The showing against Lecce wasn’t much better than the previous ones, but Juventus got the win they needed, which will hopefully revive the squad a little since the monkey of a negative streak is off their back. It’s disconcerting how comfortable the minnows have become at the Stadium, which used to be a fortress that only select opponents could conquer, and just a few came in believing to have a shot. That lure has completely vanished in the past two or three years. Restoring it should be one of the first orders of business.
The recent highly technical goals scored by Arkadiusz Milik and Dusan Vlahovic show that, while the strikers could do their part in being more involved and engaged, the main issue is that the pipeline of feeds is too dry. The two and Moise Kean are skilled finishers, but the amount of opportunities they have in each game is minuscule, sometimes even non-existent when it comes to clear-cut ones in the box. It’d be tough for any marksman to thrive in this situation. It has a lot to do with pace and posture, but the players share some blame too.
The strange thing is that the squad doesn’t lack inventive players, but Filip Kostic is the only one with a real connection with the forwards. That may be because his role and style are very streamlined, sprints down the flank to set up crosses, so it’s not hard to figure out where to be to get in position. Instead, that hasn’t been the case for Angel Di Maria and Federico Chiesa, who aren’t ball hogs but operate with more variety. They should have way more assists in them. El Fideo started the season, and then 2023, on a tear on that front but then ground to a halt. Nicolò Fagioli and Fabio Miretti, who are willing passers, should also be more impactful in the final third.
While the performance was nothing to write home about, there were two more positive notes beside the result and Vlahovic scoring: Leonardo Bonucci and even Paul Pogba had encouraging displays. The defense has naturally moved on from the captain since he has missed too much time to be a pillar, and the fit with Gleison Bremer is still a little odd as they are both natural anchors of the backline, but his ample experience will come in handy, especially in the upcoming Europa League clashes.
Alex Sandro had a decent stretch when first converted into a braccetto, but he then regressed to his previous blah ways, perhaps because he hasn’t been totally right physically. His lack of size has directly led to two goals in recent games. The rumors about his future have gone back and forth but, even if he stayed, that shouldn’t stop the management from going after a top-notch lefty defender, as he shouldn’t be relied upon as a full-time starter.
Mattia De Sciglio going down with an ACL tear was unfortunate for him and the team. Hopefully, the coach will refrain from simply fielding Juan Cuadrado all the time. While extremely boom-or-bust at this stage of his career, his best games generally come when he gets to rest a little. Alternating 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 would do that by design, but it also might be time to revisit using Chiesa as a wingback. He’d have to bust his tail defensively, and the solution should be avoided in crucial games against high-flying offenses, but it’d be a way to kill two birds with one stone. He needs to get minutes, but deploying him centrally isn’t working out, and the strikers, plus Di Maria, are all currently available. Tommaso Barbieri looked promising in his limited opportunities, but it’s hard to imagine he will be trusted too much in a seminal stretch.
3-5-2: Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Iling; Di Maria, Vlahovic.
Absences: Paredes (suspension), De Sciglio (ACL tear), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear).
Atalanta have had a weird campaign with high peaks but also frustratingly extended valleys. While they often temper expectations, they should have definitively exploited better the advantage of not playing in the cups. All the contenders for the top four had to deal with that and have alternatively been very vulnerable. They left a lot of points on the table due to puzzling showings in easier fixtures and have been less competitive than in the past against elite opponents.
At times it felt like they weren’t really going for it and were content with qualifying for Europa League, even though the more prestigious objective was right there for the taking. They have accelerated lately, and that could be enough to land them there despite the time they wasted. But they’ll have to be consistent for a couple of months, something they have done only at the very beginning of the season.
Gian Piero Gasperini insisted on trying to recuperate Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel amid their struggles and a few injuries even though the offense had shifted toward the more electrifying Ademola Lookman and Rasmus Hojlund. His patience and determination might pay off at the most critical time since their newcomers are dealing with minor injuries, and they’d be in a big hole if the veterans were in poor shape too. Instead, the powerhouse has been in impeccable form for the past couple of weeks, and his compatriot hit the net against Spezia. They have both lost a step, especially Muriel, who needs to be prodded and goes into a funk when he’s not 100 percent and senses that the coach prefers other options, but they are still threats. There are very few strikers that are as muscular and tough to move as Zapata, who takes up a lot of real estate in the box and can also rip off potent runs.
The two Colombians returning to prominence helped them make up for the absences and the fact that Hojlund, while impressive and with an incredibly high ceiling, is not yet the most consistent striker and can disappear or get shackled down. In fact, Lookman and his unusual traits, as he’s tremendously influential for somebody that quick and with that diminutive frame, had carried them scoring-wise for most of the year.
They have looked more like themselves once the flank game, the hallmark of teams that play with that scheme, resumed producing. Davide Zappacosta is almost single-handedly responsible for that and, in hindsight, they have missed him sorely while he cycled through thigh injuries early on. Joakim Maehle occasionally shows up in the final third too, but the Italian fullback is a true force in both phases and pretty inventive too. Mario Pasalic also perked up lately at the tail-end of a largely disappointing campaign.
It’s almost as if Atalanta have constantly needed a jolt and to mix things up once every few matches, as the opponents became very familiar with them, and they haven’t always had the pieces and energy to overwhelm them by executing their high-intensity game plan with one-on-one duels all over the pitch. But their deep and well-assorted roster has allowed them to devise different iterations. The most recent one is old-fashioned but still looks relatively fresh because diverse from previous ones.
With Teun Koopmeiners and Mario Pasalic both healthy at the same time, which hasn’t happened a lot, it wouldn’t be surprising if they started off with a careful approach with two no.10s instead of two strikers, and then progressively became more offensive if needed, bringing Muriel and Jeremie Boga off the bench.
Ederson had a rocky start, but he was eventually reeled in by the coaching staff and became disciplined, channeling his hustle and stamina into making something worthwhile rather than freelancing and running after everybody. He, the savvy workhorse De Roon, and Koopmeiners, who became one of the most trustworthy registi in Serie A in a remarkably short amount of time, form one of the most dependable backbones around. Coupled with a defense that has wholly gelled, as the same trio has featured for a few matches in a row, it’s mighty tough to find ways to perforate them. They occasionally self-combust because they get too daring and attack en masse, but that won’t be the case against a top-tier opponent.
3-4-2-1: Sportiello; Toloi, Djimsiti, Scalvini; Maehle, De Roon, Ederson, Zappacosta; Koopmeiners, Pasalic; Zapata.
Absences: Hojlund, Lookman, Palomino (thigh injuries), Hateboer (ACL tear), Ruggeri (thigh strain),