Juventus came into Saturday night’s game against Atalanta on the back of an avalanche of injuries and with dented confidence due to the woeful performance at Genoa last week. On the other side, Serie A’s in-form team Atalanta were in supernatural form thanks to a run of nine wins in 10 games. Despite this swaggering momentum, the Bianconeri made Atalanta look pedestrian by securing a convincing 3-1 victory at Juventus Stadium.
The home side started very strongly and dominated possession in the first 10 minutes. Miralem Pjanic slid a neat reverse pass into Gonzalo Higuaín, who returned to the starting line-up after fully recovering from a niggling injury, but the Argentine’s pass towards Mario Mandzukic was too close to the goalkeeper and resulted in nothing. Nevertheless, this Juventus domination resulted in a surprisingly-early, though deserved, goal through Alex Sandro. The Brazilian collected a Claudio Marchisio pass and drifted inside from the left-wing. With none of the Atalanta players feeling comfortable to step out to challenge him, he progressed towards goal and fired a tidy left-footed shot with the inside of his boot past the goalkeeper and into goal: 1-0!
Juventus were out to make a point as they continued to ride the momentum of their dominance. Higuaín collected an incisive Pjanic pass and bore down on goal but unfortunately his second touch wasn’t quite good enough, thus allowing Mattia Caldara to block the Argentine’s shot for a corner kick. Juventus took full advantage of the ensuing corner as Pjanic whipped in an inch-perfect cross which Daniele Rugani emphatically headed into the back of the net to double the home side’s lead: 2-0!
Juventus were rampant and continued to dial up the pressure on a surprisingly timid Atalanta side. Pjanic later fired a great free-kick towards goal but Marco Sportiello was up to the challenge to make the save. Atalanta finally came to life late in the first half as Chiellini was forced to block a decent Gomez shot before Mandzukic heroically blocked and headed away two Atalanta shots inside his own box. That was all the action for the first half as Juventus went into the changing rooms with a wonderful 2-0 lead!
The Bianconeri picked up where they left off as some lovely interplay between Sami Khedira, Higuaín and Mandzukic led to the latter squaring the ball for the Argentine, but again Caldara was there to cut out the danger just in time. Atalanta got a half-chance later on through Petagna, but the striker couldn’t quite get power in the shot due to heavy pressure by Giorgio Chiellini so Buffon comfortably collected the ball. Nevertheless, Pjanic and the inspired Mandzukic ran the show against Atalanta thanks to the former’s incisive passing and movement and the latter’s tireless defensive running and offensive threat. Mandzukic, especially, absolutely harassed the young midfielder Franck Kessie all evening, leading to numerous interceptions and ball recoveries. Marchisio also joined the fun by collecting a loose ball at the edge of the area and unleashing a cracking volley that Sportiello did well to parry. However, Mandzukic would finally get the reward for all his hard work by scoring the third goal of the evening. From the resulting corner, the Croatian rose highest to glance a fantastic header into the back of the net for the 3-0! Sandro, however, wasn’t satisfied with just three goals as he fired in various threatening crosses into the Atalanta box but a frustrated Higuaín couldn’t quite reach them.
Juventus clearly — and understandably — took their foot off the pedal as the final 20 minutes of the game saw a significant drop in tempo and intensity. Substitute Juan Cuadrado later skipped past a few challenges but his subsequent shot was well saved by Sportiello. Atalanta did manage a consolation goal after a lovely bit of play down the right wing allowed D’Alessandro to whip in a cross that Freuler finished very impressively on the volley: 3-1. Juventus fell asleep and paid the price by once again failing to keep a clean sheet. The Bianconeri almost secured a fourth goal through Mario Lemina after Cuadrado volleyed a dangerous Sandro cross into the ground which Sportiello batted away very awkwardly towards Lemina, but the Gabonese midfielder could only hit the post from the loose ball due to heavy pressure from three Atalanta defenders. It didn’t matter though as Juventus comfortably saw out the final few minutes and secured an impressive 3-1 home victory against an in-form Atalanta side!
