Back in the early stages of the 2020-21 season, the line of thinking was relatively simple: Juventus’ final week of the season would include multiple trophies being lifted, and a rookie coach showing that he has the goods to get things done at this level despite his inexperience.
But as we sit here on the eve of the Coppa Italia final between Pirlo’s Juve and Atalanta, the only trophy that the Bianconeri have their name this season is the much-desired Supercoppa, one that feels like it was won so many more months ago than in actuality considering what has happened since that celebratory night at the Mapei Stadium in January.
Juventus will be back at the Mapei for the second time in just a little over a week. They will be back in front of a stadium with fans, as there will be 4,300 tickets sold for the Coppa Italia final Wednesday night. And, most important of all, Juventus will be facing an Atalanta side they have yet to beat this season in said Coppa Italia final as they begin a massive final week of the 2020-21 season with the chance to win their second domestic trophy this year. (Obviously not the exact domestic “double” you wanted Juventus to win when the season began, but they’re still trophies.)
Juventus has won its last two games — which, based on the current status of the standings mean that this weekend’s fixture (as well as the game that Atalanta will be playing in) makes these two games about as important as Juve’s had for multiple reasons. Now, Juve hasn’t looked all that great in either of the games, with the last time Pirlo’s squad took the field being dominated by the man who was officiating the game rather than the players playing in it.
Atalanta, meanwhile, just secured another season in the Champions League come next fall. They’re unbeaten since the final weekend of March when they fell to Real Madrid, and they’ve gone on this unbeaten run that’s spanned over the last seven weeks in very Atalanta-like fashion. They’ve scored a bunch of goals while not allowing very many outside a couple of fixtures.
In short, Atalanta is closing the season in the kind of fashion we wished Juventus would have. And if Juve would have done things this way, then their Champions League status for next season wouldn’t be coming down to the final weekend of the season when they need some help to even have a chance to finish in the top four.
These are two teams in very different kinds of situations — both on and off the field — and completely different kinds of form. Atalanta are the betting favorites to win this game and claim their first-ever Coppa Italia trophy, and they should be based on how they’ve played since the last time these two teams met in Bergamo four weeks ago. Gian Piero Gasperini has his team humming and looking really, really good right now. Pirlo, on the other hand, is just about the opposite as we hit the final week of the season.
The one good thing in all of this: Juventus is coming into this game off the back of a game where they did show a sense of urgency and some semblance of grinta that has been missing for weeks on end as they slumped from second to third, third to fourth and now on the outside looking in of the top four. Maybe that will show itself once more because we all know that Juventus’ calling card over the last decade has been the trophies they’ve won and the dominance in Italy they had achieved.
And while that dominance is now over and the Scudetto patch won’t be on their brand new kits — well, technically they will be tonight and this weekend, but then they’re gone for at least one season (and potentially more) — in a few months, this is the chance to at least salvage something before the hecticness of this weekend and get a trophy to take back with them to Turin.
Plus, come on, it’s been a few years since Juve won the Coppa Italia. It’s time to end that drought. And let Gigi Buffon lift a trophy in what could very well be his last start as a Juventus player.
- Alex Sandro was the only player not called up for the Coppa Italia final.
- Leonardo Bonucci was part of the traveling party to Sassuolo and was technically called up for the game, but he will not be available to play after Andrea Pirlo announced the Italian defender is dealing with a knee injury.
- Pirlo doesn’t expect this match to be all that different than the first two against Atalanta this season. “Atalanta forces you to pick up the pace, we know it and we are ready to face it,” Pirlo said.
- “All the attacking players are doing well, so we will then decide who to start from the beginning,” according to Pirlo. Pirlo added that Paulo Dybala is doing “fine,” and the only reason why he didn’t play against Inter over the weekend was because “there were no conditions for him to enter” — which pretty much means Rodrigo Bentancur (unfairly) getting sent off changed some of Pirlo’s plans.
- Giorgio Chiellini, who was part of the pre-game press conference along with Pirlo, would not confirm or deny if this was going to be one of his last games with Juventus. Chiellini’s contract is set to expire at the end of June.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Leonardo Bonucci is out due to injury. Merih Demiral is just back from injury and has barely played in two months. That pretty much gives you just one option when it comes to who’s going to pair with Matthijs de Ligt in the center of Juve’s defense.
Go ahead and give it a guess.
Yeah, it’s this guy — even though you know who that is despite the mask covering much of his face. Then again, the buzzcut and the receding hairline probably gave it away.
Regardless, with no Bonucci — who seemed like a logical choice to team with de Ligt knowing just how Chiellini’s body isn’t exactly equipped to playing a heavy workload — Juve’s captain will likely be the one who steps in for his fellow Italian. Now, that’s not a bad thing in theory. However, knowing what kind of game Chiellini just had over the weekend against Inter in the Derby d’Italia, then not so cut and dry as it may seem.
So, if it is Chiellini starting — and, let’s be honest, this is the safer bet rather than playing the complete wild card that is Demiral — then there’s obviously some bit of concern that the performance from over the weekend doesn’t carry over to Wednesday night.
Of course, it all starts with trying to slow down Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel, the latter who is the third-highest scorer in Serie A this season behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku. They are obviously two very different kind of strikers much in the same way that Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez compliment each other so damn well. And if you thought that Atalanta parting ways with Papu Gomez was going to seriously impact the potency of the attack ... well, go ahead and think again.
Juventus has seen Atalanta in its current iteration sans Papu. That game wasn’t too long ago and Chiellini was rather solid in that game. That game obviously wasn’t coming off the back of a game in which Chiellini’s performance was absolutely all over the place, but he’s shown in the not-so-distant past that he can get the job done, at age 36, against arguably the best attacking team Serie A has to offer.
Make no mistake about it: Chiellini will have to be great against Atalanta if Juventus wants to have a chance to win. Same goes for de Ligt as well. Atalanta has been absolutely on fire lately and thinking about winning this trophy for even longer. They’ve secured a Champions League spot for a third year in a row, and now it’s all about trying to win the Coppa Italia for the first time. The thing standing in their way? The club — and their 36-year-old captain — who has won it more than anybody.
When: Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Where: Mapei Stadium, Sassuolo, Italy
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 p.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); RAI Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+, WatchESPN (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); RAI Play (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.