I started to write this match preview by confessing that I’ve had more of a rooting interest in Atalanta’s games than I have with Juventus in recent weeks. I’m sure I’m not really alone in that notion seeing as Juve’s game has been incredibly lackluster and there’s been absolutely no stakes when it comes to the post-Scudetto clincher world. Atalanta, on the other hand, has had everything to play for, a Cinderella-type of season that could very well see Serie A’s only likable team that wears black and blue qualify for the Champions League.
Then, well, Friday happened.
After Wednesday and Thursday of uncertainty, Friday happened.
A short two-sentence press release happened on Friday.
Sunday night at Allianz Stadium isn’t just the final home game of the 2018-19 season for Juventus. It isn’t just the night where, for the eighth consecutive May, Juventus will be the team that is lifting the Scudetto and seeing confetti rain down from the sky after being shot out from cannons on the field. It isn’t just the night where Atalanta, coming off a frustrating-as-hell performance — and result — in the Coppa Italia final, looks to only but further secure its place in one of Serie A’s Champions League spots. It isn’t just the game where one of Juventus’ best players during this Scudetto run, Andrea Barzagli, plays his final game in front of the hometown fans.
And now, we have this added “bonus,” if you want to call it that: Sunday night’s the reigning champions and the team that has played some of the best football in the league all season long will be the final game at Allianz Stadium that has Max Allegri walking out of the tunnel as Juventus manager. After five years filled with Serie A titles, a couple of Champions League finals and 11 total trophies, Juve confirmed Friday that Max Allegri will no longer be their manager come the conclusion of the season. That’s all of two more games of the “DAI DAI DAI” master himself managing Juventus.
A Scudetto celebration. A farewell to Barzagli and Allegri. A tribute to Juventus’ domestic double-winning women’s team at halftime. A team that has everything to lose entering the final two games of the season. I could go on ... and on ... and on. There are just about as many different kind of storylines as I have fingers.
It is kinda ironic, though. Juventus will obviously be celebrating the past with Allegri and Barzagli bowing out in their final home games. Atalanta will obviously be playing for its future when it comes to a Champions League spot. Rather interesting, but maybe that’s just me.
After this, there’s just one more Juventus game until August.
After this, there’s just one more Juventus game until August.
(No, this is not a typo.)
1) Sending Andrea Barzagli out on a high note
I am a proud owner of a Barzagli jersey. It’s this one, and I’m not sure how many other people in the state of Oregon, on the West Coast or the United States can boast about that.
You see, Barzagli has been one of my favorite Juventus players during this current Scudetto run. He may not be on the same level of Gigi Buffon or Claudio Marchisio, but he’s firmly on Level 2 and I’m pretty sure that it’s been a very well-established fact for years now.
Barzagli didn’t get the grandiose farewell press conference like Buffon did before his final home game as a Juventus player this time last year. There aren’t hundreds of thousands of words being written about the past decade that Barzagli has spent in Turin, one that started with one of Beppe Marotta’s best ever bargain basement transfer deals. (Seriously, €320,000, you guys. THREE-HUNDRED TWENTY THOUSAND EUROS!)
Barzagli’s role has obviously become smaller and smaller the last couple of seasons, with the fact that he’s now in his late-30s and all of those continuous injuries playing a significant role in that. He’s one of the final cogs of the team that won the first Scudetto in this string of eight straight, with Giorgio Chiellini officially being the final one that remains from all eight of them in a couple of weeks that’s still a part of the club.
Barzagli, rightfully, is expected to start alongside Leonardo Bonucci even though Chiellini has been called up despite his most recent muscle injury. It’s not like he’s going to have an easy assignment with an Atalanta club that’s sitting on 99 goals in all competitions coming into town and in desperate need of three points. Maybe Barzagli has one more of those classic “Thou shall not pass” kind of games left in his 37-year-old body.
Either way, he deserves every single one of the standing ovations that he will get Sunday night. There is no denying that.
2) Can Juventus’ suddenly-healthy group of attackers match Atalanta’s firepower?
Paulo Dybala returned from injury last weekend.
Moise Kean, thankfully, is over the flu.
Federico Bernardeschi is plenty-rested after being suspended last weekend.
And, maybe most surprisingly of all, Mario Mandzukic has returned to full training this past week and is available for selection even though the general feeling was his season was over weeks ago.
So, Max, a gift for you entering your final home game as Juventus manager is that you suddenly have options when it comes to selecting your starting trident up front.
With all of that being said ...
/still expects Juan Cuadrado to start/
OK, now that we got that out of the way, we can say this: Seeing everybody outside of Douglas Costa available is something that hasn’t exactly been a common theme of the 2018-19 season. And, seeing how Atalanta has played for a better part of the last couple of months when they’ve taken no prisoners and left their opposition in their wake, Juve’s attack is going to have to show up.
I mean, when you’re statistically the second-best attack in Serie A and you’re about to face the only team ahead of you in terms of goals scored, there ought to be some kind of excitement, right?
(Don’t bring receipts if this turns out to be an incredibly-boring 0-0 draw, please.)
3) Will Juve send their soon-to-be former manager out on a high note?
We have seen much more bad than good from Juventus ever since they clinched their eighth straight Serie A title last month. (And, honestly, it goes back much longer than just a couple of weeks or games on the schedule.)
But there is a third thing to celebrate: How Allegri was able to keep this thing going.
I know I wasn’t anywhere close to convinced about him when he was first hired to replace Antonio Conte in the summer of 2013. Without going back into the archives, my feeling was that Juventus’ squad was too good to be hindered by any kind of managerial shortcomings Allegri was bringing to the table. It’s not like Allegri was entering his new job on a high note, either, with things getting incredibly sour during his final weeks and months with Milan.
Allegri proved us wrong.
No matter how you feel about how Allegri did this season, I feel like throwing ill will his way the next eight days while he’s still Juventus manager is beside the point.
Max wants a celebration for the title that will be raised after the final whistle and the impending retirement of Barzagli.
But if we’re in the celebrating mood, let’s go ahead celebrate the job Allegri has done in the overall picture. Juventus could have wobbled and taken a step back. He, however, kept the training rolling right along and, despite the less-than-stellar result a decent number of the biggest of stages, made things possible that his predecessor didn’t.
For that alone, we should be thankful.
Yes, it’s true.
We’ve been saying Juventus has basically been playing for pride and that’s it for weeks now. But there’s more than just the pride of it being the final game at home for the season hanging out there for Juve on Sunday night. At the very least, like other home finales over the course of the previous seven seasons, there’s something to celebrate other than the fact that there will be a trophy lifted a couple of hours after kickoff.
When: Sunday, May 19, 2019
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 8:30 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 7:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Sky Calcio 3, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Sport Serie A (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.