Atalanta came into the game off the back of a run of twelve straight wins in all competitions, including 3 clean sheets previous to this meeting with Juve. The hosts suffered a surprise defeat to Milan and Sarri would be keen to put his side back on the right track towards the Serie A title. Both teams fielded a fairly predictable lineup, the biggest surprise perhaps being Pjanic dropping out and Matuidi coming back in, thus giving Bentancur a deeper role. De Ligt came back in at the heart of defence and Dybala slotted into the attack at the expense of Higuain. For Gasperini’s side, Palomino came back in after suspension, De Roon partnered Freuler in midfield, and Castange came in on the left for Gosens who was injured in the warm-up.
A tale of two halves;
Juventus made the better start of the teams, seizing the initiative first when Dybala received a straight pass through to his feet, and skipped away from Palomino, earning an early free-kick. This was to be an interesting question for the match – could Dybala (and later, as we saw, Ronaldo) make runs in and behind the Atalanta defence to make a direct route work for them? The ensuing free-kick came to nothing, but served as a potential indication as to what Juve’s intentions could be, with Bernardeschi combining with Dybala on the right hand side, and looking for chances in behind. Dybala’s movement dropping deep between the lines, and drifting out to the right, was something Atalanta had to identify as a threat from early on.
We then saw a shift in momentum. A brief warning sign for Juve occurred when Castagne ran down the left, after some nice interplay, and fired a cross in to Zapata, which he headed over. The Colombian striker was able to wander into the penalty area in space after his lay-off to Castange. The focus of the away side’s attentions continued down the left, aided by Zapata’s ability to receive the ball to his feet with his back to goal whilst holding off the defender, and play a simple pass to keep the move going. This encouraged Gomez over to the left as well, and at one point just after 7 minutes in, when the ball was fired into Zapata’s feet, he controlled it and played it out wide to Castagne again. But just after this move, Gomez gestured at Zapata that he wanted the return ball back inside, as he’d run into the space in the box and had a clear path to goal. De Ligt’s attention remained attracted to Zapata, in what seemed a good battle between the two, despite a painful foot into the downstairs regions of De Ligt midway through the half.
With Juve dropping off, Atalanta continued their probing and spells of possession, which was rewarded on 16 minutes with the first goal of the game. It didn’t directly come from a period of concentrated possession, but rather Freuler winning the ball back fantastically in midfield from Dybala. This then presented Gomez with the ball in a position where he could run past Bentancur, lay the ball off to Zapata and continue a run towards the edge of the box. When he received the ball back from Zapata, he swivelled to turn back inside De Ligt and poke a pass back into Zapata’s path. The Colombian striker had used his strength to get right-side of Bentancur who could then do nothing to stop Zapata from racing to goal and calmly slotting home. Rather than the measured build-up that Gasperini’s side had been practicing, the goal was more a case of catching Juve in a state that Gomez could expose the space and engineer a chance for Zapata, without the covering bodies of Bernardeschi or Cuadrado, both of whom were appealing for a free-kick and didn’t chase back in time. Incidentally, midway through the first half, Atalanta produced a similar opportunity to the goal – this time Castagne with a good tackle to dispossess Cuadrado, leaving him out of position and the Belgian to run down the wing with the ball, although ultimately running it out of play at the byline.
The two number 10s – Dybala & Gomez
Dybala appeared as Juve’s best performer, and best chance of a breakthrough, receiving the ball between the lines and looking to turn sharply to get behind Atalanta’s defence. Kind of a cross between Gomez and Zapata at the other end, Dybala would be the one to receive the ball back-to-goal, and look to drop deep and dart into the spaces as well. Palomino, in particular, had a problem to think about when asserting pressure on Dybala; a fine line between giving him too much space to operate and getting too tight and exposing the potential to get turned or put into a foot race. De Roon was better equipped to do this further up the pitch, when Dybala dropped deep, which is a more tiring job to do, but a less risky one. This was the case just over the half-hour mark, when De Roon stepped in to intercept a pass to Dybala from deep, regain possession, and ultimately lead to a dangerous cross from the left by Castange, which whistled just over Zapata’s head. There is sometimes a psychological edge to this pressure on Dybala around the centre-circle. If he does lose the ball under pressure after coming deep, and Atalanta mount an attack as a result, he then tends to avoid coming deep again if Juve retain possession. This makes it even harder for Juve to find an out-ball, and allows Atalanta more chances of forcing their opposition into playing a speculative pass once more.
