Juventus will look to ride the enthusiasm generated by the arrival of Dusan Vlahovic is a monumental clash against Atalanta.
Club News, Match Preview Serie A, Serie A

Atalanta v Juventus Match Preview and Scouting

February 12, 2022 - 4:44 pm

The debuts of Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria could not have gone any better, and the two acquisitions could potentially change the whole outlook of the season. While there was little doubt about the Serbian striker’s tremendous finishing ability, the fact that he brought so much charisma and determination right away is astounding. The transition has been incredibly smooth for him, and he is the same leader he was at Fiorentina.

It is not a surprise in some instances, but the squad makes much more sense with a pure and ferocious center-forward. Alvaro Morata has always been more of a complementary player, and he shines as a vassal to a star. The first few months of the season have been a bit of a blown opportunity for Paulo Dybala, who could have risen to fully become the face of the franchise. He has been good, and at times excellent, but he just does not have the pull and gravitas of a Vlahovic or a Cristiano Ronaldo. It is not a technical deficit, maybe it is more physical or tied to his character.

The immediate impact of Zakaria is not stunning, given his experience. The goal was likely an outlier, but he was not as shy in venturing forward as some made him out to be. He is a massive upgrade in the midfield, and there is no reason he and Manuel Locatelli should not be out there in any given match, if not fatigue. Besides his dominant physicality, another confident ball-handler was sorely needed. Rodrigo Bentancur was hit and miss on that front, plus it is not Adrien Rabiot and Weston McKennie’s forte.

The main focus for the squad and especially the coach now is not to leave Vlahovic stranded, as was the case for long stretches of the Sassuolo game. It would not hurt to try more balls over the top, either. Their use was limited so far due to lack of confidence the striker would actually corral them and do something noteworthy. The newcomer is fierce both in attacking the offside trap and in going mano-a-mano with sturdy defenders.

It is also time to cease the fancy tactical experiments. It should be either 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 going forward, although the injury to Giorgio Chiellini makes the second option less toothsome. There is no need to adapt central midfielders to the flank, which has rarely yielded anything good. Alvaro Morata, Moise Kean, and Federico Bernardeschi can be deployed on the left with the first option. Anyway, it is a fluid scheme, as Dybala often winds up playing in the hole, so the third attacker does not act exclusively as a winger.

The opportunity to take control of the fourth position could not have come at a better time for the Bianconeri, considering the ongoing issues of the opponents. The consistency has been there against the minnows in the last two months, but a victory in a key clash is still missing. The coach underlined that Atalanta are the real rivals for the remainder of the season. Therefore, the team will be properly stimulated to assess what would be a fatal blow in the Champions League race and maybe start thinking about loftier goals.

It looks like the trident has good chances to be confirmed; otherwise, the odd man out would be Dybala in favor of Juan Cuadrado for a more conservative posture. Mattia De Sciglio and Adrien Rabiot are favorites to start at left-back and in the midfield, but there are a few options.

Expected Lineup

Juventus (4-3-3): Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Bonucci, De Sciglio; Zakaria, Locatelli, Rabiot; Dybala, Vlahovic, Morata. 

Absences: Chiesa (ACL tear), Chiellini (calf strain).

Atalanta have been oddly inefficient at home all season long, but they have not been perfect away either lately. The combination of the two, as they have won just once the last six rounds, has caused a rapid slide. Juventus have taken advantage of it almost entirely and leapfrogged them, although La Dea has a game in hand.

It would be nothing new for them to rip off lengthy winning streaks, and they had a six-game one in Autumn, but there does not appear to the right premises to do it again. Injuries and lack of form in certain players are the main reasons behind their struggles, and the situation will not improve in the short term.

Duvan Zapata briefly returned in the previous game only to pick up a more serious thigh injury that will cost him months. Luis Muriel can be tremendous on his day, but he has rarely been on point so far, also due to an early lengthy absence. He has had flashes, but he has not recaptured the impressive consistency he reached in the previous campaign.

The best version of Atalanta features both Colombian strikers, and they have rarely been able to do it this season. On top of scoring loads of goals, Zapata keeps defenders busy and takes up a lot of real estate, opening up lanes for his teammates. Muriel can bust out a great play at any time, but he is more slippery and not as physical. Sometimes it is palpable that they are missing a true reference point that glues things together. They have been supremely unlucky too, as they sent Roberto Piccoli out on loan late, as their veteran seemed fine.

The second aspect holding them back has been the scarce output from the flank game. Robin Gosens, who could easily guarantee double-digit goals and has unmatched fierceness in the box for his role, has been sidelined for months, and he is no longer in town. Davide Zappacosta, Joakim Maehle, Hans Hateboer and Giuseppe Pezzella have been serviceable and have a good motor and decent crossing skills, but they are not at the same level. One wingback scoring on the other one’s feed used to be a staple, but it has never happened this season.

Another problem for them is that Josip Ilicic has not done a whole lot when available, and he is currently away from the team for issues that are bigger than football. It is not hard to understand why the Orobici have not been as prolific as in years past.

Mario Pasalic has stepped it up and has been arguably their best player so far, and he is a fox when it comes to slipping between defenders. Matteo Pessina is still learning such craft, but he massively aids the midfield in the more obscure part of the game. Most of the offensive playmaking falls on Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi’s shoulders. However, they are not as assist-oriented as their team needs them to be, which is understandable since they are incredible shooters. They have been missing Ilicic a lot in this area.

On the other hand, the defense has been more stifling, maybe because Gian Piero Gasperini has dialed back the aggression because he is aware he can not outgun opponents in these conditions. They have had two nil-nil draws lately, against Lazio and Inter, which had never happened during his lengthy tenure.

Merih Demiral has not reached Cristian Romero’s stardom, but he has been pretty good, and he is a nuisance for opposing strikers. The other center-backs have been solid as usual, plus Morten De Roon and Remo Freuler are work-rate Gods in the midfield.

Juan Musso was sent off in the previous game, where the coach oddly picked third-stringer Francesco Rossi over Marco Sportiello. While flashier, the Argentinian has not been much better of an improvement over Pierluigi Gollini, but he is obviously vastly better than his backups.

Atalanta signed Jeremie Boga in January and, even though he is not a pure striker, they will need him with Zapata out for months. He adds a ton of pace and unpredictability, and he is a willing and brilliant passer when he wants to be.

Gasperini has at times deployed 4-2-3-1 instead of his beloved 3-4-2-1 recently. It is not a completely new thing, although he had never had a pure winger like Boga at this disposal. He used to field Muriel, Malinovskyi, Ilicic, or Pasalic on the flanks, so it was still a narrow formation, where the fullback provided the most depth. It would not be stunning if he trotted it out from the start given that the ex-Sassuolo man bagged a brace midweek. The addition of peppy youngster Valentin Mihaila goes in such tactical direction as well.

While Atalanta have not been as mighty as in their best moment, they still approach matches with a level of intensity that is rare in Italy. It just has not translated into a gaudy offensive production like in previous seasons, though. While there are some advantages to exploit, Juventus will have to bring it to avoid a letdown in a crucial spot.

Expected Lineup

Atalanta (3-4-2-1): Rossi; Toloi, Demiral, Djimsiti; Zappacosta, De Roon, Freuler, Maehle; Malinovskyi, Pessina; Muriel. 

Absences: Zapata (thigh tendon tear), Musso (suspension), Palomino, Miranchuk (thigh strains), Ilicic (mental health).

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