Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 5/4
In the middle of an extremely strange and difficult season for them, Juventus are preparing to welcome Atalanta to the Allianz Stadium on Sunday in the 19th round of the Serie A campaign. It’s a match that might throw some fresh light on the prospects of the two teams for the upcoming spring.
Juventus have already had a history with disciplinary proceedings which were very costly for the club’s standings and reputation. They worked hard for years to forget those bad memories, but the problems that have hit them now will have brought everything flooding back into the minds of their supporters.
To cut the long story short without going into the specifics, 15 points have just been deducted from Juventus’ tally for the season, dropping them from the third to the 10th place in a heartbeat. It will have surely come as a great shock and disappointment for the players and the coaching staff, and it remains to be seen how motivated they’ll be to bounce back from this huge setback. They were well on their way to ensure Champions League qualification for next season, but now, even the Europa Conference League seems like a pipe dream. Upon his departure, former club president Andrea Agnelli spoke about the failed Super League project and expressed belief that it would rise again, but from the point of view of those left behind, the policies he and his associates conducted obviously brought nothing but problems.
It should be said that Juventus have the option to appeal the docking of points, but not many are optimistic about the decision being overturned.
As has been said, the Old Lady are now in 10th place with 22 points from 18 matches, 12 points behind AS Roma as the nearest team occupying a spot leading into Europe. It’s a huge mountain to climb at the best of times, let alone now, but head coach Massimiliano Allegri has issued a public call for his players to regroup and hit back as quickly as possible. Let’s see if they respond.
Despite the recent 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Napoli at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, there were encouraging signs regarding the form of Massimiliano Allegri’s men before this disaster. They won the remaining five of their last six competitive matches, beating Hellas Verona away by 0-1, Lazio 3-0 at home, Cremonese 0-1 away, Udinese 1-0 at home, and Monza in the Coppa Italia 2-1 at home a few days ago.
Adrien Rabiot has picked up an injury and has been ruled out for this clash, along with former Manchester United star Paul Pogba and veteran centre-back Leonardo Bonucci and left-back Mattia De Sciglio. Striker Dusan Vlahovic and versatile wide man Juan Cuadrado have returned to full training, but they reportedly lack sufficient levels of fitness and their involvement is questionable at this point.
Wojciech Szczesny should be between the posts, with Danilo, Bremer and Alex Sandro forming the back line of three. Nicolo Fagioli is likely to start alongside Manuel Locatelli and Fabio Miretti in the middle of the park, though Leandro Paredes is obviously an option too. If Cuadrado isn’t fit to play, Weston McKennie could be tasked with the wing-back role on the right, while Filip Kostic takes the left side. And if the game comes to soon for Vlahovic, Moise Kean could pair up with Arkadiusz Milik upfront.
There is much less to be said about Atalanta these days as they quietly go about their business, and nobody is surprised anymore by their constant presence near the top of the Serie A table. At the moment, they’re placed right between Lazio and Roma, in fifth place with the same tally as the two teams from the capital – 34 points. With Napoli practically out of sight at the very top with 50, the remaining European places will probably be divided between these three and the two Milan giants.
Atalanta’s last-six run starts with two defeats which took place before the World Cup, 2-1 away to Lecce and 2-3 at home against Inter Milan. Since the end of the tournament in Qatar, they drew 2-2 away to Spezia, beat Bologna away by 1-2, destroyed Salernitana 8-2 at home, and did something similar to Spezia at home earlier this week in the Coppa, winning 5-2.
These last two games will have come as a great relief to coach Gian Piero Gasperini, whose team hasn’t been quite as efficient in front of goal this season as in previous campaigns. Getting 13 goals in 180 minutes of football will have lifted their spirits.
Gasperini also has some players ruled out of this game. Striker Duvan Zapata and wing-back Davide Zappacosta are both injured, and midfielder Teun Koopmeiners is suspended.
With Juan Musso in goal, captain Rafael Toloi should be joined by Jose Luis Palomino and Giorgio Scalvini in defence. With no Koopmeiners, Marten de Roon should pair up with Mario Pasalic in the middle of the park, flanked by Hans Hateboer and Matteo Ruggeri as the wing-backs. Ederson is likely to act a bit more advanced, behind Ademola Lookman and Luis Muriel upfront.
Despite their recently rediscovered goalscoring form, Atalanta are likely to find Juventus in Turin a much tougher nut to crack than Salernitana or Spezia, even with the off-pitch issues troubling the Bianconeri taken into account. A narrow Juventus win seems the likeliest outcome.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 5/4
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