There were some glimmers of hope along the way thanks to the deep runs in the two cups, but, ultimately, the season is headed for a disastrous ending, which is fitting considering the whole brouhaha. The ruling on the new point deduction inevitably came a few minutes before kick-off last Monday. The half an hour when it looked like Juventus still had a shot at the top four, if they had beaten Empoli and then Milan, was exhilarating, but it went away in a jiff.

The loss was dismal and dispiriting, but it probably doesn’t make too much of a difference. Even had the Bianconeri mounted a comeback, the sports justice would have made sure they wouldn’t participate in the Champions League anyway with a possible second sanction coming in mid-June when the table will be set. The rumors about the strategy shift continuously between continuing the fight and an attempt to plea bargain. The current brass inherited the trial and wasn’t there when it started, so we will see.

The ideal compromise would be to limit the damage to this campaign, but it’s not up to them. The legal battle is less of a bother in the summer when there aren’t games, but it’s not advisable to drag it into July or August. Obtaining certainties is more crucial than reducing the punishments at this point since the alternative proposition appears far-fetched.

Inter did Juventus a solid by beating Fiorentina, so a European berth is almost certain, unless Monza win both their matches and the Bianconeri drop them. Another penalty or a UEFA ban will be matters for a later date. It’s paramount to hold on to lessen the sting. Playing in the European Conference League is arguably a bigger punishment than being excluded. At some point, the governing bodies will have to acknowledge that the team partially recognized its sins by forcing their board and hierarchy to step down and ushering in new ones. There’s no two ways about it, missing out on the Champions League is nightmarish for its effects on multiple levels, from the prize money to the dented lure of the club.

The late news could have either galvanized the squad or destroyed its psyche and morale, and the second was the case. The display was inexcusable, but the justifications were plenty. There was a chance the confidence and pace built through the victories before the second Sevilla leg would last until the end of the season, but it didn’t, and the players crumbled again under the spotlight. The question marks about the future abound. The head honchos will have to make the calls on the director and the coach first, but the lack of mental fortitude must be addressed.

The front office probably hoped two established champions like Angel Di Maria and Paul Pogba, and a budding one, Gleison Bremer, would carry the team through trying times. Unfortunately, the Frenchman suffered multiple injuries, El Fideo didn’t show up when he was most needed, and the ex-Torino star hasn’t become a leader right away. There’s a long way to go before shaping the future roster, which will predictably be much different, but more charismatic and gritty pieces are needed.

Probable Lineup

3-4-3: Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Danilo; Cuadrado, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria, Kean, Chiesa.


Fagioli (collarbone fracture), De Sciglio (ACL tear), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear).

Milan had a rather forgettable title defense, and they are very lucky Juventus got KO’d in the courtrooms; otherwise, their chances of making the top four would have been slim. However, they were one of the teams that figured out what would happen more quickly, and they have been coasting in Serie A for a while.

Trying to juggle two competitions severely exposed their lack of depth. The other side of the coin of going all in at the continental level is that you suffer domestically, and it looks ugly when you get eliminated early. They had to do it after upsetting Napoli, though. It wasn’t a secret that they won the title partially because they didn’t have the cups in the second half of last season. They’ll have to replenish their bench with multiple moves, but they are arguably the richest club in Italy thanks to their somewhat recent ownership change.

Their position in the standings doesn’t depend only on subpar reserves, though. While there’s no shame in falling behind scintillating Napoli, they didn’t really measure up to Inter either in the thick of it. They could have easily been routed in the first semis bout. Moreover, they have laid an egg against the minnows too many times. Despite spending lavishly, they didn’t improve the squad last summer. On the contrary, it got a little worse due to Franck Kessié’s departure and Charles De Ketelaere not panning out.

They’ll have to rework the midfield since Ismael Bennacer will miss months with a knee injury, and they can’t go realistically into the next campaign with Rade Krunic as a regular starter. They have had their best stretches when they had a muscular no.10 rather than Diaz or De Ketelaere, and that should be the move going forward, especially since the future of the Spaniard is highly uncertain because they’ll have to negotiate with Real Madrid to keep him. He’s spectacularly slippery on his day, and he adapted well to the right flank when the coach tweaked the formation, but he also has very long lulls where he gets easily engulfed by defenders and turns the ball over at will.

They have a few moving pieces and a lot of room for improvement. It will be interesting to see which route they will take. The elephant in the room is De Ketelaere, as they can’t just discard him given the size of the investment, nor should they. Nobody would take him off their hands without a hefty financial loss. The ideal scenario would obviously be for him to work out, and he’s more physical than a standard contributor in that position, but there have been little signs of a turnaround. The problems are more tied to his character and mentality than technical ones. He can potentially star on the flank too, where they could use an upgrade on Junior Messias and Alexis Saelemaekers, but he’s not pacey.

In hindsight, the anomaly is that they actually won the Scudetto way ahead of schedule because their squad is largely a work in progress. They have great high-end contributors like Rafael Leao, and kudos to them for solving that Gordian knot of his extension, Theo Hernandez, Mike Maignan, and Sandro Tonali, and a few proven players across the formation, Bennacer, Olivier Giroud, Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu, but they can get drastically better with a grand reinforcement campaign. They’ll spend more than most Italian sides in the summer, but the willingness to splurge is always a bit of a question mark with American ownerships.

At some point, they’ll have to bring in a young stud up front as Giroud can’t continue carrying the load on his own, and rumors suggest they will. But they have had more issues on the other end of the pitch, where they have taken a nosedive compared to 2021/2022 when they were the stingiest team in the Peninsula. Maignan missing a lot of time with a calf strain contributed, but Tomori and Kalulu haven’t been as dominant as in the past, which is weird since they are young and supposedly still on the rise. Simon Kjaer hasn’t been as good, but that’s more understandable given his age and the fact that he was coming off a major injury. The addition of Malick Thiaw helped out, but he couldn’t possibly fix everything in his first season in a major club. They’ll be hoping for some regression to the mean, which would work in their favor in this case.

Sans Bennacer, their 4-2-3-1 will be more ordinary unless they trust Tommaso Pobega, who’d have the skills and prowess in the final third to take care of those particular tasks, but they have rarely turned to him. They’ll be pacier and more menacing with three pure attackers behind the striker, but their midfield will be a little exposed as well. The game plan has mostly been the same for a few years. When in doubt, they give the ball to Leao and Hernandez and wish they cook, while the others play off the duo and try to take advantage of the creases that their pull generates.

Probable Lineup

4-2-3-1: Maignan; Calabria, Thiaw, Tomori, Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic; Messias, DIaz, Leao; Giroud. 


Bennacer (knee cartilage lesion), Ibrahimovic (calf strain).