It was not the goal that sealed Napoli’s third-ever Scudetto, but it sure felt like it, an emotion so overpowering that some players could not keep their feet. As Giacomo Raspadori’s volley skidded through Wojciech Szczesny’s legs and into the Juventus net, Piotr Zielinski simply collapsed on to his back, lying spreadeagled on the Allianz Stadium turf.

Raspadori’s strike arrived in the 93rd minute, securing a 1-0 win. Napoli scarcely needed the points – they were already 14 clear of second-placed Lazio before kick-off – but five days removed from a Champions League quarter-final defeat to Milan, they needed this moment to remind themselves of how special this season has been.

A visit to Juventus in the spring will always feel like a final boss battle. The league’s most prolific winners are a footballing embodiment of Italy’s richer, politically powerful north. This was only the fourth time Napoli have ever beaten the Bianconeri twice in the same Serie A season, following a 5-1 victory at home at the start of this year.

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There were demons to exorcise. Zielinski was on the pitch when Napoli last won at this stadium, five years and one day previous. It was Kalidou Koulibaly who came up with an injury-time winner on that occasion, thumping a famous header beyond Gianluigi Buffon. Napoli believed they were on course for the Scudetto, but a loss to Fiorentina the next week shattered those dreams.

The story goes that they lost that title “in the hotel”, players despairing as they watched Juventus come from behind to beat Internazionale in the dying minutes of a highly contentious match the night before they were due to face the Viola. Maurizio Sarri, who led them to a record 91 points, recalled finding players weeping in the stairwell.

Perhaps this time they will claim a Scudetto from the comfort of their own living rooms. If Napoli win at home to Salernitana on Saturday, then any dropped points for Lazio away to Inter on Sunday would mathematically seal their success.

That Sarri should be the man in charge of Napoli’s closest challengers as they end this drought is a cute subplot. So is the fact that Giovanni Simeone, the striker whose Fiorentina hat-trick crushed the Partenopei in 2018, joined them at the start of this season.

Nothing could beat the symmetry, though, of Raspadori scoring his winner at the same end of the same stadium, at almost the exact same moment of the game, as Koulibaly half a decade before. “Same result. Same minute,” tweeted the club’s official account. “Different ending.”

The players and manager were reluctant to follow that message all the way through in their conversation with reporters. Luciano Spalletti insisted that his team “still needs to pick up a few more points”, and Raspadori echoed him, saying: “the only thing on our mind is to win against Salernitana.”

Still, the celebrations told their own story. There were 10,000 fans waiting to greet Napoli’s team bus as it emerged from Capodichino airport at 2.40am on Monday. Players climbed out through the sunroof to lead chants, wave flags and watch a firework show.

It is a wonder they still had the energy. Massimiliano Allegri had sought to play on their tiredness in Turin, selecting a defence-minded starting XI to suffocate and wear down Napoli before introducing impact players off the bench: Federico Chiesa, Ángel Di María and eventually Dusan Vlahovic.

The latter two both put the ball in the net in the minutes leading up to Raspadori’s winner. Each had their goal correctly disallowed. Arkadiusz Milik fouled Stanislav Lobotka at the start of the move that led to Di María’s strike, while the ball had run out of play before Chiesa crossed for Vlahovic to convert. Juventus had no grounds for complaint, and ought to have seen Federico Gatti sent off for hitting Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the first half.

Fresh life was breathed into their own season on Thursday when Italy’s highest sporting court within the Italian Olympic Committee (Coni) suspended the 15-point penalty Juventus were handed in January for false accounting. Juve have denied wrongdoing throughout the process and Allegri’s insistence his team should focus only on the pitch was rewarded as they were restored to third in the table.

Angel Di Maria and Danilo show their frustration to the referee
Juventus were correctly denied two goals by VAR, but they have 15 points back. For now. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

That story is by no means finished. Coni have returned the matter to the Italian Football Federation’s appeals court, effectively forcing a retrial. Their full reasons for doing so are not yet published and could take up to 30 days from when the decision was issued.

The prosecutor general of sport, Ugo Taucer, offered some clues during the hearing, suggesting he saw a lack of legal justifications both for the extent of the penalty and that Juventus had effectively been tried twice for the same alleged offences in the sporting courts.

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They were absolved of wrongdoing – together with several other clubs – when the federation investigated claims of artificially inflated valuations of players in swap deals last April. The case against Juventus alone was reopened after fresh evidence emerged from wiretaps and document seizures conducted as part of a separate investigation by the public prosecutor in Turin.

All outcomes remain on the table. The 15-point penalty was always a surprise, as the federation’s own prosecutor, Giuseppe Chinè, had only asked for nine. A newly composed set of judges on the appeals court could return to that figure or go in a different direction completely.

With barely six weeks left in the season, and European qualification to be worked out, the timeframes for the retrial makes things very messy. Juventus have a second, separate, case hanging over them, with allegations of false statements regarding agreements made by players to give up a part of their wages during Covid. The club again denies all wrongdoing.

Regardless of the merits and eventual outcome of these cases, plenty will share the sentiment of Italy’s minister for sport, Andrea Abodi, who called for a reform of the sporting justice system to create “timelines that are respectful of the reputation of an ongoing competition”. Juventus and their rivals in the race for Champions League places are all entitled to feel frustrated at the lack of clarity at a critical moment in the campaign.

Perhaps it is another reason to be grateful for Napoli, so far ahead at the top of Serie A that none of these considerations were ever going to affect their title win. They have been running their own race all season. Spalletti, perhaps the most influential Italian manager currently working without a Serie A title to his name, has been running his a lot longer than that.

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Serie A results


Juventus 0-1 Napoli, Milan 2-0 Lecce, Monza 3-2 Fiorentina, Udinese 3-0 Cremonese, Empoli 0-3 Internazionale, Sampdoria 1-1 Spezia, Lazio 0-1 Torino, Salernitana 3-0 Sassuolo, Verona 2-1 Bologna

Monday Atalanta v Roma

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“I never travelled in first class, always as a hitchhiker,” he said on Sunday. “People took the mickey out of me for bringing football boots with me to the bench. But I suffered as a kid to get football boots, I didn’t have the money to buy them. I always remember that. You travel a more difficult road than people who start from different levels.”

The same could be said for a Napoli team who were favourites in nobody’s eyes at the start of this campaign. On Sunday they beat Juventus with a goal from Raspadori, a striker who has started nine games in Serie A this season, the embodiment of a squad that makes the most of its resources, not just the shiniest stars. They are not champions of Italy yet, but they will be. And the party has already begun.