Juventus and Atalanta played to a goalless draw on Sunday in what is a “choose your own adventure” story vis-a-vis Max Allegri’s approach to the game.
Adventure 1: Minus his top two strikers, the coach employed a pragmatic and conservative — albeit insipid — game plan that earned the Old Lady a point away from home against a decidedly top-seven Serie A opponent. Or, if you like, Adventure 2: Fearing the vulnerability that truly going for a win would endow on his team, the coach essentially bowed to cowardice against a good team that Juventus should still aim — every time, home or away — to defeat.
Juventus offered essentially nothing offensively for the first third of this game. In the opening minutes in a buzzing atmosphere, Juventus sat back in an organized block as if they were guarding a 1-0 lead with a 3-0 lead on aggregate in the second fixture of a Champions League tie. There was no desire to play forward or attack meaningfully; it just clearly wasn’t part of the plan. The press that has been a feature of some of the team’s early games was clearly not in the plans against Atalanta.
Atalanta, frankly, were unlucky not to score against this allegedly stout defense, as Davide Zappacosta flubbed not one but two opportunities. To be fair, the first was a somewhat difficult volley, but he scuffed the attempt so bad he actually set himself up for another chance which he also missed. Andrea Cambiaso had gone inside to follow a run, so we’re probably looking at Rabiot as far as Zappacosta being completely unmarked.
Juventus finally managed a shot on goal after a corner kick when Nicolo Fagioli attempted a decent shot through a crowd. In the end it was fairly easily pushed aside, made tricky only by the defenders who, confoundingly, were attempting to avoid the shot rather than block it (Chiellini would be shocked).
After conceding possession almost entirely for the opening phase of the game, Juventus balanced the scales the rest of the way and produced another shot on goal a few minutes later when Federico Chiesa and Moise Kean played a little two-man game. Freddy dropped back to receive the ball, turn, and then find Kean who held the ball up well and then split two defenders. Chiesa wanted the ball played back to him, but Kean lined up for a shot on goal without too much sting.
Several minutes into the second half Chiesa had probably Juventus’ best chance on the day after a long ball from Danilo ricocheted off a couple Atalanta players fortuitously to Chiesa, but the left-footed effort was beamed directly at Musso.
The longer the game went on, the more you felt like both sides were going to be happy with a draw. Wojciech Szczęsny managed to make sure that remained the case when he produced an absolutely world-class save on a Luis Muriel free kick around the 73rd minute, but the Juventus goalie did nearly concede in the final minutes when he spilled a rebound that should not have been spilled. Still, that save on Muriel is one for the career highlight reel.
Atalanta were the only side threatening in the final 20 minutes of the game, with Juventus, in the end, quite lucky not to concede and drop all the points. And therein lies my head-shaking disapproval with the approach: sure, you got the point, but it required Lady Fortune to be on the Old Lady’s side multiple times. This Atalanta side are nothing to be afraid of as they are still figuring things out. In the end, it doesn’t feel good as a fan to watch your team clearly play for a draw. That’s not going to cut it if the goal is even just the top four.
Wojciech Szczęsny — 7.5. Juve’s Polish keeper completed 11 of 15 long balls and single-handedly earned the Bianconeri a point with his world-class save on the Muriel free kick. Both of those reasons are why he stays between the sticks, as solid as Mattia Perin is.
Federico Gatti — 6. A few clearances and one very, very important block in the dying embers of the game on a shot that might’ve troubled Szczęsny. He’s done well rebounding from the disastrous outing a couple fixtures ago (well, mostly ... there were a couple iffy moments).
Danilo — 7. Blocked a couple shots, cleared a few balls, but more than anything did a solid job of orchestrating the defense in a 90-minute block that demanded constant attention and focus. Atalanta is still trying to figure out their new players, but they’re Gian Piero Gasperini-coached all the same and a tricky opponent. Juve’s captain has been a great and steady player this year.
Bremer — 7. Let’s hope that the early exit was indeed merely cramps, because Juventus can’t afford to lose him for any meaningful amount of time. Like Danilo, he’s reaching an impressive level of consistency. The two Brazilians not only pair well together, but help make up for some of Gatti’s greenness. I hope he wears the shirt for a very long time.
Andrea Cambiaso — 5.5. We’ve not seen the youngster play terribly well since his first game in the shirt. A complete non-threat in the offensive phase of the game.
Adrien Rabiot — 6. As Danny mentioned, a little bit of a strange game for Rabiot, who scored well on his tests but was sort of forgetful on the field. If nothing else, he didn’t do a two-years-ago Rabiot mistake that cost Juve a goal.
Manuel Locatelli — 6.5. Juventus’ best midfielder on the day. Locatelli completed 8 of 10 long balls against Atalanta.
Nicolò Fagioli — 5.5. Not the best game for Nicky Beans, although he did have Juventus’ first shot on goal that was a nice effort through traffic.
Weston McKennie — 6. A hard-working performance with nothing particularly flashy to show for it, but he was better than his starting counterpart on the opposite flank. For an American who floundered on loan last year and has received a lot of criticism, he’s playing consistently solid as a right wingback.
Federico Chiesa — 6.5. Freddy Church did about all he could but was not in a great position to make things happen. He did manage one threatening shot but the ball banged right off the Atalanta goalkeepers gloves.
Moise Kean — 5.5. Tough day for Kean in his first start of the season. Only 28 touches in 74 minutes, and only one shot during that span which was an easy save from the keeper. Showed a couple glimpses of dribbling and hold-up, but for the most part a non-factor like the rest of the Juventus attack.
Fabio Miretti — 5.5. Despite WhoScored telling me Miretti wasn’t dispossessed, I distinctly remember the youngster losing the ball in what appeared to be a promising attack. He’s not improved the way one would’ve liked from last year.
Kenan Yıldız — 5.5. Tried to buzz around and make a nuisance of himself and be available for movements forward, but hardly was able to get involved with only eight touches in 20 minutes of playing time. If the top strikers are out for an extended period of time, the young Turk will need to show more palpably what all the optimism is about.
Filip Kostić — 5.5. The Serbian came in alongside Miretti around the 67-minute mark and didn’t do a whole lot. I remain unconvinced with regards to the fit with Chiesa, although I love Kostić as an individual player.
Timothy Weah — NR. Still waiting for Weah to break out more. He’s got the speed, and as we saw on his recent international duty he can score goals. He just needs the right moment at Juventus.
Daniele Rugani — NR. Entered the game when Bremer left due to cramps and performed fairly well in a tense period.
How you view Allegri’s approach to this game from the get-go is going to be how you evaluate the outcome. As much as I want to say, “This is Juventus; we should face any team on the planet looking for a victory,” I’m not sure reality squares with the mentality. That said, I don’t look at this Atalanta side and see anything that should’ve caused such a trepidatious angle. Juventus should’ve been looking for the win, and it’s disappointing to have walked into the fixture in that posture.
Woj saved a point with the free kick save, but Atalanta also flubbed several solid chances all by themselves. Allegri’s game plan worked to (literally) a point, but he’s damn lucky it did. The only consistency achieved so far this campaign has been inconsistency; without European competition, this needs to change sooner rather than later. It feels like there’s still very little identity, and perhaps even less intensity, to this team.
Since the emphatic statement win against Lazio, Juventus have dropped a terrible game to Sassuolo, squeaked by Lecce for all three points, and escaped Bergamo somewhat luckily with a point. The players and coaches now have five full days to prepare for the Derby della Mole on Saturday at Allianz Stadium, and it’s time to get back to winning ways.