Juventus welcomed Atalanta to the Allianz Stadium in the round before last of the 2018/19 Serie A season.
The Old Lady have already been confirmed as the champions, continuing the reign which has been firm for eight years now. Atalanta, on the other hand, had everything to play for in this game, which they began sitting fourth on 65 points, the same as AC Milan in fifth place, three more than AS Roma in sixth, and one less than Inter Milan in third.
Massimiliano Allegri, who has already been confirmed to leave Juventus this summer, was without goalkeeper Mattia Perin, midfielder Sami Khedira and forward Douglas Costa through injury, while striker Mario Mandžukić was a doubt but made the cut.
Wojczecz Sczeszny was in goal. Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci played in the heart defence, flanked by Joao Cancelo on the right and Alex Sandro on the left. Miralem Pjanić anchored the midfield with Emre Can and Blaise Matuidi playing around him. Juan Cuadrado was on the right attacking flank, Cristiano Ronaldo on the left, with Paulo Dybala leading the line up front.
Gian Piero Gasperini in the away dugout had to make do without Jose Luis Palomino who was suspended, as well as Rafael Toloi who was injured. Gianluca Mancini was back in the team having served a suspension of his own.
Pierluigi Gollini stood between the posts, with the trio of Andrea Masiello, Berat Djimsiti and Hans Hateboer in front of him. Remo Freuler and Marten De Roon played in the middle of the park, flanked by wing-backs Robin Gosens and Timothy Castagne. Papu Gomez played behind the two strikers – Duvan Zapata and Josip Iličić.
The First Half
The home side had a great chance to take the lead in the first minute as Cuadrado broke into the box down the right and squared it for Can, who extended the pass towards Ronaldo on the far post, but the Portuguese failed to control his shot from 10 yards.
Juventus continued their attacking efforts but Atalanta threatened back through Freuler whose shot on target from the edge of the box was saved by Sczeszny. The Polish goalkeeper was called into action immediately afterwards as the ensuing corner was deflected off one of his teammates and almost ended up in the net, and Hateboer hit the bar on the rebound from very close range. It was a great chance for the visitors.
Both teams looked to play their own game; Juventus through dominating possession and driving forward in numbers, and Atalanta by looking to exploit the space behind the home team’s high back line.
Ronaldo tried one from 30 yards low in the 12th minute, but Gollini was alert.
Both teams defended with an edge, and attacking players were often left on the ground, holding their shins. It was no surprise therefore when referee Gianluca Rocchi produced the first yellow card for Sandro in the 14th minute for a foul on Iličić, who threatened seriously twice soon afterwards.
The striker won a free-kick (off Sandro again) in a great position for a left-footed shooter some 20 yards out, and took aim himself, but he only managed to hit the wall.
But Atalanta’s pressure continued and following a corner in the 19th minute, the referee was instructed to consult VAR over the possibility of giving a penalty, but his decision was obviously that Sandro knew nothing about the ball which hit his arm.
A calmer period followed, during which Juventus found their feet and gradually pushed forward again, but the visitors threatened again in the 28th minute when Zapata broke into the box and got a shot off beside Barzagli from close range, missing the far post by an inch.
Around the half-hour mark, Juventus spent over a minute circling and penetrating the box with Dybala and Ronaldo taking centre stage, but a long pass from Gollini to Iličić reminded the champions not to get carried away. And in the 34th minute, the Croatian made them pay for their lack of concentration.
A corner bounced through the six-yard box and found Iličić completely and inexplicably free at the far post. It was as simple a goal as you’re ever likely to see.
The Old Lady looked to bounce back immediately and a very intricate move left Pjanić free to shoot, but the shot went sky-high. But Atalanta wouldn’t let them have it their own way and Zapata again came close less than a minute later, with Sczeszny forced into a great save. The game was now in full pace and then it was Dybala’s turn to have a go after some hard work from Cuadrado set him up, but his effort from 20 yards went just over the bar. It was Zapata again who could have scored next for Atalanta but he failed to get to the end of a low cross from Gomez.
Gasperini had a scare three minutes before the break with Gosens going down and needing treatment on his ankle, but the wing-back returned to the pitch quickly.
