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Self-inflicted wounds kill Juventus in draw against Atalanta

A pair of horrific mistakes forced Juve to fight for a point in a game that perhaps should’ve been a win.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

It was a problem we thought this team had begun to put behind them.

For two years, Juventus had had an awful habit of shooting themselves in the foot — and occasionally several other body parts — and costing themselves points in games that they could otherwise have won. It started in earnest during Andrea Pirlo’s tenure as manager, and was one of the things that Massimiliano Allegri was brought back in to correct.

Unfortunately, it continued through much of last season as well.

This year, however, Juve had finally started to curb the unforced errors, especially during their eight-game winning run. They were beginning to show that, defensively, at least, things were slowly starting to pull together.

But that unfortunate tendency to imitate Wile E. Coyote reared its ugly head again on Sunday night while one of the teams in the league that you can least afford to let it happen against. Atalanta had started the season poorly, but came into the Allianz Stadium on a roll, scoring 13 goals in their last two matches with a young, new-look lineup that was starting to evoke Gian Piero Gasperini’s best sides from a few years ago.

It was those mistakes that saw them behind within five minutes of kickoff, and, after fighting back to take the lead before the break, cough up their advantage and again have to claw their way back to even. For the neutral, it was probably incredibly entertaining, but for the Juventino it was a series of headdesk moments. While it was impressive that Juventus showed the motivation to come back twice in their first game since the punishments for the Plusvalenza scandal were handed down, the fact is that the 3-3 draw will ring hollow for many fans who suspect that, without the glaring errors, the team could have made a major statement and taken all three points from their boogie team.

Allegri still had major absences to deal with in the form of Dusan Vlahovic, Paul Pogba, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia De Sciglio, and Kaio Jorge. But Juan Cuadrado found himself in the matchday squad for the first time since before the World Cup, and Adrien Rabiot overcame the minor muscle problem that kept him out of Thursday’s Coppa Italia match against Monza. Despite the debacles it caused last week in Naples, Allegri opted to keep the 3-5-1-1 formation that he’s been using since the beginning of November. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal behind the Brazilian defensive line of Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro. Weston McKennie started at right wing-back opposite Filip Kostic, with Nicolo Fagioli, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot between them. Angel Di Maria started in the roving role behind Arkadiusz Milik.

Gasperini wasn’t missing nearly as much, but what he was missing was important. Duvan Zapata and Davide Zappacosta were both missing due to injury, while top midfielder Teun Koopmeiners was suspended due to yellow card accumulation. He deployed a 3-4-2-1 setup, with Juan Musso at its base. Jose Luis Palomino, Giorgio Scalvini, and Rafael Toloi screened him in defense, while Hans Hateboer and Joakim Maehle manned the flanks. Marten de Roon and Ederson took over in midfield, while Ademola Lookman and Jeremie Boga played behind teenage striker sensation Rasmus Hojlund.

It was actually Juve who posed the game’s first threat when Milik received a long ball and forced Musso into a relatively routine save in the fourth minute. But, less than 60 seconds later, disaster struck. After a giveaway by Locatelli in midfield Boga found Lookman with a relatively simple entry pass in the left channel. Sandro marked the winger adequately, closing down the angle for his shot, but the power of his drive caught Szczesny off-guard, and instead of parrying it around the post he pushed it just inside it and into the net. It was an all-time howler for the big Pole, and Atalanta had an early lead.

The Bianconeri should’ve had the opportunity to even the score within two minutes when Palomino pulled Milik down by his waist as he went to chase a pass into the box. Referee Livio Marinelli waved play on, and there was no VAR call when the ball went out of play, despite a clear hug and pull around the waist by the Argentine defender. The players and fans were both incensed, and Paolmino may have received some cosmic justice for the move becuase he soon fulled up with a muscle injury, necessitating the introduction of former Juve man Merih Demiral.

Juve pressed for an equalizer, calling Musso into action twice, before another penalty shout came in the 23rd minute, when a clumsy tackle by Ederson went through Fagioli, who didn’t have the ball, and sent him crashing into Di Maria, who was chasing said orb into the box. Marinelli was again inclined to let play go, but VAR official Davide Massa buzzed him, and a short time later the ref came back from the screen pointing at the penalty spot. Di Maria stepped up to take it and frankly looked a little nervous, but his slow run-up set him up perfectly, and he sent Musso the wrong way while finishing to his right.

Ten minutes later, Juve completed the turnaround with a gorgeous-looking goal. It was triggered by Di Maria, whose deft back-heel flick got the ball to Fagioli. The young took one look up and then delivered an excellent ball into the box that was met on a short-hop half volley by Milik, who powered his effort into the net to put Juve in front.


Going into the break up a goal after the way things started seemed like a dream come true, but it all came apart within 40 seconds of the restart. Perhaps Danilo wasn’t expecting the teenage sensation Scalvini to push up as far as he was, but he passed the ball right to him. The center-back burst forward and pushed the ball to Lookman, who slipped a pass through the entire defense to Maehle, who drove the ball past Szczesny — who got a fingertip on the ball — and in at the far post to tie the score back up. It was another egregious error from a player you didn’t expect it from, and Atalanta had eagerly accepted the gift.

The turnaround was complete only seven minutes later, when the defense broke down in all the ways. Boga put some moves on Danilo in order to get a cross in, while Lookman completely lost the attention of Sandro to rise up for an uncontested header that glanced past a stranded Szczesny to restore Atalanta’s lead.

Juve had looked like they had only returned to the field in body and not in mind. Allegri threw Federico Chiesa on for Kostic at the hour mark, but he still had to sweat out a moment of extreme danger when Hojlund baited Bremer into a premature challenge and took off downfield, only to see the big Brazilian thundering back to block his shot at full stretch.

