In “normal” years this past decade, a late-season meeting between Juventus and Atalanta would consist of the former either celebrating a league title or being close to it while the latter is just seeing out another season with a mid-table finish.
One is the case once more this season.
The other is most certainly the exception rather than the rule.
Juventus are getting closer and closer to winning their sixth straight Scudetto, something that we’ve known they were going to do for weeks now. Their opponent on Friday night in Bergamo, Atalanta is comfortably five points ahead of the competition for the final European spot Serie A has to offer. That’s not something the club hasn’t been in position to have happen in quite some time.
Atalanta is ahead of Milan in the standings. Atalanta is ahead of Inter. Atalanta is ahead of Fiorentina. All of those clubs, no matter how you feel about them, have been competing and playing in Europe in more than just a handful of previous season over the years.
So when you look at the schedule, look at the lead Juventus has atop the Serie A standings, it’s possible that Friday night’s trip to the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia is Juve’s biggest remaining hurdle between themselves and wrapping up a sixth straight Scudetto. (Although I think it’s safe to say that the Turin derby next weekend is probably a close second because those games are almost always close.)
On Thursday, Tuttosport described the next two weeks as ‘12 decisive days’ for Juventus’ season. That’s very much the case. Atalanta, Monaco, Torino, Monaco. That right there is a stretch where Juventus could not only lock up the sixth straight Scudetto but also wrap up their spot in the Champions League final.
That would be one hell of a way to go into the home stretch of the season. (If we’re not already there, of course.)
@OfficialAllegri: "#AtalantaJuve and #JuveTorino are two crucial matches in terms of winning the Scudetto."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 27, 2017
And even though the main part of the schedule comes in the first two weeks of May, what better way to finish up the month of April than to be within just a few points of knowing your final home game of the season will be a Scudetto party?
Obviously Atalanta and its roster full of young, upstart talent will want to have something to say about that considering they are chasing Europe themselves. But when you have the amount of games needed to clinch the title able to be counted on one hand, you want to get it done as soon as possible. No lingering around. No dropping points. There’s no reason for that now as the light at the end of the tunnel is within arms distance.
Easier said than done. But hey, this is Juventus we’re talking about here, right?
Plus-8 with five games to go. That’s a pretty good spot to be in.
I dunno. What’s there to be mad about right now?
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Just a couple of short ones because we’re running low on time and energy...
1) Keeping track of Mattia Caldara.
I know, I know. I’ve done this every time Juventus has played Atalanta this season. But it’s hard to ignore that Caldara is not only one of the best young players regardless of position that Italy currently has, but that he’s also about four months in on Juve’s books.
That’s why watching Caldara has taken on a little bit more of a priority than when there were just rumors about the young Italian signing with Juventus.
Caldara is expected to be in the center of Atalanta’s three-man backline, as per usual, against Juventus on Friday night. His strong season with Italy’s biggest surprise team is obviously the reason as to why Juventus invested so much money in him back in January. It’s also why he will be wearing bianconero sooner rather than later. We don’t know exactly when that day will be, but for now we get to watch Caldara be a Leonardo Bonucci Jr. of sorts as he gets to play yet another game against the club that currently owns his contract.
And if he plays well against Juve, well, that’s probably just another sign that he’s progressing nicely and on his way to being a contributor in somewhat short order. At least we know that for however long he will be with Atalanta getting plenty of playing time alongside all of the club’s other standout youngsters. (Although I’m probably thinking that some of those players who helped Atalanta compete for a European spot will be heading to bigger clubs for nice sums of money at some point this summer.)
3) Can Paulo Dybala continue to add to his current goal-scoring roll?
As I mentioned in the post-game thread after the Genoa win over the weekend, Dybala’s last 14 goals in all competitions have all come at Juventus Stadium. That’s pretty good, I’d say. But the bad news in this is that Juventus are not playing in Turin come Friday night. Nope, they’re in Bergamo.
There’s no denying that Dybala has seen his game be taken up a notch or two over the last month or so. We’ve covered that ground, too. It couldn’t have come at a better time with the Champions League and Serie A schedules both entering their last few weeks. As much as we’ve seen Gonzalo Higuain come alive once more in recent weeks, Dybala has been the catalyst and leading force behind Juventus’ dynamic offensive performances as of late.
Essentially, he’s doing everything you want somebody playing his position to do. He’s scoring goals. He’s creating goals for his teammates. You name and Dybala is doing it. That’s what you want from your star players this time of year. And I think it’s safe to say that as we watch Dybala build of each game these past few weeks that he’s saved some of his best football for the last couple months of the season.
That’s pretty good.
I’d like Paulo Dybala to keep scoring goals. I’d like Paulo Dybala to keep setting up goals. Not just against Atalanta, but also once or twice against Monaco as well. And then against Torino. And then against Monaco again. That sure would be swell. But since we can only go one game at a time and be the ultimate cliché artists here, Dybala’s roll with first head to Bergamo as he tries to record a long-sought after goal away from home.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Daniele Rugani, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic; Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, Bergamo, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: beIN SPORTS USA (United States); beIN SPORTS Canada (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT USA (United States); fuboTV Canada, beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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