One of the main routes to goal that Sarri’s side identified was a more direct one, where Dybala and Ronaldo could run in behind the defence with the hope off receiving a pass to set them through on goal. They had the pace and precision to do this, but never seemed to create the clear-cut opportunity to take advantage. As pointed out in commentary, the dynamic is a little different without a focal point of Higuain or Mandzukic of last season, like Gasperini’s side have in Zapata. Ronaldo and Dybala were useful out wide and drifting in, but not incisive in their link-up when it came to trying to break clean through on goal.
Papu Gomez had a fantastic half, where he arguably pulled the strings, helping to create the goal and retain possession, whilst playing a number of different positions and roles. He occupied a vast amount of ground, sometimes floating out wide, and often situating himself in gaps in the centre. This also included deep into his own half, all the way from one penalty area to the other, which was a great help to his team, not just in transitions, but also in terms of dictating the tempo. Gomez could be used to play short simple passes to start an attack, or keep the ball to reorganise and solidify the shape. He even tried some long-range passes from deep, which he generally did with accuracy.
Gomez appeared more effective in his role than his counterpart Dybala at times, for a variety of reasons, the main being that Dybala was occupied with trying to make runs in behind the Atalanta defence, whereas the away side had Zapata as a focal point. Gomez was given relatively free reign to roam around the pitch, without much detriment to the attack, still being afforded the opportunity to get involved at key moments going forward. Neither number 10 spent much time in central areas in the opposition half, playing a similar, albeit rather unique, role.
If we compare that to the game earlier in the season, Gomez was partnered with Barrow and Pasalic then, and spent more time on the left wing. In the latest match, he probably felt like he had more freedom to move around, and his influence was felt all over the pitch. Zapata certainly helps this with his hold up play as a target man.
Juve came out for the second half with renewed urgency, and started in a better manner. They tried to take the initiative by keeping the ball and dictating the play, and even when Atalanta moved up the pitch with the ball, Sarri’s side worked hard to stay in shape and win it back. Matuidi won the ball back to try and relieve the pressure in one instance, but Ronaldo couldn’t make the ball stick and lost possession. The equalising goal came about, although harsh on the away side, through some constructive play from Juve. It started with Rabiot and Cuadrado pushing up and pressuring their opponents, ultimately forcing Djimsiti to pass it long and direct and give away possession. Bonucci then played a quick pass through midfield to Dybala, which set Juve on the front foot for the attack. Dybala drifted out left and crossed the ball into De Roon’s arm. The decision looked harsh, with De Roon’s arms tucked in as he turned away form the ball, but the grey area surrounding hand-ball decisions provides a confusing debate; some saying it was an arm slightly away from his ‘natural silhouette’, others will maintain his movements were natural and there was no intent to extend towards the ball. Either way, Ronaldo confidently dispatched the penalty, Gollini with no chance after waiting to see which way Ronaldo would strike it.
Alex Sandro came on for Danilo, and Douglas Costa on for Bernardeschi around the 56 minute mark. Two relatively straightforward changes, that aimed to keep the momentum in Juve’s favour after the equaliser. Costa’s pace in behind could also potentially cause problems, as he looked to spin past Djimsiti. Costa generally stayed quite far over to the right when he came on (switching to the left for a bit later on), and Ronaldo recognised the benefit of this at times, allowing him to make a run through the middle, Costa nearly found him on one occasion with the keeper catching the pass. Gasperini retaliated by bringing on Pasalic for Ilicic, who slotted into the middle of the pitch, thus pushing Gomez further forward. Pasalic got booked within minutes of coming on, maybe harshly, as Matuidi skipped past. Matuidi and Rabiot were impressive in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, and clearly looked to exert energy and tenacity into the team’s performance. However, Pasalic showed signs of good link-up with the front-men, with a chance on 65mins as he played a one-two into the area but a good interception prevented a clear-cut chance. Cuadrado had switched off and let Pasalic go past him easily into the box.
