Entering Sunday afternoon’s matchup in Bergamo, the thought that ran through my head was along the lines of “Juventus couldn’t really blow a third straight chance of moving into second place after a Lazio loss, could they?” We had already seen it happen twice, but a third time seemed completely possible considering who Juve were facing this weekend.
And yet, in the heat of Bergamo, Juventus didn’t repeat recent history.
Samuel Iling-Junior marked his first-ever senior level start with his first-ever senior level goal early in the second half and Dusan Vlahovic doubled things up right before the final whistle to give Juventus a 2-0 win over Atalanta in Bergamo and, more importantly, allow the Bianconeri to finally leapfrog Lazio into second place. The win by Juventus, its first away from home in nearly two months, also put some breathing room between Max Allegri’s squad and AC Milan in fifth place, with five points in between second and fifth.
It also helped that Atalanta, which entered the game shorthanded due to injuries, had what was easily their less efficient game of the season in front of goal on top of hitting the woodwork twice, including right before second-half stoppage time.
Atalanta fired high — and missed.
Atalanta fire low — and missed.
Atalanta tried to get it inside each post — and missed.
If we thought that Juventus’ last few games — basically 180 minutes of an uptick in scoring chances but a display of note really how to finish all that well on the whole — was the kind of representation of less-than stellar finishing, then Atalanta’s finishing left a whole lot to be desired.
So as much as it was Juventus defending its lead and a few times having to hold on tight as Atalanta pushed forward, they played a pretty solid game overall. With how many chances Atalanta had, there was the potential to see a lot of things go wrong. But because Atalanta couldn’t potentially hit the broadside of a barn if you offered it up to them, it was more nervy moments as opposed to more frustration away from home.
And that’s the key here, people.
So much of what Juventus has done away from home this season has been about what they haven’t done in the opposition’s home stadium. It’s been tough — really, really tough. They hadn’t scored many goals. They hadn’t been winning consistently lately. It was more about dropped points rather than solidifying their place in the standings.
But, all of the sudden, Juventus are now in second place.
So much of the months of February and March was about trying to chase down Atalanta in sixth place that it’s a little fitting that a win in Bergamo is what sends Juve into second place now that they’ve got their 15 points back until further notice.
Thank goodness they did it because a win over a top-six opponent and some momentum going into the first leg of the Europa League semifinals sounds pretty nice to me.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- I want you to sit down for this, OK? Juventus just scored two goals ... in an away game. No, really. They did that. After scoring 14 goals in their first 14 away games of the season, they just went out an scored TWO goals in the SAME game. Amazing.
- SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR!
- Seriously, though. Iling-Junior is a fun player to watch not only because he’s 19 years old and seems to be oozing with talent, but because he’s the kind of player Juventus haven’t had on its roster very often over these past few years. You combine the pace with the skills and it’s an exciting possibility of what’s to come. As rumors continue that Premier League clubs are interested in him, let’s hope Sammy Boy doesn’t have any desire to go back home just yet.
- The grin on Paul Pogba’s face when the camera cut to him after Iling-Junior’s goal ... it was like proud dad moment.
- Juventus’ four subs brought in by Max Allegri against Atalanta: Pogba, Dusan Vlahovic, Federico Chiesa and Filip Kostic. Boy oh boy it’s nice to have a full squad again.
- Then you look at the players Atalanta either had out injured or saw leave injured during the course of Sunday’s game and it’s basically two teams at different ends of the equation.
- Pogba got over a half-hour of game time in against Atalanta and that in of itself is a win.
- Chiesa touched the ball 11 times. His last touch was his assist to Vlahovic.
- That finish from Vlahovic, by the way ... that was the Dusan that I know and love. What a hit. (And, as we’ve come to find out after the game, it came as Atalanta fans were hurling racist chants in Vlahovic’s direction, so here we go again with Italy being stuck decades behind the times and doing absolutely stupid things.)
- Two straight games with a goal for Dusan. They were two really well-taken goals, too. I like the sound of that.
- Atalanta outshot Juventus 13-5 in the first half. None of those 18 shots were on target.
- Atalanta finished with 24 shots. Wojciech Szczesny had to make one save.
- That one save Szczesny had to make, off a second-half free kick from Teun Koopmeiners, was pretty dang important, too.
- Juve blocked 10 of Atalanta’s shots. Ten! That’s a whole hell of a lot of blocked shots.
- Juventus did all of that with two of their three best defenders this season, Bremer and Federico Gatti, sitting on the bench.
- Alex Sandro had SEVEN tackles. Yes, that Alex Sandro! We’re both shaking our heads.
- Do we need to check Daniele Rugani’s pocket for Duvan Zapata? Just asking for a friend.
- Rugani’s last two starts have come against Napoli and now Atalanta. He’s more than held his own in both of those matchups. Who would have guessed, right?
- Juventus’ first scoring chance came within a minute and they were pressing right out of the game for the first 10 minutes or so and I almost didn’t recognize what team I was watching.
- There was a kid who ran onto the pitch at the final whistle and instead of ushering him off in quick fashion, Juventus players like Vlahovic and Manuel Locatelli took him over to the traveling fans and celebrated with him. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile.
- That doesn’t mean everybody should start running onto the field after every game, though. Let’s not see that all of the time, OK?
- Hopefully Juventus can keep the positive vibes going against Europa League specialists Sevilla on Thursday because that would set up a nice little final few weeks of the season.