It was tough to imagine a bigger gut punch than the dreadful loss against Napoli, yet the legal troubles caught up with Juventus really at the first opportunity, and more sanctions will likely follow. The timing is unfortunate, as the season is down the drain with more than half of it left, and what happens on the pitch will matter very little compared to what will occur in the courts of justice. It’s pretty clear that the system has decided to get Juventus for their financial sins, one way or the other. The challenge for the new brass and lawyers will be to avoid relegation or punishments that would cripple the team for multiple years, limiting the damage to the current and the next campaign. It’s also easy to imagine that, if the Bianconeri somehow qualify for a European competition through the Coppa Italia or Europa League, UEFA will keep them out for Financial Fair Play violations.
It seems like ages ago now, but how the embarrassing defeat versus Napoli came to be was almost a fireable offense. There’s no shame in being bested by the clear top dogs in Serie A, but there are ways and ways to do it. As it happened in the final matches of the Champions League group stage, Juventus completely crumbled in the crucible of pressure. At least those collapses were understandable since the team was still searching for its identity back then. Instead, the squad was seemingly humming going into the recent clash, but it happened again, which also mars the previous winning streak. It was shambolic to see the defense torn apart in such fashion after not conceding in ages. It’s almost as if every certainty of the Bianconeri gets wiped out when push comes to shove.
A strategy based on not conceding can’t go far against the best teams, but that’s not enough to justify the collapse. It’s ironic that the gaffer paid the price for being a little too daring, as it wasn’t the right situation to start Federico Chiesa as a wing-back. It was a baffling choice. While that caused extra issues, the most concerning part was that the rearguard, and Gleison Bremer in particular, were completely out of sorts, almost as if they were ill-prepared for what was coming, which was instead the standard Napoli offense. There was some misfortune too, as the third and fourth goals were random after the Old Lady had reacted aptly and even scored, but you can’t use that as an excuse after a thorough romp. Even if things had gotten dire and the game was out of hand, pulling the plug with so much time to go was unacceptable and could have led to an even larger score.
The Coppa Italia game against Monza was too wonky to assess the aftershocks, as the youngsters don’t know any better. It expedited a problem that was simmering, Chiesa’s role. He’s not yet at the point where he should be expected to be brilliant game in game and out, but it’s already clear that the formation should change to have him closer to the box and less burdened by defensive tasks. He can be the wing-back in easy fixtures, but that may turn into a problem in more challenging ones. In addition, he’s more at ease and dangerous on the left flank than on the right one, where there’s a hole with Juan Cuadrado absent, although Weston McKennie is getting more and more comfortable.
The question now is whether the coach should move on from 3-5-2 altogether, which has worked well for a long time, do it only occasionally, which has already proven effective, or think outside the box to field all the best players at the same time. For instance, Filip Kostic might be able to become a fullback at some point in the near future, but probably not in a four-man line that features Alex Sandro as a center-back. And there are currently no right-backs if Danilo is needed elsewhere, although Juan Cuadrado is set to be called up. It’s unknown when Leonardo Bonucci will be back, and Federico Gatti and Daniele Rugani haven’t shown well enough to be consistent starters. Something would have to give for it to happen.
The squad might not suffer that much if they fielded one fewer midfielder, and the top two ones, Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot, would be in their element in a two-man department. It’d be unfortunate for the youngsters, but the upside of having Chiesa and Di Maria together on the wings is too tempting. 3-4-3 would be a new scheme for Allegri.
3-5-1-1: Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Alex Sandro; McKennie, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic.
Absences: Vlahovic (sports hernia), Pogba (meniscus tear), Bonucci (thigh tendon injury), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear).
The Atalanta season has had three distinct phases, and this might be the worst time to catch them. They were on a roll early, leaning on their usual cornerstones of previous years, with just minor adjustments. However, their style wasn’t as fizzy as in the past and rather than outgunning opponents, they ground out wins through sturdy defending. At some point, the formula stopped working, and they went into a tailspin at the end of 2022, which caused tension between Gian Piero Gasperini, the management, and the new ownership. American tycoon Stephan Pagliuca bought half of the team last summer, and he’s probably the one calling the shots, even though the previous brass is still at the helm in some capacity.
