Thank goodness we have Atalanta. After another season where Juventus have been allowed to sleepwalk to the Scudetto, the Dea put their traditional rivals to shame last night, holding them to a 2-2 draw in Turin. Two penalties stopped Atalanta from taking all three points and, staying true to form for the Calcio community, the debate quickly escalated into whether they should’ve been given at all, but there were far more pressing matters for the Bianconeri to consider. If there were any doubts before, their visitors made sure there aren’t any now.
In no way should this blog be construed as a case of Juve’s failings being the primary motivation for the result. Atalanta proved their status as the best team in Italy on current form, doing their bit to stop us from falling out of love with football during the coronavirus pandemic by serving up some swashbuckling football. Milan must be similarly commended for their 4-2 win, but the difference is Gian Piero Gasperini’s side dominated the Old Lady away from home, facing a full-strength team that included Paulo Dybala and Matthijs de Ligt.
Sarri has a huge job on his hands. Tasked with transforming Juve’s style of play, that couldn’t happen without some sort of transition period – or, in other words, a season possibly without silverware. Chelsea even showed them what not to do with him last term. Although he won them a Europa League and qualified them for the Champions League, fans were generally unhappy with what they perceived to be a pedestrian brand of football. He was also insufficiently backed in the transfer market as only Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Gonzalo Higuain came in.
Judging by how the Sarri effect is already fizzling out, it seems Andrea Agnelli and his fellow board members didn’t take much notice. Last summer should’ve marked the start of a revolution, when the older guard began to make way for a younger, more proactive type of player. Instead, they looked dazed and confused against Atalanta, stuck between their past and present. After years of being drilled by Max Allegri, the club was wrong to expect much of his squad to suddenly discard the formula that had just won an eighth straight Scudetto.
Even worse, Agnelli and co. were wrong assume Juve’s players could suddenly adapt to ‘Sarri-ball’. It’s said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that’s the Bianconeri right now - bored dogs with no desire to change. Rather tellingly, after Cristiano Ronaldo equalised from the spot last night, he didn’t pick the ball out of the net or run straight back to the centre-circle. Instead, he was happy to perform his trademark celebration with his teammates not far behind. For a team who pride themselves on winning at all costs, that was hardly the case.
Maybe the celebrations were a sense of relief at how they had a route back in after a first half where Atalanta played them off park, particularly in central midfield. Juve once had the luxury of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, who could do it all, scoring more than 20 league goals in each season between 2012 and 2015. In contrast, their midfield men this term have so far managed a meagre seven. Compared to the Orobici’s 15, It confirms just how safe they’ve become and what little impact Aaron Ramsey has had since arriving from Arsenal.
Rodrigo Bentancur may grow into the ‘regista’ role, but his development will be bottlenecked for as long as he is partnered with the likes of Blaise Matuidi, Adrien Rabiot and Sami Khedira. Miralem Pjanic being swapped for Arthur Melo is a step in the right direction, but Sarri will need much more than the Barcelona man. The lame nature of Juve’s midfield reached a new low when Atalanta prevented them from venturing into their half for eight minutes. Not only can’t they score but, as yesterday’s visitors showed, they can’t press properly either.
Atalanta’s all-out attacking approach is rightly winning all the plaudits, but their ability to unearth hidden gems is what truly sets them apart. Whereas Ramsey, Alex Sandro, Douglas Costa and Gonzalo Higuain all struggled to make an impact for Juve off the bench, Ruslan Malinovskyi was silky and spritely, blasting in his side’s second goal. A special mention also goes to Adrien Tameze. The 26-year-old barely played for Nice before January yet didn’t put a foot wrong during his cameo, slotting straight in for Remo Freuler and recycling possession like a seasoned pro.
Scoring two penalties in one game like Ronaldo did is no mean feat, but it also shows how far Juve have fallen that they are relying on spot-kicks just to draw a game, regardless of the opposition. Atalanta’s strong form since the restart is probably too little too late for the Scudetto and the Bianconeri sit eight points clear at the top, going into the final six fixtures. They have set the bar in Serie A for the past eight years, with no-one able to come close to them, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact this Juve will be the worst of the lot to win the title.
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