In the next-to-last round of the Italian Serie A, Juventus welcomed Atalanta in the match after which they celebrated their championship title win. This game was of huge importance for the visitors because they needed a good result in this one so they could remain in the Champions League spot and keep the keys of the battle for those positions in their own hands before the last round of the competition.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s team deserved at least the point from this fixture if not more since they were an equal rival to their opponent and played in a direct way creating a lot of threats in front of the opposition’s goal.
This tactical analysis will show you how the away team kept their hopes for top-class European football next year alive and how the home team managed to get the draw, not succeeding to be as dangerous as they have been throughout the whole season.
Juventus started the game in the 4-4-2 formation but with a lot of transformations during the play. Their key attacking forces were Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala who played up top, having the support of Juan Cuadrado who mostly played as a third attacker. This was the last home game for Andrea Barzagli who held the defence together with Leonardo Bonucci controlling the game out from behind.
Gasperini set his team up in his usual 3-4-1-2 formation with their strongest side because of the importance this game had for them. Their attack relied on their deadly striking trio made of Papu Gómez, Josip Iličić and Duván Zapata while Marten de Roon and Remo Freuler were in charge of the situation in the midfield.
Atalanta’s pressing game
The away team went full steam into the game from the first minute, acknowledging that they came to Turin to get the points that would give them some relief before the last game against Sassuolo. They tried to press their opponents high up the pitch in order to prevent the good passing game they had under Massimiliano Allegri, who is leaving the team after this season.
The whole visiting team was positioned very high, forcing Juventus’ players to skip the play and push their strikers to come very low so they could get the ball.
As we can see on the picture above, Atalanta tended to play in high pressing, cutting the passing lanes and basically man-marking all of the important players for the home team’s build-up. De Roon and Freuler had great roles in those situations, always being near the action and disabling Pjanić to organise attacks.
All of the attacking players in Gasperini’s team tended to get the Bosnian as far from their goal as they could, forcing him to draw himself on the flanks where he was often double-teamed and locked by them. That made it difficult for Juventus to get to the away team’s goal as fast as they did it their past games and surely affected them to modify their gameplan.
Since the visitors played with a very good high press, they managed to get the ball out of those situations where they got Juve’s midfielders in unenviable positions. Their reactions and transformations were pretty well timed and they got to have chances due to opposition’s forced errors.
The Black and Blues outmuscled the home team to play it backwards and to ask for long balls to their strikers with their organised team pressing. That meant that Allegri changed his team’s approach in order to become more dangerous and find the gaps in his opponents’ play.
Atalanta also tried to get to their chances with great transition and counter-attacking against Juventus’ high positioned defensive line. When they got their breath and started playing more relaxed, their attackers were much faster than Bonucci and Barzagli and that made it possible for Gasperini’s boys to create opportunities out of defending.
Zapata, Iličić, and Gómez exploited their pace advantage over the opposition’s defenders to get into danger zones and to threaten Szczęsny. However, they didn’t succeed in scoring from those situations even though they repeated them often during the game.
The visiting team’s offence
Atalanta played very well during the whole game not letting Juventus play their game. They did this with their dense defensive structure and the good attacking cooperation of their strikers. Gómez and Iličić once again showed how dangerous they can be in the restricted spaces, confusing defenders with both their movements and skills with the ball.
The Argentinean and Slovenian often rotated their positions creating spaces for each other and dragging guards with them in order to make that happen. They often combined between themselves in the tight areas of the pitch, making it difficult for Allegri’s team to defend against them because of their good understanding and the connection they built.
The offensive trio of the team from Bergamo had plenty of support from their midfielders and wing-backs. De Roon and especially Freuler tended to get in from the middle to help their strikers create a surplus in the final third.
In the picture, we can see how the Swiss ran in empty gaps in the half-spaces in order to get the ball and make the action go forward. He also often came near the strikers for the return passes from them, which he could turn into good opportunities for shots.
Gasperini’s team also had a plan B for when they didn’t manage to move the ball along the ground. In those situations, Zapata offered them a new option for the attack to progress with his positioning next to Barzagli who was marked as a weak link in Juventus’ defence.
The Colombian tended to lock himself near the experienced centre-back and managed to win the physical battle against him when he got the longer passes from his lower-positioned team-mates. He exploited the pace and age advantage he had over the Italian and got his team into good positions to beat Wojciech Szczęsny.
Even though they were creating chances and good situations, they couldn’t get a goal out of open play. They managed to score from a corner after Iličić used Juve’s poor defending to get the ball into the empty net after the whole team missed the ball that was sent to the near post.
Juventus’ attacking rotations
The home team needed to adjust their gameplan to counter their opponent’s high press and lack of players in the build-up they were forced to go with. In order to break through pressure more easily, they tended to change their players’ positions so they could confuse Atalanta’s defence and get the ball without guards.
Allegri’s main idea was to push the midfielders higher up the pitch while one of his strikers – most often Dybala – lowered himself so he could get into the playmaker role. Both Matuidi and Can tended to position themselves next to the opposition’s centre-backs while their number ten came closer to Pjanić and his defenders so he could organise the attacks.
Rotations were the key to Bianconerri’s actions. They relied on constant position-changing of their attackers, especially between Ronaldo and Dybala, who tended to drag themselves out of their usual positions, playing both in the central areas and next to the sidelines.
The Argentinean tended to lower himself more often then Cristiano, who bonded Atalanta’s central defenders as much as he tried to get dangerous out from the flanks. He had great communication with Cuadrado who he often switched places with in order to mess with the opposition and get into better situations for his team.
Juve also tended to create free spaces for one of the attackers by keeping the away team’s defenders attention on them by positioning themselves out of their main positions. All of the strikers tended to do fake movements and ball-asking in different parts of the pitch, especially after Mario Mandžukić and Federico Bernardeschi came in for Barzagli and Alex Sandro.
In the last 15 minutes of the match, the home team got to play their passing game and created a few good chances. They managed to get the draw in the end with Mandžukić scoring after Cuadrado’s assist. They created their opportunities through their good rotations and because Atalanta’s players’ grew tired as the game came to an end.
Juventus weren’t allowed to play their own game because of the good gameplan the team from Bergamo arrived with. They deserved to go away with the win even though they didn’t manage to score from open play. Allegri’s and Barzagli’s home farewell was marked with the away team’s great discipline and good organisation in both ways of play.
Gasperini’s boys were unlucky and became out of shape in the closing minutes of the game, which allowed their opponents to take advantage and win one point from this fixture. They celebrated it afterwards by lifting the trophy meant for Italian champions. Either way, Atalanta fully deserve the Champions League spot after that performance and if they play it this way in their last game against Sassuolo they will for sure secure it.
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