Ahead of the massively important first leg against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday, much of the debate surrounding Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus concerned how he would treat the Atalanta match. Would it be a dress rehearsal for the Dortmund game, picking a first-choice team and working on some of the tactical maneuvers designed to beat the German defense? Or would it be a second-string starting XI, with several starters rested in hopes of seeing them at their best in the Champions League?
In the end, Allegri chose the middle road, naming a largely first-choice XI, with Patrice Evra seeding the left-back slot to Simone Padoin and Arturo Vidal left out in the hope that he can completely recover from a slight muscular injury. Carlos Tévez returned from suspension, partnering Fernando Llorente up top, while Giorgio Chiellini returned to the center of defense.
Atalanta coach Stefano Colantuono was forced into wholesale changes after four starters against Inter picked up cards earning suspensions, including Benalouane's red. Perhaps the biggest miss was Maxi Moralez, with the diminutive Argentine ruled out through injury. Atalanta responded by packing the team with fullbacks and set out to defend and hit quickly on the counter. Their plan was largely effective, and they even took the lead through a Giuseppe Migliaccio header, but as the game wore on their energy levels dropped and once Andrea Pirlo scored a brilliant go-ahead goal in the 45th minute Atalanta struggled to find a way back.
It was not an entirely convincing performance from Juventus, who took the foot off the gas for long periods of the second half. With huge games against Dortmund and at Roma in the next week it is important to note that nobody seemed to pick up any injuries, although Simone Padoin did see a yellow card that will rule him out of the upcoming Roma match.
Three important points extend Juventus' lead atop the table to 10, with Roma facing Hellas Verona on Sunday, but Juventus have certainly played better at different points of the season. With everything on the line against Dortmund, Turin will hope to see the Old Lady in her very finest on Tuesday night.
Juventus kicked off and almost immediately Atalanta's intent became clear — forming two lines of four and dropping off into their own half. Juventus passed the ball patiently, waiting for an opportunity to invent something in the final third. Carlos Tévez looked the most likely to have something come off, and his early flick nearly created a chance only to see Martín Cáceres' cross was blocked out for a corner. Pirlo's corner almost resulted in an early opener, as Llorente made a good run past the near post, but his volley skewed wide. It would have been a spectacular finish.
Leonardo Bonucci found Llorente with a magnificent through ball 11 minutes in, but the linesman raised his flag. Another combination down the right between Llorente, Tévez, and the overlapping Cáceres saw the Uruguayan's cross cut out. Not everything was going Juventus' way, however, as Atalanta showed a glimpse of potential with an instinctive Luca Cigarini ball over the top, well read by Bonucci. Pirlo nearly set up the opener with a fantastic pass through for Llorente, but the striker was just put off by Massiello.
Twenty-four minutes in, Atalanta had the best chance of the game, as Urby Emanuelson raced upfield on the counter after an excellent touch from Germán Denis. The attack unravelled slightly but eventually the ball fell for Daniele Baselli all alone in front of goal, forcing Buffon into a vital save. The Atalanta man really should have put his side into the lead, and from the resulting corner the 1-0 did come. Giuseppe Migliaccio escaped Cáceres' marking and got ahead of Claudio Marchisio at the near post, somehow flicking his header perfectly in off the far post.
Juventus reacted immediately with a Tévez effort, then Paul Pogba nearly made something happen following a fantastic roulette on the touchline, but Roberto Pereyra's finish was weak after Tévez played him in. Llorente had another chance on 33' when Pogba played a quick ball to his feet, but he could not quite turn and fire in time. It was Pogba creating again in the 38th, as the French international played a brilliant cross-field ball through the entire Atalanta defense, but Cáceres' shot was well-saved.
Once again the resulting corner provided the goal, as Llorente tapped in following Bonucci's header and a bit of pinball in the box. Atalanta managed a bit of a response, but soon enough were once again pinned into their own half.