Juventus dominated the final minutes of the half but couldn’t create a proper opportunity. The halftime whistle interrupted their attack and Ronaldo earned a yellow card by protesting strongly about it.
The Second Half
Sandro was left in the dressing room at the start of the second period, making way for Federico Bernardeschi in the Juventus line-up. Cancelo switched to left-back, Cuadrado dropped back to the right defensive flank, and the shape was now 4-4-2 with Ronaldo and Dybala upfront.
The new shape was looking more effective for the home side. Cuadrado seemed much more dangerous now that he was attacking from a deeper starting position, and the midfield looked much stronger for the extra man. The individual quality of the two strikers was still enough to cause trouble for the visitors’ defence. With five minutes gone, a good cross from the right fell nicely for Ronaldo to hit on the volley, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner failed to hit the target.
But Atalanta weren’t about to give up. They soon moved forward and gave another reminder of danger at the other end, but a handball from Zapata ruined their efforts.
In the 58th minute, Dybala won a free-kick for Juventus some 25 yards out and took it himself ahead of Ronaldo and Pjanić, but he only managed to hit the wall. Two minutes later, Andrea Barzagli, set to leave the club, walked off the pitch for the last time after eight years and eight Serie A titles. Mario Mandžukić came on, and Emre Can dropped into the back four next to Bonucci.
Gasperini reacted by taking off Gosens and moving Castagna from the right to the left flank, while Gianluca Mancini coming on.
The game became a one-way street from that moment on, and Juventus attacked relentlessly. Atalanta, however, worked very hard and defended with zest, and they used every opportunity possible to get across the halfway line and stay there for as long as possible. In the minute, one such moment saw Iličić run through the middle towards the box and Matuidi clip him cynically from behind 20 yards from the goal. The Juventus midfielder got into the book for it, but Sczeszny saved Iličić’s decent effort.
In the 74th minute, Gasperini replaced Gomez with Mario Pašalić. Four minutes later, Iličić made way for Musa Barrow.
The one-way traffic continued, and even though Juventus’ attacks looked more desperate than organized, they found their equalizer 11 minutes from time. A diagonal cross from deep by Cuadrado was chased to the byline by Mandžukić, and the Croatian produced a magical touch to divert it from an extremely tight angle through the legs of Gollini and into the net.
Both teams now looked to find a winner. Zapata took a long-range shot and had it saved, and Bernardeschi did the same at the other end, before Allegri threw his final card on the table – Moise Kean instead of Matuidi.
In the first of the three minutes of stoppage time, Sczeszny misplaced a pass and gave the ball straight to Barrow who set Pašalić up for a shot from the edge of the box, but the shot went far from the target.
Juventus finished the game with 10 men as Bernardeschi made a high two-footed tackle on Barrow late on got a direct red card for his trouble.
The two teams produced a very good game of football. Atalanta were equal to the champions for large parts of the game, and even occasionally had them pegged way back, but Juventus should be congratulated on a highly professional, resilient approach to chasing the result they practically didn’t need.
Be that as it may, the team from Bergamo showed that their results this season and their high placement in the Serie A table are no fluke. This point keeps them in control of their own fate – if they win the last game of the season against Sassuolo, they will play Champions League football next season.
JUVENTUS: Sczeszny 7.5, Barzagli 6.5 (61′ Mandžukić 8.5), Bonucci 7, Sandro 5 (46′ Bernardeschi 7.5), Cancelo 7, Pjanić 6.5, Matuidi 7 (85′ Kean N/A), Can 7.5, Cuadrado 6, Ronaldo 7, Dybala 7.
ATALANTA: Gollini 7, Masiello 7, Djimsiti 7, Hateboer 7.5, De Roon 6.5, Freuler 7.5, Gosens 7 (62′ Mancini 5), Castagne 7, Gomez 7.5 (74′ Pašalić 6.5), Iličić 8 (78′ Barrow 7), Zapata 7.
GOALS: Iličić 34′, Mandžukić 79′.
YELLOW CARDS: Sandro 14′, Hateboer 28′, Ronaldo 45′, Matuidi 70′.
RED CARD: Bernardeschi 90′.
REFEREE: Gianluca Rocchi.
DATE & VENUE: May 19, 2019, Allianz Stadium, Turin.
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