Arguably the first Serie A test of the season, Juventus into their clash on Sunday night with Atalanta on the back of a hard-fought Champions League win over Olympiacos in midweek. Yet, with a depleted squad — especially in midfield — with Miralem Pjanic, Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Howedes, Mattia De Sciglio and long-term absentee Marko Pjaca were all missing. Despite this, Max Allegri took the opportunity to rotate his squad.
Douglas Costa, Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado, Andrea Barzagli and Stefano Sturaro made way for Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mehdi Benatia (ugh), Kwadwo Asamoah, Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Bernadeschi — who was making his first start in the black and white of Juventus (though in this instance, Juve were in yellow).
As for La Dea, they were on a high after earning a credible draw on Thursday night in the Europa League against the much more highly-rated Olympique Lyonnais, a result which left them unexpectedly on top of the group. Unlike the French club, Juventus were well aware of their danger man — Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez, who has been in fine form for Atalanta so far this season.
Expectedly, Juventus started on the front foot. Just around the halfway mark of the first half, the deadlock was broken. Blaise Matuidi took a shot from just outside the box, and the Atalanta keeper Etrit Berisha failed to deal with what should have been a routine save. His fumbled save laid the ball on a platter for Bernadeschi to tap in for his first Juve goal on his first start. It was great awareness by the young winger to follow the shot into the box.
Juventus continued in the same vein and it didn’t take much longer to make it 2-0. Bernadeschi this time laid on the assist, with a well-weighted pass through for Higuain to latch onto, hold off his defender, and blast into the top corner at the near post. There was no chance for the keeper on this one, as Higuain is clearly feeling confident after his game-winning heroics against Olympiacos midweek.
One could have been forgiven for thinking that this was game over. Atalanta had not beaten Juventus in Bergamo in their last 25 meetings, and at 2-0 down there was no reason to believe that would change. However, under Gian Piero Gasperini, Atalanta is a challenge for almost any team. Gomez’s free kick on 31 minutes could only be beaten away by Gigi Buffon, and Juve-owned Mattia Caldara followed up to knock the loose ball into the net.
It was suddenly 2-1 — and game on!
Atalanta were back into it and pressing for an equaliser, and they almost got it moments later. Their Slovenian duo, Josip Ilicic and Jasmin Kurtic, almost combined, but the header from the latter bounced over the bar off the cross from the former.
The excitement continued into the second half, the first chance of note being blasted over by Higuain after nice work by Paulo Dybala and Rodrigo Bentancur. On 57 minutes, Juve thought they had added a third, after Mario Mandzukic nodded home Dybala’s pinpoint cross. However, the referee consulted with the VAR and ruled that their was a foul in the buildup; Lichtsteiner caught Gomez with an elbow earlier in the move. The Swiss was booked and the goal disallowed. This was not the last time we’d hear from VAR in this game…
Atalanta completed the turn around on 67 minutes, that man Gomez again being involved. The diminutive Argentine cut inside onto his right and crossed for the onrushing Bryan Cristante, who made the late run, and planted an uncontested header into the top corner. Questions have to be asked of the Juventus defence as to how Cristante was able to get up unchallenged and unmarked.
Atalanta were not content with a point and continued to push forward. Andrea Petagna got past his marker and to the byline before whipping a cross to the top of the box for Cristante. This time the midfielder was crowded out, but the ball fell for Remo Freuler who shot over the bar. Gomez was again torturing his markers and went on a slaloming run from his own box — especially making a fool of Juan Cuadrado — before passing to Leonardo Spinazzola. However, the Juve-owned fullback could not direct his cross to a team mate.
Juve were awarded a penalty late on; Dybala’s free kick was adjudged to have been handled by Petagna in the wall. Atalanta protested and the referee consulted the VAR. Despite looking at the replay, the ref stuck with his initial decision and gave the penalty to Juve. However, Dybala’s tame effort was saved. Some would say justice was served as it did look like the shot came off of Petagna’s shoulder, not his arm.
The game remained wide open until the end, but neither team could pull out a winning goal. A fair result in the end, and three points for either team may have been harsh to the other.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON - 6. Should have done better on Atalanta’s first goal, but could not have done much on the second. Besides the goal, did not have a lot to do since Atalanta only had three shots on target.
STEPHAN LICHTSTEINER - 6. Typical performance by the Swiss Express. He did have a lapse on Kurtic’s chance and was arguably lucky to escape a red card for his elbow on Papu Gomez. He was smartly hooked by Allegri to avoid getting sent off.
MEDHI BENATIA - 6. Despite my general disdain for the Moroccan, he put in a decent shift. With the exception of being all at sea for the Cristante goal — though it was not all his fault as no one from the midfield tracked his run — Benatia didn’t do much done wrong.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. Likewise for Giorgio with nothing much done wrong. Typical Chiellini kind of performance, complete with winning cheap fouls, too.
KWADWO ASAMOAH - 6.5. Decent shift put in by Kwadwo as he filled in for Alex Sandro. At this point, he gets points just for staying fit for any stretch of time.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 7. Continuing with his promising early-season performances, the Uruguayan put in another solid showing. He doesn’t quite have the passing range of Miralem Pjanic, but he’s not a bad option to have as a replacement when the Bosnian and Claudio Marchisio are out.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 7. Did his usual thing, covering a lot of the field and also had a hand in Juve’s first goal. Can’t complain.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 8. A goal and an assist on his full debut — not too shabby. He still looks raw and faded a bit in the second half, but the talent that made Juventus fork out €40 million for him in the summer is apparent. He will improve with more game time.
PAULO DYBALA - 5.5. Not his best performance, but not a particularly bad one, either. Would have had an assist if not for that pesky VAR. Really poor penalty, though.
MARIO MANDZUKIC - 6.5. Another hard-working and tireless performance from the big Croat. Would have had a lovely goal before VAR got involved.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - 8. On the back of his heroics midweek, Gonzalo bagged another well-taken goal. His goal-scoring prowess is undoubted, however, it would be great if he could do more off the ball — much like Mandzukic does — and more often.
ANDREA BARZAGLI - 6. Came on to spare Lichtsteiner from possibly getting sent off in the second half and was not particularly troubled at right back.
JUAN CUADRADO - N/R. Did not have much impact when he came on, though he was made to look pretty silly by Gomez when he dived in with a tackle and got nowhere near the ball.
DOUGLAS COSTA - N/R. Like Cuadrado, did not do much after he came on.
MAX ALLEGRI - 6.5. Unsurprisingly rotated the squad after the midweek exertions. To be fair to Allegri and the team, there was not much wrong with the performance. Atalanta are a good and competitive side who would give anyone in Serie A a run for their money. There could have been better game management after going 2-0 up, admittedly, but these things happen sometimes. Juve are still unbeaten and only a couple of points out of first. It’s very early days, and no need to kick up much fuss.
Juve’s defense does seem more open than it has been in recent years, however, and that could have been expected given the changes in personnel and the fact that there have been lots of injuries in the early bit of the season so far. I fully expect by December that Juve will be a settled team that’s looking more like the team of the last couple of seasons.