Atalanta and Juventus offered an exciting game which ended with a complete turnaround thanks to Gonzalo Higuaín. The Bianconeri defeated La Dea 3-1 in Serie A, as the Argentinian converted Juventus’ second-half efforts into goals, whilst Atalanta’s strong first-half performance was slowly disappearing.
Maurizio Sarri made the needed changes to improve Juve’s performance, but meanwhile, the lack of a natural striker in Atalanta’s squad played it’s part in them lacking the good finishing and missing on their chances.
There was no surprise in the formation that Gian Piero Gasperini chose for Atalanta. They were set-up in their usual 3-4-1-2. Pierluigi Gollini was the starter on the goalkeeping sport with Berat Djimsiti, José Luis Palomino and Rafael Tolói as his support. The midfield four contained Robin Gosens, Remo Freuler, Marten de Roon and Hans Hateboer. Mario Pašalić was the link between them and the forward line of Alejandro Gómez and Musa Barrow.
Maurizio Sarri didn’t take any risks when it comes to the scheme too. Juventus lined up in a 4-3-1-2. Wojciech Szczęsny held on to the many Atalanta shots, with the four-man defence including Mattia De Sciglio, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci and Juan Cuadrado in his new role of a right back. Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanić and Sami Khedira started in the midfield. Federico Bernardeschi was positioned right behind the front duo of Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala.
Both teams were performing possession football and trying to control the game in different stages. Atalanta managed to apply their pace in the first half and dominate completely, but thanks to the changes made by Sarri, Juventus got back on track in the second half and bypassed La Dea’s press, finding a way to exploit their defensive line. They had a pretty equal possession duration which made the game pretty intense and exciting to watch.
Atalanta were the more attack-minded team and got advantage of Juve’s inconsistency when it comes to defensive positioning. They ended the game creating 51 attacks and producing 13 shots out of them. The Bianconeri increased their attacking intensity and due to an intelligent movement in the final third managed to shoot 11 times. The teams were relying on building up from the back and weren’t able to create many counterattacks.
Looking into the data, nobody took the upper hand when it comes to winning duels, although there was a thing that tilted the scales. Juventus made more mistakes in their own half that led to their opponents’ shooting. The Black and Whites lost the ball eight times in key areas, which led to Atalanta taking advantage.
Both teams found where the weak point in the opposition’s defence is. Atalanta usually attack though the left-wing and that didn’t change. They focused their efforts out there even more since they noticed Juan Cuadrado being inconsistent in his defensive actions.
The same goes for Juventus. They couldn’t break through the left side due to Tolói’s solid performance and had to find a way and create more on the right.
The players that stood out as the biggest creative forces for their teams are Paulo Dybala and Papu Gómez. They both sent four key passes supporting their teammate’s actions in the final third and being allowed to dribble past the defenders.
Atalanta’s marking strategy
Atalanta’s marking strategy was pretty clear throughout the game. They were applying man-to-man marking and were successfully covering the ball carrier and blocking the passing lanes. La Dea’s players followed their opponents closely and didn’t give them much space for action. The area they showed weakness is in covering the space between the highly positioned defence and the midfield.
It was difficult for them to close out the space between the lines and limit Higuaín’’s movement. In the times they failed to do it though, their immediately put pressure on him/the ball carrier and cleared out.
They were occasionally trying to create numerical superiority in certain areas when defending, most frequently that happening on the flanks.
They were also applying high press and trying to pin Juventus’ defenders back. They troubled Juve’s build-up since the team was initially positioned way back in their own half and even their attacking line was dropping towards the midfield line.
Atalanta’s attacking approach and Juventus’ defensive issues
Atalanta have a really clear attacking approach which they try to implement against every opponent. They focus on their attacking ventures and rely on creating as many opportunities as possible. That’s what they tried to do against Juventus too. And as already mentioned they targeted Juve’s weak spot in this game – Juan Cuadrado. The Colombian is still getting used to his new right-back role, and expectedly his defensive actions aren’t as strong as his attacking ones.
Atalanta quickly figured out that they could succeed attacking on the left as per usual. They used their favoured strategy of circulating the ball on the right with the help of Hans Hateboer and Marten de Roon, then would switch the flanks aiming to use Gómez and attack on the left.
Especially in the first half, Juventus failed to cover all areas when defending and were leaving too much space on the flanks. They were often disturbed by Atalanta’s high press and had struggles building up properly. Their best performer was De Ligt who would perform made 21 recoveries.
Juventus’ midfield wasn’t covering their opponents tightly and allowed a lot of passes to the final third to reach their target. Atalanta’s attacking players are known for being very creative and they were free to send smart passes all over the place due to the lack of strong decision-making by Bentancur and Khedira.
What made the impression is that unlike Allegri, Sarri immediately took actions to change the worst performers on the pitch. He subbed the aforementioned midfielders to Emre Can and Douglas Costa who increased the team’s stability.
The proof of Juventus leaving too much space on the flanks is that Atalanta attempted a whole 28 crosses, completing 10 of them, compared to 4/7 for the Bianconeri.
Juve, though, were trying to limit the space between the lines and a block Pašalić’s options for a pass, since he is one of the most active players for the Bergamo team.
Despite producing that many shots (20) Atalanta were very poor in their finishing. Only seven of these shots were on the goal and they scored once. That’s s frequently occurring problem for the team, especially since the central striker Duván Zapata is out due to injury. The team is missing a player like him with natural flair in front of the goal, who could play both centrally, drop deeper and rotate on the wings too.
Gasperini relied on the 21-year-old Barrow, who didn’t manage to meet his expectations. He was forced to replace him with Muriel who is still recovering from injury and didn’t change much when it comes to the team’s attacking intensity.
Atalanta’ had their defensive struggles too. Their three-man backline was extremely highly positioned as per usual. The team was wandering between staying compact and covering the wide areas. Even though the midfielders were dropping back as support, they stayed compact which allowed Juventus to occupy the wings. There were situations though that they allowed to be stretched out, which led to them leaving gaps centrally and being exposed.
They were often forced to dive into sliding tackles (10) due to the pressure applied by Juventus. Apart from their high press, they were also trying to recover the ball and start an attack immediately. They made 81 recoveries (34 of them were made in the opposition’s half).
Their strategy was to double the pressure on the ball carrier wasn’t that well-executed all the time, although they managed to keep Juve’s attackers outside of the box on a few occasions.
Due to their mid-block Higuaín’ and Dybala were forced to drop back frequently and pick up the ball.
Higuaín’s intelligent movement
Despite the strong performance of the De Ligt and Szczęsny, undoubtedly the best performer of the night for Juventus was Higuaín. He started off the game pretty strong, creating a couple of opportunities for his team in the first ten minutes. His intelligent off the ball movement and positional flair are what made the difference for the Bianconeri.
The Argentinian sent seven shots – four on target, which resulted in scoring twice. He would easily take on his markers and was able to dribble past them on three occasions, which allowed him to finish the attacks.
His off the ball movement was crucial since he had to escape Atalanta’s mid-block and make runs to the box. He was also trying to deliver the ball to the box and support his teammate’s movement which was extremely important for their movement upfront.
Atalanta need to find a way to convert their chances into goals, otherwise, they’ll find it hard to keep the opposition away of their goal and rely on not conceding. The recovery of Zapata seems to be crucial for the team’s performance from now on since they need a natural striker upfront. Sarri, on the other side, needs to do an analysis and work on Cuadrado’s movement and how he splits his responsibilities. They also need to improve their midfield performance, since the broken connection between the lines and the poor performance by the midfielders affects their build-up immensely.
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