Juventus v Atalanta
Serie A Week 26 [Rearranged] – Wednesday, 14th March – 17:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Last Sunday, Juventus racked up another win and another clean sheet. More importantly, Napoli dropped points against Inter and so we are now top of the league, with one less played game. A surprising turn of events, since the Partenopei have been marching so far this season, while the Old Lady squeaked-by several times and rarely looked at her best. However, grinding out victories has paid off and now we have the opportunity to build a four-point cushion over the arch-rivals.
The Udinese match went as expected: the opponents were reeling and toothless and did not pose a real threat to Wojciech Szczesny besides a free kick in the early going by Ali Adnan. Paulo Dybala did his thing with a terrific free kick and then cashed in on a great assist by Gonzalo Higuain. He also won a penalty, but El Pipita missed it. It looks to me that the two Argentinian forwards are playing much closer compared to the first part of the season and their chemistry is improving by the day, as evidenced by the last two goals by La Joya on open play.
Massimiliano Allegri is sticking with a hybrid 4-4-2 lately, with Douglas Costa wide right and a midfielder wide leftl; it has been Blaise Matuidi most of the time, but also Stefano Sturaro and Alex Sandro have filled in. It helps Miralem Pjanic to have two flankers, while the former Bayern can run amok down the flank and La Joya is nearer the box. Allegri is sometimes frustrating with his starting lineup choices, but he is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to tactics and he has shown unique flexibility. However, it needs to be considered that the latest scheme does not include Mario Mandzukic, who has been in and out of the XI due to some hamstring soreness, so we will see whether he can re-claim his starting spot on the wing and this was all situational or if he will become more of a rotational player with Dybala healthy and 4-2-3-1 mostly shelved.
The squad is unlikely to have Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi back anytime soon: the Colombian did not suffer any setback, but he needs time to re-gain the peak physical condition and the timeline is always murky when it comes to a sports hernia, while the starlet is still in the rehab/strengthening protocol before further tests, so his situation remains extremely uncertain.
Gianluigi Buffon, Miralem Pjanic, Matuidi and Mehdi Benatia rested in the weekend, while Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichtsteiner were out because of suspension. The SPAL race on Saturday closes a draining cycle and we can expect the coach to rotate the horses. It looks like Sandro has some muscle fatigue and they will obviously be cautious with that. Higuain suffered a knock in the last game and he will battle it out with Mandzukic to start upfront. I would not be surprised to see Giorgio Chiellini being spared, while the coach clearly said that Dybala needs to play.
UPDATE: It seems increasingly likely that Higuain will start the game on the bench. Alex Sandro is in the squad list, Benedikt Howedes is not for another hamstring issue in what looks more and more like a lost season for him.
4-4-2: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Rugani, Benatia, Asamoah; Douglas Costa, Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Mandzukic.
Bernardeschi (knee), Cuadrado (groin).
It would have been nice to face the ragtag crew Atalanta were going to field in the previous game when they were coming off the Dortmund fight as they will have a more competitive XI this time. They are in pretty good shape since they have not lost in Serie A in over a month, having defeated Sassuolo, Chievo and Bologna and drawn with Crotone and Fiorentina. They are not a steamroller at home this season, but they have improved on the road compared to a year ago. They are six points behind the roaring Milan in the race for the sixth spot, but just three behind Sampdoria. With the Rossoneri reaching the Coppa Italia final, the seventh place might grant qualification to Europa League as well.
The tactic is pretty much the same from last season, 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.
Mattia Caldara has been dealing with some back stiffness and missed the last game: he will try to recover, but he is doubtful. The coach ruled out Luca Rizzo and the youngster Alessandro Bastoni, while he stated that Alejandro Gomez and Andrea Petagna are a little banged up, so there is a good chance they are not in the starting XI, with Andres Cornelius picking up the slack in the front-line.
UPDATE: Gasperini might give Pierluigi Gollini and Nathan Haas the opportunity to play they did not get at the original date and Mancini could play in lieu of either Rafael Toloi or Andrea Masiello.
3-4-1-2: Berisha; Toloi, Palomino, Masiello; Hateboer, De Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Cristante; Cornelius, Ilicic.
Juventus & Atalanta Performance Statistics