Juventus have enjoyed a remarkable start to their domestic campaign, but a trip to the Vicente Calderon should be classified as the Bianconeri's first real challenge of the season. Ultimately, there was a role reversal between the two domestic league champions last season — Juventus was tipped to mount a legitimate knockout round run, whereas Atletico's small squad was expected to encounter difficulties challenging on both fronts.
The Spanish champions, though, were seconds away from claiming an historic league and European cup double, while Juve crashed out of the competition in the group stage, and then failed to make the final of the Europa League competition which was being hosted at the Juventus Stadium.
Juventus' return to the Spanish capital is significant regarding the shape of the group. Atleti must claim maximum points following a Matchday 1 loss to Olympiakos, whereas Juventus can build a solid platform with a second consecutive European win.
The tactical battles should be straightforward, as Juventus will likely dominate possession and Atletico will likely press Massimiliano Allegri's midfield from the opening whistle. The contrast in possession stats is vast between the two sides: Juventus' 63.7 percent leads Serie A, whereas Atletico currently sit in 15th in that respect, as the Spanish champions maintain 46.5 percent.
Both sides have undergone slight makeovers in their squad with Atletico, in particular, losing Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois, and Filipe Luis — a player who scored over 35 percent of the club's goals last season, arguably the best young goalkeeper in the works, and the best left-back in La Liga. Diego Simeone's efficient transfer activity has ensured Atletico have filled those positions, but apart from goalkeeping, the gulf in quality is evident.
The core of last year's squad remains, but Simeone will have major selections to make regarding his attack. Mario Mandzukic is certain to start the match up front, but Simeone can call upon Raul Garcia's aerial threat, the pace of Antoine Griezmann, a second target-man in Raul Jimenez, or adopt the 4-1-4-1 formation utilized against Sevilla to avoid being overloaded in midfield. Garcia and Griezmann are the likely choice to form an attack with Croatian, with the former likely to start considering Atletico's difficulties creating chances from open play.
Costa's departure has destabilized Atleti's attack from open play, but the club's efficient execution from set pieces remains a vital component to the club's ethos, scoring 10 of their last 12 goals from these situations. Garcia would further increase that threat, attempting to leap over Patrice Evra or Kwadwo Asamoah — like he did last year against Jordi Alba and Cesar Azpilicueta — to convert long diagonals into the box.
Equally, as witnessed against Milan, Juve's defence is still susceptible to pace, and Griezmann is also a logical option up front, or at some point in the match if Atletico require a goal. The rise of Saul Niguez over recent weeks may also see Simeone pack the midfield, thus leading to a combative battle against Juventus' powerful midfield.
Likewise, the lack of pace in the Italian champion's attack could see Atletico press higher up the pitch or maintain their midfield press. Atletico remain organized and compact in both variations of pressing, and Simeone's decision may not only determine the pattern of the match but also impede a Juventus attack that appears heavily reliant on Carlos Tévez.
Stylistically, Allegri hasn't tinkered with the successful formula created by predecessor Antonio Conte. Juve are unbeaten in all competitions this season, have yet to concede a goal, and Tevez broke his five-year goal drought in the Champions League, scoring twice against Malmo — put simply, everything is falling into place. Considering Juve's success this season, Allegri may be hesitant to stray away from a 3-5-2 that presents very few selection issues. Despite Fernando Llorente's underwhelming start to the season, the Spaniard will likely start ahead of compatriot Alvaro Morata.
Claudio Marchisio has thrived in the absence of Andrea Pirlo in a deep-lying role, providing reliable passes and improved defensive protection of the back three. The Bianconeri's most recent fixture against Atalanta, however, saw Richmond Boakye stifle the Italian for majority of the match, which limited Marchisio's influence and Juve's creativity. Atletico tend to drop into two banks of four without the ball with the forwards alternating turns pressing the deep-lying playmaker, and Marchisio may encounter identical issues at the Calderon.
The real issue Allegri's men may face lies in the organization and tireless work-rate Atletico possess without the ball, and Tevez's role as Juve's sole creative source in the final third. The caution displayed in European games have limited the Argentine's influence in recent years, and with Atletico working as a unit to limit space between the lines, the striker may encounter another difficult night in Spain.
Tevez often drops deeper into midfield in search of pockets of space to either run at defenders or slide incisive passes behind the defence. Juventus' win at Atalanta perfectly illustrated his significance to Juve's attack. It was Tevez's initial ball and unmarked run into the box that led to the opener, and a strike from outside the box doubled Juve's lead in the second half. The third goal, though, highlighted his creativity — the forward dropped into space in the right channel and played a delicate ball behind the defence, and into half-space for Stephan Lichtsteiner, thus leading to Morata's first goal for the club.
Allegri will also have to decide between Evra and Asamoah at left wingback. While the former appears to be favoured by the Juventus manager, his defensive deficiencies could see the reliable Asamoah return to the XI. With Koke and Arda Turan admirably protecting their full backs before storming into attack with clever combination play, Juve requires cautious wingbacks. Equally, Koke and Turan's tendency to overload the flanks, along with the adventurous Juanfran and Cristian Ansaldi could pose several threats in wide areas.
Nonetheless, this is expected to be a tight physical encounter between two unbeaten champions, but there's still a concern as to where the goals will come from. Juventus still appear too reliant on Tevez to provide creativity and goals, whereas Atletico's threat from open play has diminished since Costa's departure.
More so, the first goal of the match is significant. Atletico is capable of dealing with excessive pressure and holding onto a lead, whereas if Juventus scored first, Simeone's side would be faced with the task of scoring twice against a side that has yet to concede this season.
Perhaps Tevez's brilliance and Atleti's imperious set-piece execution will make the difference, but this has all the ingredients of being a physical, yet cagey European showdown between two defensively astute sides.
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