When it comes to in-form teams in Serie A, if Atalanta isn’t the first team to pop into your head, then you probably need to go back and watch the last couple weeks (or, prior to shutdown, months) worth of football. Atalanta hasn’t lost since January, which should tell you just how damn good Gian Piero Gasperini’s squad is humming right now even if there’s been three months of a break thrown in between.
They lead the league in goals — by a lot. They could very well be in second place come the end of the weekend if everything falls in their favor. They are Serie A’s only team in the Champions League quarterfinals as things stand right now.
This is the team Juventus has to play coming off one if its worst losses of the season.
Optimism is just brimming out of this writer’s fingers right now, isn’t it?
(OK, so maybe not.)
Saturday night at Allianz Stadium will give us a really good idea of what this Juventus team — and quite possibly Maurizio Sarri — is all about these days. We will see if the 4-2 implosion of a loss to Milan earlier in the week will be a one-off kind of situation or if the events of the final 30 minutes Tuesday night will linger in the minds of those who actually play the games. What happened at San Siro was bad — very, very bad! — and it’s the kind of loss that we don’t see from Juventus all too often regardless of what kind of form the team is in at the time.
What made it worse was the fact that Juve looked to be starting to turn a corner after convincing wins entering the trip to San Siro. They had recorded resounding wins over Genoa and then in the Derby della Mole against Torino. Obviously those aren’t big-time opponents; they’re in the bottom portion of the table and both trying to avoid relegation. But Juventus hadn’t exactly blown away those kinds of clubs on a consistent basis over the course of the season prior to the suspension of play, so this was an encouraging sign and viewed as a case that Sarri was starting to maybe get things right.
Then Tuesday night happened.
And now the pressure is back on Sarri to right the ship.
There is still breathing room atop the Serie A standings these days. There was before the last round of fixtures, too. But the next week is truly the meat of what’s left on the schedule. It’s Atalanta, then a resurgent Sassuolo and finally Lazio. This was always going to be the most difficult stretch of the remaining games, and what happened against Milan only showed what can happen if Juventus and Sarri don’t handle their business in the right kind of fashion — especially when it looks like they might be on their way to three points.
Because of that, it’s easy to understand why Sarri is preaching consistency and focus entering such a game like this one is expected to be. If we thought Milan was a threat when Juventus turned things down mentally and essentially went into cruise control, Atalanta is a completely different animal. They’re going to attack, attack some more and then probably attack because that’s just what they do — and they do it so damn well.
Could Juventus do what happened last time Atalanta was the opponent and absolutely snatch three points away just when it looked like things were going in the opposite direction? Of course. But that was in late November when things weren’t going all that well.
These days, Gasperini has Atalanta hummin’ and Juventus will be the latest team to try and slow the boys from Bergamo down. If that happens, it will be a major feather in Sarri’s cap.
- Matthijs de Ligt back.
- Paulo Dybala back.
- That’s about as good of news as we could hope for.
- Alex Sandro, the man who unofficially got an assist on Milan’s final goal, is expected to make his return to the starting lineup. He last started a game in the Coppa Italia final on June 17, sustaining a pretty nasty looking knee injury that caused him to miss a few weeks.
- With de Ligt and Dybala back from suspension and Sandro back from injury, this will be about as full strength of a starting lineup (and squad in general) that Sarri’s had since before the suspension of play in March.
- When it comes to the health of Giorgio Chiellini — who has yet to appear in a game since the restart — Sarri said: “Giorgio had a different journey, he has some problems after the break because staying at home caused him some problems, he needs a longer recovery.”
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
It would be easy to suggest de Ligt or Dybala seeing as neither of them were available to play in Tuesday night’s San Siro stumble. And, while it will be fun to see what an in-form Dybala and de Ligt after a week of rest can do, I’m going to go with somebody who actually played against Milan. You know, somebody who played a rather large role in Milan’s comeback ...
No, not the guy in the foreground. The guy doing the pointing. Yes, Leonardo Bonucci. There you go, now you’re onto it, folks.
Bonucci’s performance was a microcosm of the team’s defensive showing as a whole — when things started going bad, they really went bad in a hurry. Things were looking good after Juve went up 2-0, then the handball in the box and Bonucci — as well as the entire defense and team — came crashing down from the high of potentially going up 10 points in the standings.
So now as we see how Juventus will react following the Milan loss, the same goes for Bonucci as well. The best thing going for him? The fact that Juve’s best defender these days, de Ligt, is going to be back and starting to his right. As we discussed on the podcast following Tuesday night’s loss, a huge reason as to why Bonucci has been successful this season — and especially during the resumption of play — is because he’s got a defender like de Ligt playing next to him. Just like when Chiellini was health more often than not and starting nearly as many times as Bonucci, de Ligt is the perfect kind of running mate. They compliment each other so well; Bonucci allows de Ligt to do what he does, and de Ligt’s defensive prowess allows Bonucci to be the player he is.
With de Ligt rested and ready to return, seeing if Bonucci is back to the Bonucci that has been present for a large portion of the season will be crucial when playing this Atalanta side. So much of what went wrong against Milan could certainly happen again against Atalanta — a team that has made multi-goal deficits look like absolutely nothing during this insane run of form they’re currently on.
We don’t need to see the Bonucci we saw Tuesday night all that much these next few weeks. Nope, not thank you.
When: Saturday, July 11, 2020
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 9:45 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 12:45 p.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America, TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); DAZN (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.