Juve were perhaps given a favorable decision in the 64th minute when Locatelli collided with De Roon and drew a whistle right at the edge of the penalty arc. Di Maria and Danilo stood over it, and when the whistle blew the Argentine ran up to the ball only to tap it behind himself for the defender. The quick move broke the Atalanta wall apart, allowing Danilo to unleash a powerful shot that likely contained all his pent-up frustration from his earlier mistake. It hit the net so hard that it travelled all the way up the net and bank out the underside of the crossbar.


The game was tied, but neither team was done as they pushed ahead for a winning goal. Chiesa danced through several Atalanta defenders and very nearly hit Milik with a brilliant through ball that was only blocked by the trailing leg of Demiral. Szczesny had to be alert to a long-range firecracker from Toloi a few minutes later and parried it away.

Juve very nearly accepted a gift of their own with 11 minutes left when Demiral gave the ball away to Moise Kean under pressure right at his own end line. Kean crossed the ball to the middle, where fellow sub Fabio Miretti was waiting, but some pressure from De Roon put him off and he only managed to tap it toward Musso from 10 yards, leaving the midfielder with his head in his hands wondering how he hadn’t given his team the lead back.

Cuadrado made his return with nine minutes left, but quickly proved to be the messed up version of Juan, producing a couple of bad crosses and a wild shot during his time on the pitch. Juve’s best chance late on came in the 85th minute, when a bunch of quick passes saw Locatelli find a good position at the top of the box, but he slipped on the turf as he released his shot and could only hit a tame ball for Musso to collect.

A couple of listless efforts to get the ball into the box in stoppage time came to nothing, and when the whistle finally blew, the team had avoided defeat, but were left wondering what they could have had had they not hurt themselves.


WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 4.5. Don’t know what on earth happened on that opening goal, but it ain’t good. We all remember 2021 when Woj got a year-long case of the yips that had a lot of people baying for his job, but he eventually recovered. Hopefully this mistake doesn’t lead to another funk, cause Juve need him right now.

DANILO - 5.5. His howler at the back was partially made up for by his excellent goal, and he led the team in tackles (4) and clearances (5). He just didn’t feel as secure as he usually does. Perhaps he’s being a little overworked.

BREMER - 7. A huge bounce-back game after the worst performance of his career against Napoli. He blocked three shots, made three tackles, and stuck close to Hojlund, largely neutralizing a player who had scored in four straight games. Also had a key pass on the other end.

ALEX SANDRO - 4.5. What. Was. That. Marking??? That’s always been the weak part of Sandro’s game, but playing as a center-back now means he has to clean that up.

WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Led the team with five interceptions, and also got a key pass in. Until Cuadrado gets his sea legs under him he’s the best option in this wing-back spot.

NICOLO FAGIOLI - 7. He’s proving he needs to stay in the starting XI. His assist was fantastic, and he had another key pass besides, Overall he completed 87.5 percent of his passes. This kid is good.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5.5. Tied for the team lead in dribbles but also misplaced more passes than you’d like to see and messed up on that late shot that could’ve been dangerous.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Oh, no. It’s Bad Rabiot. Hopefully this is just a lull stemming from the fact that he hurt himself last week, but there were a couple of bad signs early on when he didn’t quite look like he was hustling to the max.

FILIP KOSTIC - 5. Was homeboy even there in this game? The crossing that was causing so many problems for opponents before the World Cup break seems to have evaporated. Based on form the only thing really keeping him in the lineup is the fact that no one else fits the left wing-back spot.

ANGEL DI MARIA - 7. He’s come back from the World Cup meaning business, thank God. His penalty was well-taken, and he was a constant danger up front, racking up four key passes total while also making two tackles and an interception.

ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 6.5. Boy, oh boy, what a strike that was. Hit the target with two of his three shots altogether and added a key pass as well. He does what Allegri needs from his No. 9 extraordinarily well.


FEDERICO CHIESA - 5.5. Juve made a concerted effort to get him the ball once he came on, but he couldn’t produce any of the magic as he was blanketed by the Atalanta defense. Still, it shows you the respect he commands from the rest of the league.

MOISE KEAN - 5.5. Didn’t have a lot of opportunity to work, but his pressure of Demiral and subsequent ball across deserved more.

FABIO MIRETTI - 5. Really should’ve scored as opposed to pushing the ball straight at Musso with that late chance. Still, he’s being played out of position a lot of the time (as a trequartista rather than a mezz’ala) and that is on the coach.

JUAN CUADRADO - NR. There was a lot of ring rust there, and it showed.


At the very least, Allegri didn’t make the same mistakes as the Napoli game with his starting lineup. Everyone who started was in the best place for them in that formation, with the possible exception of McKennie, who nonetheless did a good job on the right wing.

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

This is one of those games where there’s really nothing I can say about Allegri, because the screwups in this game were completely on the players. Allegri could maybe have been a little more aggressive with his subs — could Matias Soule or Samuel Iling-Junior have factored in somewhere, as opposed to a Cuadrado that was deeply rusty and was showing serious decline symptoms before his injury during the World Cup break. The one issue with so many players like him coming back is that it’s going to severely tempt him to play the experience over the talent — see McKennie over Fagioli last week. Hopefully he manages to escape that and let the young players who helped power the team’s late 2022 resurgence have room to breathe.


Juve get yet another look at Monza on Sunday at home. That game will be followed by the Coppa Italia quarterfinal match against Lazio before the team finally hits the road again for a league match against Salernitana.