BUFFON 6.5 – Could do nothing about the goal. Overall, he had little/nothing to do as Atalanta rarely threatened.
LICHTSTEINER 6.5 – Did his defensive work well, although he was quiet offensively.
RUGANI 7.5 – Another confident performance and even got a nice goal for his efforts here. Continues to grow in maturity and stature.
CHIELLINI 7 – Wasn’t disturbed at all by Atalanta’s strikers and led the defense well with Rugani.
ALEX SANDRO 8.5 – What a brilliant, brilliant player he is. So strong, so fast, and so composed with and without the ball. I have tremendous admiration and praise for the high-flying Brazilian defender.
KHEDIRA 7 – Solid but unspectacular. Did the nitty-gritty stuff in midfield which allowed his teammates to shine.
PJANIC 7.5 – Fantastic display. This is the type of performance we’ve been waiting for and expecting from the Bosnian. Enjoyed the space behind and in front of Atalanta’s midfield and made full use of it.
MARCHISIO 7 – Was a little subdued due to Kurtic’s disciplined marking duties in the first half, but was comfortable after the Slovenian faded in the second.
STURARO 7 – Pleasantly impressive performance by Sturaro, did really well today. Lots of running, good interceptions, and participated in attacks very well.
HIGUAÍN 6.5 – A bit frustrated tonight, but his perseverance and sharp footwork played a big part in the lead-up to the first goal. I think he’ll be fine overall, but a goal for the Argentine wouldn’t hurt.
MANDZUKIC 9 – Absolutely tremendous game. Certainly the best game he’s had this season as he was simply everywhere, all the time. Dazzling.
LEMINA 6.5 – I wonder why Allegri has played Lemina so infrequently of late. Nevertheless, he played well here tonight in an RCM position, solid and dependable.
CUADRADO 6.5 – Overall a good performance, but his miscommunication with Lichtsteiner allowed Atalanta to grab a late consolation goal.
EVRA 6.5 – Comfortable outing for the Frenchman. Did he get a haircut? He’s looking sharp.
ALLEGRI 7 – This game was all about getting the players’ heads back into the right place after that demoralizing defeat at Genoa so credit Max for getting this spot-on today. He also clearly won the battle of the trequartisti (see below) as Pjanic had all the space and freedom to run the midfield to his desire.
Tactical Analysis: Battle of The Trequartisti
Atalanta lined up in a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 system while Juventus took up the 4-3-1-2 formation with Pjanic as trequartista. Kurtic was the trequartista for Atalanta although he sometimes shuttled forward into the striker position. The main tactical interest of the game was the difference in the way that the trequartisti for either side operated.
This image shows Kurtic marking Marchisio very closely to make up for Atalanta’s numerical deficit in central midfield, but that was exactly their problem: Marchisio was occupying Kurtic’s trequartista space meaning that the Slovenian had to mark a player when out of possession but simultaneously had less space to operate in when in possession. Pjanic, on the other hand, didn’t have that problem because Atalanta played without a designated holding midfielder in front of defense i.e. the space that a trequartista usually thrives in.
Kurtic faded badly as the game progressed — presumably due to all the ground he had to cover defensively and offensively — as he dropped deeper and deeper and further away from the strikers Gomez and Petagna. He was unsurprisingly substituted in the 75th minute. Just look at the stark difference in his influence in the first half:
Versus that in the second half:
Kurtic was probably envious of the freedom that Pjanic enjoyed as the Bosnian could do whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted, and whenever he wanted it.
A Defiant Riposte
This was exactly the type of response that was necessary after last week’s debacle. Mandzuckic and Pjanic were absolutely stellar, while Sandro also showed off his tremendous ability on both sides of the pitch. The Atalanta goal was frustrating though as we continue to yearn for those elusive and once-customary clean sheets, but I guess you can’t have it all. It’s still going to be a difficult month but by making such a potentially tricky game look very straightforward, both the team and the fans can look forward with much more optimism and faith towards the challenges that lie ahead.