I don’t know if it’s the lingering impact of what Atalanta did over the summer or just the simple fact that they’re arguably Serie A’s most dangerous team when everything is clicking, but this fixture has been the one I’ve been looking at for weeks now. We can say that Barcelona was a measuring stick but they’ve been just as erratic as Juve has domestically, and the struggling Spanish giants certainly don’t have a win over Liverpool under their belts through these first three months of the 2020-21 season.
While sitting below Juventus in the Serie A standings, Atalanta is still damn dangerous, still talented all over the field and still capable of beating just about anybody when they channel the kind of form from over the summer even though we’re on the doorstep of winter.
That’s who Juve has next on the schedule.
And that’s why this is Juventus’ biggest game of the domestic schedule to date.
Atalanta may be entering this round of games in ninth place in the Serie A standings, and Wednesday’s trip to Turin comes at quite an interesting time for the club. They’ve had reported drama going on behind the scenes involving manager Gian Piero Gasperini even despite another season in the Champions League knockout stages, while their beloved club captain is again potentially leaving just like he might have over the summer. They haven’t had anywhere close to the same amount of success in Serie A this season as they did both in the months before and after the restart in Italy earlier this year.
Despite all of that, Atalanta are still capable of so damn much.
And that’s why this game is a damn important one for both Pirlo and Juventus — especially with what some of the other games that we have going on around Serie A on Wednesday, most notably Inter facing Napoli at San SIro.
Just as Pirlo said in his pre-match chat on Tuesday, the big thing Juventus needs right now is consistency. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Not just because we keep mentioning it in text here, on our podcast (which you should totally subscribe to on Apple Podcasts or Spotify!), in the comment section on this blog or on the good old Twitter machine throughout any given game the last couple of months, but also simply by watching them play. The win over Barcelona was a very different kind of game than the wins over Torino and Genoa, which allowed Juve to win back-to-back league games for the first time under Prilo.
But maybe, just maybe, this is Pirlo’s Juventus finding a little bit of consistency. Or improvement. Or an identity. Or all of the above and then something that can be associated with those things as well. Juventus has looked solid these last few games, and the fact that they’re still relatively healthy means that this talented squad hasn’t had to shuffle players in and out like they had to both earlier this fall and during the restart over the summer.
Now, with an Atalanta team that is (maybe) improving despite the behind-the-scenes drama coming to town, this is most definitely a prove it kind of game for Pirlo and Juventus.
The Serie A table is absolute gridlock at the top, with first place and sixth place separated by all of six points. Because of that, getting a couple of wins in a row and going on a nice little run could very much mean you’re close to the top of the table.
Atalanta is the most dangerous team Juve’s faced in Serie A in weeks, if not longer than that. And getting a win against them will mean that Pirlo’s Juve is taking another step in the right direction — which, a few weeks ago, seemed like a major accomplishment.
- The same two players who are out injured are the same two players who were out injured over the weekend: Giorgio Chiellini and Merih Demiral. At this point, it might be until the new year before we see either of them back in the squad. (It just seems that way, doesn’t it?)
- What is one of the main things Andrea Pirlo keeps talking to his squad about after each game no matter the result? “Concentration,” he said, “because we do still get distracted at certain moments of the game.”
- That is pretty much all we got from Pirlo. There’s not a lot of news going around these days, which is good thing compared to at some points this season when the injury list felt like it was a couple-hundred words long.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
I swung and missed with the pick of Dejan Kulusevski last time. I’ll wear it, I’ll take it and I’ll apologize to the BWRAO readership for making it seem like Juve’s young Swede was going to potentially play a big role in a game where, in actuality, he came off the bench and only played a couple of minutes.
So, let’s go with somebody who seems like a lock to play based on his current form.
Weston McKennie has been on fire the last couple of games. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he has been one of Juve’s best players over the past week or two — and with the way the schedule is, that’s a decent amount of games! — and the regular playing that he’s received has been totally deserved.
Same goes with his continued inclusion over the next few games.
Or, at least that’s what we expect to happen. (With my recent misses in this section of the match preview, who really knows outside of a couple guys ... right?)
Depending on the Italian media outlet you will get a different interpretation of where McKennie will potentially play in Pirlo’s midfield against Atalanta. A lot of it will depend on, as was the case over the weekend against Genoa, if Aaron Ramsey is in the starting lineup or not. McKennie could be used as a defensive midfielder, a DCM-trequartista hybrid or a box-to-box presence in a 3-5-2.
No matter what it is, McKennie’s versatility has allowed Pirlo to use those skills to his advantage. His runs into the box the last couple of weeks have resulted in both goals and scoring chances for his teammates. He’s always going to be a bulldog defensively, so that will provide some cover when there are other players on the field who don’t always press as much as we might want them to. And, when you look at the other midfielders Pirlo has at his disposal, McKennie is looking as good of an option as any one of them at the moment, so playing him seems like a pretty logical choice.
He has earned the chance with his play of late to be a regular in the starting lineup right now. That’s a pretty simple, yet important, thing to say right now.
Then again, it took him only a couple of months to start acting a little Italian, so maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised that he’s looking like he’s quite settled in now that 2020 is almost over.
When: Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 6:30 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 5:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time; 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Serie A, Sky Sport 251, NOW TV (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); 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.