At this point, seeing Inter Milan win the Scudetto seems like a forgone conclusion. It will be the official end of the Juventus decade of dominance, even though we’ve known that run has been over for weeks now. But behind Inter, there is an absolute bottleneck of clubs that are separated by not many points at all.
Just how crammed together is it?
There’s all of two points separating second place and fourth. There’s only five points between second and fifth. And the team that’s eight points behind second-place Milan in sixth, Lazio, still has yet to play the game in hand they currently have. And, just for added measure to make things all the more crazy, there’s been so much fluidity that the race for the Champions League is the most exciting thing Serie A has going for itself entering the final five weeks of the 2020-21 season.
So when two of those teams currently occupying a European spot meet one another, like when Juventus travels to Bergamo this Sunday for an afternoon encounter with Atalanta, there’s bound to be some attention thrown their way. (And this is a weekend where Serie A leaders Inter also play Napoli, so there’s plenty at stake outside of Bergamo city limits.)
Juventus, fresh off one of their best weeks in what feels like months, enters this final drive for a European place with nothing set in stone. As much as the past 180 minutes or so of game time were productive and clearly successful, nothing about their final few weeks of the season scream easy and routine. And that begins Sunday in Bergamo.
It’s almost like Juventus has two paths this weekend:
- Continue what they have been doing and keep winning, or ...
- Slip back into their old habits from much of this season and drop more points away from home like they have done so many times before.
Now, of course, this level of competition is not the likes of Benevento or Torino. Atalanta have, after some midseason drama between their manager and now-former captain, righted the ship and looked like the high-flying squad of old even if they’ve thrown in a little bit of a different look since the last time the two clubs played in Turin four months ago.
Atalanta is a team that has lost all of twice in Serie A since the middle of December, something that I’m sure a lot of us wish we could say about Juventus. (But we can’t.) And in some of those wins, we’ve seen Gian Piero Gasperini change up what has his Atalanta teams so good over the last three years, ditching their tried-and-true three-man backline in favor of a back four. That’s not something that will necessarily happen on Sunday — the predicted lineups have bounced around between three-man defense and four-man defense throughout the week — but it’s a wrinkle that Gasperini has used with success in recent weeks.
And for all we know it could happen this weekend.
But if you’re thinking this will be a boring, low-scoring match, then go back and look at the last time Juventus and Atalanta played each other in Bergamo.(Also, this makes me miss fans in the stands even though empty stadiums are such a necessity in these pandemic times.)
Now, take note of that match that’s shown above. Why? Because that’s the only time Juventus has beaten Atalanta in the last six meetings in all competitions. As Atalanta’s rise to one of Serie A’s best clubs has been accelerated the last couple of years, they’ve become one of the tougher teams for the soon-to-be former Italian champions to beat.
And with this being the second chance in less than two weeks to face another team trying to finish in the top four and get one of Italy’s Champions League spots, Juventus is going to have to do something they haven’t done much of this season — try and win a third straight game against Serie A opposition. The last two games have gone rather well, but we know that Atalanta is a totally different animal than Napoli and Genoa.
It will be a test of the mettle of Juventus squad as much as any game has been in weeks. And maybe, just maybe, they will rise to the challenge just like they did against Napoli.
- Juventus will be without Cristiano Ronaldo due to a flexor injury. The goal is to try and have him back for the midweek game against Parma, according to Andrea Pirlo.
- With Ronaldo out, Paulo Dybala will be stepping into the starting lineup for the first time in three months.
- Federico Bernardeschi is still out due to his positive COVID-19 test earlier this month.
- Leonardo Bonucci, however, is back in the squad after officially recovering from COVID-19 on Monday. Whether he is fit enough to start after not playing for nearly three weeks remains to be seen, with Pirlo saying that Bonucci has mostly done side work as he tries to get back to full fitness.
- The full squad list for the trip to Bergamo is as follows:
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
When you’re facing one of the highest-powered attacks in all of Italy, it’s only natural to think that your defense is going to be under pressure for a decent chunk of the game. And since Juventus’ defense has been ... let’s just say less than stellar at certain points of this season, it’s pretty safe to assume that there’s a good chance they’re going to be rather busy Sunday afternoon.
And that means the guy pictured below is going to be needed to be a thick-thighed wall.
Matthijs de Ligt has not been picked for this section because he’s struggling or anything close to it. Because he’s not. He’s coming off a very good game against Genoa — and that’s even with his slip up in the box leading to the only goal Juve allowed last weekend.
But de Ligt is here because he is going to be the most important player that Juve’s defense has to try and slow down an Atalanta squad that has scored 11 goals in their last four games. (And, as you might expect, all of those four games have been wins.)
We don’t know who is starting alongside de Ligt — which is something that hasn’t been the case lately since Pirlo hasn’t exactly had options to choose from. But for one of the few times all season, Pirlo now has all four of his natural central defenders available for selection, and who’s starting next to de Ligt is a little bit of a guessing game even though many are predicting that it will remain status quo from the last few weeks and it will be Giorgio Chiellini.
No matter if it’s Chiellini, Bouncci or Merih Demiral, the fact still remains that de Ligt is going to have to be at the top of his game if Juve want to prevent this from becoming an absolute shootout. And when you’re facing a team with the likes of Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel leading the attack, there’s always a very good chance of exactly that happening.
We’ve talked a lot lately about de Ligt being a future building block for the new Juventus project — whatever that project may end up being — that is likely to be kicked into overdrive during the summer. But to ensure that he can actually be that, getting a big-time showing — insert quadzilla joke here if you want — in the present day will go quite a long way in helping Juventus make the Champions League. (and thus having enough money to pay some high salaries).
When: Sunday, April 18, 2021
Where: Gewiss Stadium, Bergamo, Italy
Official kickoff time: 3 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 2 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 9 a.m. Eastern Time; 6 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Serie A (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.