Things were calmly moving to halftime, with Atalanta sinking back and Juventus tapping around 5-yard passes, easing towards the Atalanta box, and then it happened. Pogba faked a shot, tapped it across to Marchisio, who knocked it back for Pirlo. The Atalanta midfield was slow to react, and Pirlo instantly saw his chance, taking one touch to set it up and thundering a beautiful strike into the far corner. The ball was struck so purely it barely rotated in the air, just knuckling away from Atalanta goalkeeper Marco Sportiello at the last second.
The second half started fairly quickly, with both sides having even-numbers situations on the counter in the first five minutes, but Tévez and Emanuelson showed too much to their defenders. The visitors lost Davide Zappacosta to a thigh injury soon after, taking some of the bite out of their counterattack. Juventus had two chances to wrap up the points soon after, first with Llorente and Tévez just failing to combine and then when Pogba saw point-blank header brilliantly saved following a good run from Tévez and Pereyra's cross. Marchisio went down in the box with a hand on his shoulder, but the referee played on and, following some heated discussion, gave Marchisio a yellow card. A minute later Il Principino caught a high boot to the face, also in the box, and again the referee saw nothing in it.
Emanuelson threatened again on the counter, drawing a yellow for Padoin, before Pogba could have a third, leaving Atalanta midfielders in his wake, but Tévez' shot was blocked. Atalanta had a chance for an equalizer, but Denis' header lacked power. Stephan Lichtsteiner came on for Pogba in the 65th minute, switching the formation to 3-5-2 and saving the midfielder from a possible yellow card which would bring a suspension against Roma.
The Swiss Express was quickly involved, knocking Tévez' cross back into the box for Llorente, but the big striker could not quite get there first. Lichtsteiner continues to be involved down the right, but his final ball never quite found its target. The clock began running down and Atalanta struggled to create much, resorting to hopeful attempts from long range.
Álvaro Morata came on for Llorente for the last 15 minutes, nearly creating something in the 82nd when his cutback went to Pirlo then Tévez, but the final effort was blocked. Two minutes later the young Spaniard was again racing down the flank, but Massiello recovered in time.
Atalanta had a couple of chances late, as Cigarini blasted a hopeful effort and then Scaloni sent in a dangerous cross for Migliaccio, but this time he was unable to get his header on target.
Kingsley Coman came on for the final five minutes and was instantly dangerous, turning the Atalanta defense inside and out but his eventual cross was too close to Marco Sportiello. Stoppage time played out without too much danger, as Juventus extended its lead over Roma to ten points.
Buffon: 6.5 Not all that much to do, but was quick off his line and made an excellent save on Benassi. Migliaccio's header left him no chance.
Cáceres: 6 A constant presence on the attacking flank and usually strong defensively. However, he lost Migliaccio on the goal.
Bonucci: 6 Usually strong and good covering ground, as well as playing a few dangerous long balls. Could perhaps have been more aggressive with Denis in the buildup to Benassi's chance.
Chiellini: 6 Covered ground and won his tackles, as well as contributing to a few attacks.
Padoin: 5.5 At times was a good outlet down the left, and was fairly untroubled defensively except for one header late on.
Marchisio: 6 Failed to make an impact with his shooting, but always involved and running for the team.
Pirlo: 7 Vital contributions to both goals, and could have easily created another. Did his defensive work well too.
Pogba: 6.5 At times looked absolutely unstoppable, but at others faded from the match.
Pereyra: 5.5 One of Tucu Pereyra's more forgettable matches, as he put in a couple of crosses, dribbled and got in good positions, but probably should have contributed to a goal somehow.
Llorente: 6 The big man got the nod again, and was very useful winning high balls as well as getting into dangerous positions, but was a touch sluggish getting his shot off.
Tévez: 6 Vital as ever in the Juventus buildup, Tévez does not quite have the luck in front of goal that he did earlier this year, but remains Juventus' most potent attacking threat.
Lichtsteiner: 6 Immediately made an impact as an outlet down the right. It will be interesting to see who starts at right-back on Tuesday.
Morata: 6 Always threatening in space, and another who should maybe be given a chance on Tuesday.
Coman: N/A Only on for a few minutes, but showed his potential with fantastic pace and elusiveness.
Allegri: 6 Very much job done in this one, getting three points and on to the Champions League with no injuries and no yellow card for Pogba.
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