giants would quickly come crashing back to earth.
Fans hoped a home defeat to Udinese on the opening day was a flash in the pan, and although defeat to title-chasing Roma didn’t set alarm bells ringing, doubts would soon creep in.
Chievo held Juventus to a 1-1 draw in their third match, prompting a now well-used refrain from Allegri that his “new squad would need time to gel”.
In Allegri’s defence, Juventus underwent big changes last summer.
The influential Andrea Pirlo moved to New York City FC, fellow midfielder Arturo Vidal signed for Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich and Argentine striker Carlos Tevez returned home to sign for Boca Juniors.
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and Argentine wonderkid Paulo Dybala were Juve’s new strikers, and with Spaniard Alvaro Morata in his second season in Turin Allegri appeared, on paper, to have the makings of a great side.
– ‘Hands dirty’ –
But the summer departures made a bigger impact than expected and the champions, despite an Italian SuperCup victory over Napoli, struggled for rhythm.
It took until their visit to Genoa four matches into the campaign for the champions to grab their first win — and weeks later, that did appear a flash in the pan.
The following week Juve suffered the ignominy of being held to a 1-1 draw at home by league new boys Frosinone.
When Napoli maintained their sterling early season form with a 2-1 over the struggling Turin giants a week later, it left Juve with only one win from their opening six games.
Dreams of winning a first scudetto since 1990 and 2001 began to take shape for Napoli and Roma respectively.
But Juve slowly began to click — although Buffon admits the champions had to go back to basics.
“Only our collective efforts allowed us to keep on winning, but first we had to be humble and get our hands dirty,” said the ‘keeper, who would go on to set a new Serie A record of 974 minutes unbeaten during Juve’s ongoing 25-match unbeaten run.
Morata, Dybala, from the spot, and Sami Khedira hit one goal apiece in a 3-1 home defeat of Bologna, the win followed by an encouraging away draw at an ambitious Inter Milan.
It was followed by a 2-0 home win over Atalanta, but it took a shock 1-0 defeat at Sassuolo in late October for Juve’s season to really transform.
A 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo, after his AC Milan side had been leading 3-0, cost Allegri his job in January 2014. This time, his Juve side are still unbeaten since losing to the Tuscans and are champions with three games to spare.