Perhaps the bravest adjustment came from Gasperini on 66 minutes, when he made a double change to replace Gomez and Zapata (arguably two of the best players on the pitch thus far) with Malinovskiy and Muriel. Having said that, the replacements were of substantial quality, further showing how much Atalanta have improved in recent times with very good strength in depth. Gomez was always going to be a candidate to be replaced with tiring legs, but the adaptation of the system without him on the pitch didn’t seem like it was particularly tricky, and watching eyes were keen to see the impact of the Ukrainian replacement. Malinovskiy went over to the right-hand side and Muriel took place through the middle up front, looking to add to his impressive goalscoring record from the bench. The two combined, first with Muriel doing well to win the ball from De Ligt, then Malinovskiy receiving a pass but firing just wide of the target. Higuain replaced Dybala, with an attempt to give the home side the benefits of a more recognised centre-forward for the final twenty minutes. Juve looked to play quickly and into Higuain, as Atalanta pushed up, with the striker trying to evade the offside trap to link with Ronaldo. Gasperini made his final changes with 15 minutes left to play, with Caldara and Tameze coming on for Freuler and Palomino. The risk here for Atalanta was that the changes would disrupt their flow, and it felt slightly like the emphasis was now on Juve to go and push for the winner.
Sarri’s side almost achieved this, with another long pass from Cuadrado to the onrushing Ronaldo, who controlled it and forced Gollini into a smart save. The differences from the first half showing slightly, with Cuadrado in a lot of space, Atalanta maybe not into the same rhythm as before. However, the game was turned on it’s head on 80 minutes, when the two subs combined for the away side to fire home a second goal. Muriel picked up the ball in an area to the left of the box, and picked out Malinovskiy in a central position, who fired home from the edge of the area with his ‘weaker’ right foot. Juve will be disappointed with the amount of space afforded to opposition players coming in to the edge of the area, with Hateboer also running in, and Matuidi not picking up the goalscorer in time. The quality of Gasperini’s subs looked to have paid dividends. Sarri responded straight away bringing on Ramsey for Matuidi, with Rugani ready on the touchline but then sent back to the dugout in what must have been a change of mind. Malinovskiy looked for another goal for the away side, turning inside Rabiot and evading the slide of Bentancur to get a shot away but dragging it wide.
Just as it looked like Atalanta would be able to see the game out for a priceless victory, Juve claimed a penalty in similar fashion to the one earlier in the half. Atalanta were even more unlucky this time, with the chain of events leading to the penalty including a corner that resulted from a free-kick that was given after Hateboer received a booking for a foul which seemed like he got the ball. When Higuain kicked the ball up into Muriel’s outstretched limp arm, Atalanta hearts sunk, and inevitably Ronaldo drilled in the penalty to grab a 2-2 draw. Both hand ball decisions will leave the Atalanta players feeling what more they could have done about the penalty decisions and how the law can be adapted to iron out such occurrences. But Juventus’ second half performance was one that showed more fight and more drive than the first, culminating in an exciting game that became more open and more unpredictable. Gasperini will be pleased with the performance, not just in the first half, but of his substitutes in the second. The control on the possession and the match in general wasn’t as tight in the second 45 minutes, but in very hot conditions and in a hectic & highly important game for both sides, it goes a long way to proving Atalanta’s worth in the top 3 sides in Italy. Sarri will be eyeing the Serie A trophy with more than a glint in his eye after the result here at the Allianz Stadium.
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Juventus 2-2 Atalanta
(Ronaldo (p) 55′, Ronaldo (p) 90′; Zapata 16′, Malinovskiy 80′)Tweet