They have come out of the break re-energized with a different and more brazen approach. Jeremie Boga has resurfaced, leading to a tactical evolution that made them much pacier and more dangerous on offense, which has unleashed Rasmus Hojlund, who was just so-so in his first few months in Serie A. That’s normal for such a young player coming from a second-tier league, and the sizeable price tag doesn’t mean the transition will be any easier.
He’s been a beast in recent matches, and his showings remind of the early Dusan Vlahovic, who was tremendous in attacking the space behind the defense and finishing with technique. He’s impressively fast and gifted for his side. He struggles a little when he has to go mano-a-mano with physical defenders, and their plodding rhythm wasn’t helping him. It’ll be interesting to see whether they will go all-in on him by partying ways with either Duvan Zapata or Luis Muriel now. They have too many strikers since they don’t play in Europe this year. They should, as the two veterans have constantly been banged up and haven’t contributed a lot so far.
Boga had entirely fallen out of the radar, but the coach inserted him in the Bologna game, and he delivered with two assists. He followed it up with a goal and a helper in the romp of Salernitana, where they went with a pure 3-4-3, a scheme Gasperini has been trying to deploy for a long time but never had the horses to pull off. Since Ademola Lookman, who has carried them while the other forwards were sputtering, has no trouble playing either as a second-striker or a right winger, and he’s remarkably accurate in the box, they can indeed use it consistently now. Having fewer attackers up the middle opens up more lanes for Hojlund too. The obvious downside is that they are less physical in the trenches since they have one midfielder down. The switch couldn’t have worked any better versus Salernitana, which had their own share of pre-existent troubles, and it will immediately face an acid test in this one, should the gaffer dare to confirm it.
On top of Boga and Hojlund, they have relied more on their youth products, Giorgio Scalvini and Matteo Ruggeri. It was a travesty that the former wasn’t truly a linchpin beforehand. He has yet to fill out fully, which is an issue sometimes, but his acumen and ability are well beyond his years. He’s already a terrific defender and just needs some more seasoning. The wing-back emerged out of the blue during the December friendlies after being wholly disregarded in the first half of the campaign, as they have plenty of veteran options. It might simply be a product of the fact that he’s their only left-footed player in the role, but he’s been energetic and a decent crosser.
They are still reeling from the departure of Robin Gosens in that position, and Davide Zappacosta, who’s their most impactful guy there, has missed most of the season due to repeated thigh injuries. The boss hasn’t fully trusted Brandon Soppy so far, who had some great offensive showings early on but is a bit of a liability in the back, but probably he should because Hans Hateboer and Joakim Maehle are nothing special.
They won’t have Teun Koopmeiners in this one, and that’s a huge deal since he’s the brain of the team. They have a few alternatives to replace him, but not somebody with the same passing skills. Mario Pasalic would be the more aggressive choice, Ederson the safest one. Both would start if they preferred having Boga come off the bench. They can also move up Scalvini, but that might be too timid, considering how they have been playing lately.
Gasperini complained a lot about having too many men at his disposal and being stuck between two eras of the club, but he was part of the problem as well, and he didn’t fully embrace the newcomers and the youngsters right away. It’s unclear whether that happened due to stubbornness or because he didn’t think they were ready. They have made strides once they did do that, and they have resumed being the exciting Atalanta of old. They’ll hunt for a signature win, which has too often eluded them in their recent history, to build up their resume now that the Champions League race has been cracked wide open by the recent ruling.
3-4-2-1: Musso; Toloi, Demiral, Scalvini; Hateboer, De Roon, Ederson, Ruggeri; Pasalic; Lookman, Hojlund.
Absences: Koopminers (suspension), Zappata (thigh injury), Zapata (hip injury).