Atalanta v Juventus
Serie A Week 34 – Friday, 28th April – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia
Juventus have become automatic at home against the lowly teams, and the trend did not buckle last Sunday against Genoa, who they battered in the first half. A couple of season ago, the opponents used to play the game of their life when they visited Turin: while that continues to be the case on road games for the Bianconeri, at times the visiting sides look defeated from the kick-off at the Stadium. Obviously the 33 home wins in a row play a big role in that.
Next up, the very dangerous Atalanta. It will be on Friday night, despite us playing on Wednesday in Champions League, so plenty of time to replenish the tank after what should be a demanding game. In the Genoa tilt, Massimiliano Allegri dared using 4-2-3-1 with Andrea Barzagli as right back and Stephan Lichtsteiner as right winger, so that proves that he is willing to try everything to keep fielding his new beloved scheme.
Thanks to the five-day turnaround and to the importance of the game, there will basically be no rotation. In the pre-game presser, the coach announced that Gianluigi Buffon, Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro will start. That is an interesting tweak, considering that maybe Stephan Lichtsteiner would have been better suited for a game where the right back will be forced to defend a lot.
Unfortunately, Sami Khedira is suspended for the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals, so he will certainly be in the XI. His partner should be Miralem Pjanic, but I would not put it past the coaching staff to field Claudio Marchisio, who will start against Monaco, to give him an extended run before the big game. After struggling with conditioning for a while, he showed flashes of his older self against Genoa. This is basically the only doubt regarding the lineup.
This time, the offensive line will be the usual one, signalling that Allegri wants the squad to go at full-throttle. As we know, the alternatives to the Juan Cuadrado-Paulo Dybala-Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain attack have been less than satisfying and finding one or more option will be the number one priority heading into the summer transfer window.
It looks like it will only a matter of time until Massimiliano Allegri signs an extension to stay at the club. After some doubts emerged early in the year, not stemming from the club, but from the coach himself who maybe wanted to try a new experience, it seems that both parties agree that it will be better to stay the course. I also think that the new tactic has also freshened things up, giving the manager new motivations.
4-2-3-1: Buffon; Alves, Bonucci, Chiellini, Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Pjaca (knee), Rugani
Atalanta are having a fantastic season and, with Inter and Milan struggling in the last match days, they are the favourites to grab a Europa League spot. That would be a terrific achievement. They are currently in fifth position with a five-point lead over Rossoneri and a seven-point one over Inter. The sixth one will also grant qualification to European football, unless Lazio completely fell apart.
Barring the embarrassing 7-1 against Inter, where they were maybe a little too daring in their approach and paid the price in a big way, they are undefeated since January 22nd. They have lost only thrice at home this season, in the early portion of the schedule, oddly against Udinese, Lazio and Palermo. They have never been defeated at Atleti Azzurri d’Italia in 2017 and they dropped points only twice, against Sassuolo and Fiorentina. They have beaten Inter, Napoli and Roma on their turf.
It will be a tough match mainly because of their tireless intensity and pressure. They try to smother the opponents and keep coming. They have playmakers on both flanks, Andrea Conti and Leonardo Spinazzola are dynamos, and Papu Gomez is a pest who wanders around the pitch trying to find ways to fool the opponents. Andrea Petagna does not score a lot, but he is a handful because of his size and always draws a couple of defenders, opening the room for the sneaky cuts especially by Jasmin Kurtic, who is having a career year scoring wise, and Remo Freuler. They are also very dangerous on set pieces: they are the team with the most goals scored by defenders, with Mattia Caldara leading the pack.
When so many players are thriving, that means that the coach is doing a fantastic job and Gian Piero Gasperini deserves most of the credit. I guess this is what his football can accomplish when he can work with the same group for an entire season and the management does not sell the best players in midseason like it often happened at Genoa.
Since he has found the right men for the job, the coach has not rotated the XI at all, unless he absolutely needed to because of injuries and disqualifications. Franck Kessie was subbed of early in the previous game because of an ankle sprain and he is suffering from that. He is not totally out but his status is questionable: Alberto Grassi or Bryan Cristante would take his place if he was not fit enough. Gomez was at risk because of a knock, but he still played and had almost a full week of practice.
I wonder if the Inter game will leave it’s mark: at San Siro, they were too reckless and their enemy feasted on the counters. Juventus rarely use this weapon because the opponent usually sit back, but with Cuadrado and Dybala both on the pitch, it would be a risky proposition by Atalanta to deploy an all-out attack mode. On this front, Gasperini reportedly practiced during the week a Petagna-less lineup: a 3-4-3 with Gomez as false-nine, Kurtic wide left and the wingback Hans Hateboer wide right. It would be a more remissive look to use from the start and resist to Juventus’ fierce early assaults.
Juventus have won rather decisively in the last eight trips to Bergamo: so much has changed and improved for Atalanta this season, hopefully this aspect will remain the same as the last years.
3-4-1-2: Berisha; Toloi, Caldara, Masiello; Conti, Kessie, Freuler, Spinazzola; Kurtic; Petagna, Gomez.