Juventus continue to be unable to play a complete game to save their lives, but the team’s performance against Genoa was pretty fine considering their usual discontinuity and the draining midweek bout. While approaches are getting better in terms of attitude, the starts of the second halves are becoming an issue as the players have generally come out flat after intermission. It is a more inexplicable trend than starting matches poorly.
Things can get ugly in a hurry for the Bianconeri when they flip the off-switch, and that almost led to them throwing away a two-nothing lead against a feisty but less-than-formidable opponent last week. Atalanta would surely be more unforgiving if the same happened in the upcoming crunch fixture, and a lull could yield multiple goals since Bergamaschi can produce unstoppable salvos. It will be paramount to avoid lapses, unfortunately the lads have had at least one in most matches so far.
Another area where there is room for improvement is surely counter-attacks. This year’s roster has a lot more pace than in the past and also the tactics propitiate them. Yet, most of them get rubbished by either misplaced or untimely passes, players not running to the correct spot, stubbornness by who has the ball. It will never be the primary stratagem but surely need to be exploited better when the opportunity presents itself. Since getting the lead has rarely been an issue, better execution on fast breaks would help put away contests. Instead, the enemies always appear to be able to hang around in games for one reason or another.
Needless to say, every point matters in the heated Champions League as Napoli and Lazio will not go away easily. It is quite the fall from graces for the Old Lady to have to worry about a top-four finish, but that is what this odd campaign has produced. For what it is worth, the players seem to have realized the current dimension of the team.
Just as it looked like things were getting better on the injury front, Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a small muscular problem and will miss this game. Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala will have big shoes to fill and hopefully will rise to the occasion. The fact that both recently got their mojo back scoring-wise could provide a big lift. On the pitch, the fit is immaculate.
Dejan Kulusevski finally broke out of his lengthy slump versus Genoa, but Juan Cuadrado and Weston McKennie are more sensible choices to feature as right winger in this one given the dangerousness of the adversary. The level of performance of Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur has improved since they have managed to string few consecutive starts together, which is normal, and they form a decently assorted duo. However, the gaffer and the management probably will want to take an extended look at Arthur since he is probably the only central midfielder that is certain to stay at the club past the next window.
4-4-2 Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini, Sandro; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Rabiot, Chiesa, Dybala, Morata.
Bernardeschi (COVID), Ronaldo (thigh injury).
Atalanta are in the midst of an impressive run that started in mid-February, as they have won in eight of the last nine matches, losing only to Inter in such stretch. From December on, they have made up the ground lost in a so-so start and their consistency, on top of what has happened in the past two years, make them a very credible contender to get one of the four top spots.
While the overwhelming intensity and the offensive prowess are still there, it is different from the one Juventus faced in the first meeting. Alejandro Gomez is long gone after butting heads with Gian Piero Gasperini, but they somehow did not skip a beat despite losing their main creative hub. On the contrary, the insertion of Matteo Pessina and/or Mario Pasalic has made the squad more balanced. Then, the fact that Luis Muriel has been going like gangbusters for months has made their front-line nearly unstoppable since Duvan Zapata is still there bagging loads of goals.
It is not 100 percent it will be utilized here, but in the last couple of matches they have tweaked their scheme, going with 4-2-3-1 rather than 3-4-2-1. The only personnel change is one more midfielder instead of Joakim Maehle, who must not have fully satisfied their demanding coach despite faring decently on the surface. Rafael Toloi moves slightly to the right, Robin Gosens a few meters back, Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi only technically are deployed as wingers, as they cut inside at will. Gosens in particular, one of the most devastating fullbacks across Europa, take advantage of the room opened up on the wing.
Since also Josip Ilicic is slightly at odds with the coach, the new scheme has given prominence to Malinovskyi, who has solved some lingering physical problems and has been fantastic in the last three games. While he is a well-known sharpshooter, he has excelled as a passer later, setting up multiple goals with velvety feeds and displaying great vision. Ilicic can still be a factor off the bench though and it is tough to contain his herky-jerky moves when he has it going. The schematic change instead does not affect Remo Freuler and Marten De Roon, two of the more unheralded contributors in the League, as they have to do a lot of the heavy lifting in such a forward-driven squad and they are both above average distributors.
The tactical and lineup choices for this one will say a lot about how they like their chances in this one and how they view Juventus overall. Gasperini used to field more conservative lineups in challenging matches in the past, maybe going with a false-nine or just one between Muriel and Zapata, but he has stuck to his guns in the most recent ones. If he went back to the previous formation, either Muriel or Malinovskyi would be pulled to accommodate Maehle.
Matteo Pessina has just cleared the Coronavirus and will compete for a spot with Mario Pasalic: while the former has been impressive, the drop-off is not that significant and the Croatian is a sneaky scorer too. Cristian Romero is suspended, and that is a big loss in the back as he sets the tone with his physicality and aggressive style. Berat Djimsiti and José Luis Palomino, poised to feature together, are fine but less gifted and explosive than the Argentinian youngster. Romero proved that he could have belonged at Juventus with just a little patience to remove some of the roughest edges of his game.
With Muriel and Malinovskyi bringing a lot of pizzazz to the table, their front-line will surely be tough to stymie. Only Inter did it by bunkering up, lowering the rhythms, and bringing down the number of potential chances. It would be surprising if the Bianconeri changed their usual philosophy and took that route and will probably try to go mano-a-mano. It will take a big-boy effort to combat the fiery enemy that way successfully, but certainly the Bergamaschi are less talented in the back than up front.
4-2-3-1 Gollini; Toloi, Djimsiti, Palomino, Gosens; Freuler, De Roon; Malinovskyi, Pasalic, Muriel; Zapata.