Juventus v Atalanta
Serie A Week 26 – Sunday, 25th February – 17:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus are coming off a gritty performance in the Derby della Mole, where, with a makeshift attack due to an injury crisis, they still mustered enough offence to down the opponent. Not only did they keep it together after Gonzalo Higuain got hurt, but they continued to play with the usual command despite a weird lineup. Torino never really posed a threat to Wojciech Szczesny’s goal and they were way too remissive, or simply outmatched. Fortunately, El Pipita will miss the next game, but he is poised for a quick recovery.
Federico Bernardeschi and Alex Sandro came through and combined for the game-winner. The former Fiorentina winger has clearly stepped up with Paulo Dybala sidelined and put his name on the scoresheets, either scoring or assisting, several times Unfortunately, he went down with a knee injury and it looks it is a pretty serious one: he will be re-evaluated in 20 days and risks going under the knife if the problem was not resolved by then.
Alex Sandro was used in the trident and he fared well besides tucking the ball in for an easy goal: he has great chemistry with Kwadwo Asamoah and he expanded his range, attacking also through the middle at times, as a pure winger needs to do to catch defenders off guard. The experiment worked out and we might see that again. It has also been reported that his form has been boosted by a one-on-one chat with the coach, where the latter urged him to focus on the work on the pitch and not on the contract extension or the transfer market buzz.
Massimiliano Allegri made two other interesting choices: Daniele Rugani relieved Medhi Benatia due to some back pain and Stefano Sturaro was picked over Claudio Marchisio. The centre-back has struggled against physical strikers in the past, but he held his own dealing with Andrea Belotti and this is an excellent sign. While Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini have clearly outplayed him in the last two-three months, Rugani has been reliable in some spot starts and that at least made him the no.3 in the pecking order, which is still something. He might be given another chance on Sunday.
Mattia De Sciglio got hurt midweek and will reportedly be out for a couple of weeks, so Stephan Lichtsteiner and Andrea Barzagli, if necessary, will take the reins on the right defensive flank. Blaise Matuidi resumed practicing with the rest of the group and he will start: Sami Khedira will be spared for once, with either Marchisio, Rodrigo Bentancur or Sturaro taking his place.
With Higuain and Bernardeschi out, the coach has little choice but to thrust Paul Dybala into more minutes, probably more than he is comfortable with. It will also be interesting to see whether La Joya will play as false-nine, with Mario Mandzukic on the flank as usual, or him and Douglas Costa will be in a supporting role and the Croatian will spearhead the attack. If La Joya is held out, Alex Sandro will play in the trident again.
It will be an interesting chess match between Allegri and Gian Piero Gasperini because the two sides will play again on Wednesday in the return leg of the Coppa Italia, where Juventus have a little edge thanks to the victory at Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
UPDATE: It looks that Dybala will start on the bench, with Alex Sandro upfront and Kwadwo Asamoah in the back.
4-3-2-1: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Marchisio, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Douglas Costa; Mandzukic.
Higuain (ankle), Bernardeschi (knee), Cuadrado (groin), De Sciglio (hamstring).
Atalanta may not have been able to recapture the magic of last season, but they have navigated in an excellent way in a season where they played in Europe as well. Juggling between the two competitions has been tough for smaller clubs in the past, just ask Sassuolo, but they embraced it, they have bolstered their depth and they have done well, even though their journey ended on Thursday with a heart-breaking elimination by the hands of Borussia Dortmund. They went toe-to-toe with a much more established side and they would have eliminated them, not for a howler by Etrit Berisha in the return game and a pair of defensive gaffes in the first leg. In the standings, they are not too far from the sixth position.
The tactic is pretty much the same, a high intensity 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1, with a solid back-line, a versatile midfield that contributes heavily in both phases, a dangerous wing game and a well-assorted attack, which can have a couple of looks. They have two options as target man: Andrea Petagna has more chemistry with his teammates and protects the ball better, Andres Cornelius is a better scorer, which never hurts for a striker. But they can also go with a false-nine, with Josip Ilicic and Alejandro Gomez free to roam and pick their spots.
The Slovenian forward has been a great acquisition and he has thrived under a stern coach: his talent has never been in question, but he was so up-and-down at both Palermo and Fiorentina and never truly put it together. This summer he bought in, lost weight and let Gasperini do his trick. He has performed even better than Gomez, who does not seem to have the same pep in his step as a year ago. He is still a mosquito on his days, but he has not been as consistent.
Bryan Cristante plays the role of the tactical midfielder to perfection and always seems to find himself wide open in the box at the most opportune times. He can be deployed either as no.10 or in the belt of the formation, usually alongside Remo Freuler, another player who is not shy when it comes to shooting. Their choral play is what makes them great: they are fearless and they stick to their beliefs in every game. That often works in their favour, but it can obviously have a downside against team who have quality and speed upfront.
Their playing style is physically demanding, so they can be vulnerable when they are not at peak fitness. The fact that they have played on Thursday and we have had a clean week could have an impact: the tilt with Dortmund was also particularly draining, both physically and emotionally. Gasperini might rotate the squad to have fresh legs at his disposal: Mattia Caldara has been a little banged up in the last month or so, Petagna has an abdominal strain, while Ilicic could start on the bench after taking a personal day late in the week.
UPDATE: Gasperini could dig deep into his bench, giving the start to Pierluigi Gollini, Gianluca Mancini, and perhaps even Nicolas Haas and Luca Rizzo, keeping both Ilicic and Gomez on the bench.
3-4-1-2: Berisha; Toloi, Palomino, Masiello; Castagne, De Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Cristante; Cornelius, Gomez.
Juventus & Atalanta Performance Statistics