A hard-earned win to welcome back Antonio Conte last weekend in Sicily – notwithstanding a similar grind midweek in the first coppa tie – Juventus began the weekend a full 4 points clear at the top of the Serie A table. Combined with a Saturday Lazio win over Inter during their Saturday tie, Juventus went into Sunday with the chance to extend their lead as much seven full points after 17 weeks of play.
MATCH ANALYSIS (from John Cascarano and Football Italia)
Antonio Conte appropriately had his old side to deal with at this critical stage, as Juventus welcomed the far less merda-y nerazzurri to Juventus stadium. Atalanta loves to play spoilers, while Juventus would enter the weekend a bit understaffed. They’d have to do without a suspended Leonardo Bonucci, punished for comically impersonating a French soldier staring at a German with the Eiffel Tower at his back – and will some way, somehow, have to try and do our best to cope without Nicklas Bedntner for the next three months.
In place of Boner, Conte decided to replace him with another converted central midfielder cum libero, in Luca Marrone, while Giovucinic would be the tandem of choice atop Conte’s standard 3-5-2. Atalanta had their own injury woes to deal with, and would line up in a 3-4-2-1ish of their own, trying to mirror their opponents.
The game started rather quickly. After mere seconds, Mirko Vucinic decided not to be the Mirko as of late, quickly burying the first goal off of a lovely pass by Giovinco and determining that no giants would be slain today. Atalanta, to their credit, came back aggressive and nearly equalized a short while later, although Gigi Buffon would make sure that a lapse in the Juve backline would not result in a goal from a fast break. It wouldn’t last long, however, as Giovinco would uncharacteristically use his slightness to his adavantage, earning a free kick in la zone Del Pirlo di Pirlo. Andrea would not disappoint, burying another free-kick goal, making the 13th minute the moment when I knew I would be able to watch the remainder of the game in peace.
2-0, game… set… match.
Well, the game would continue to get better, and I only grow more satisfied with the team’s performance in the first half. The team would not take their foot of the gas – not just yet, at least. Just minutes later, the 16’ began an excellent run of play. Claudio Marchisio would continue his ascendant form, picking out Vucinic at the top of the box with a gorgeous low pass, who would move the ball to Giovinco, who battled the entire way to try and get the shot off, and fight to win the ball back. With the ball still in play Vidal kept the fight going, then Lichtsteiner, and finally, Luca Marrone with an ambitious shot that put pressure on the defense, deflecting out for a corner. No goal would come of this moment, but it made me smile nonetheless.
A second yellow for Diego Forlan Manfredini in the 32’, just minutes after Marchisio put Juventus up 3-0 off a deflected shot, and that would be all she wrote – although it was over far earlier. Guglielmo Stendardo replaced Giacomo Bonaventura, the defender ending a week of controversy after he skipped the Coppa Italia game with Roma so he could sit an exam for his law degree. His introduction moved Atalanta to a four-man defence, but it remained all Juve with Consigli denying an Arturo Vidal right-foot effort.
Consigli dealt with a Giovinco left-foot finish, then the Atomic Ant had the ball in the net from a Stephan Lichtsteiner through ball, but was flagged offside. Substitute Fabio Quagliarella also had a goal correctly disallowed after he pounced on a Consigli parry. Consigli did well to beat away a rising Giovinco strike at the near post, then the striker ballooned over from a very promising position. Quagliarella was eager to get on the scoresheet, but Consigli kept the scoreline down.
LE PAGELLE (by Aaron Giambattista)
Buffon 7 – Fantastic 1v1 save on Denis. It kept Juve’s clean sheet, and certainly hurt Atalanta’s morale. Otherwise had nothing to do.
Barzagli 7 – Another superb display from the Fiesole-born defender. Gave absolutely no space to Atalanta’s attack, deservedly given a rest for Padoin.
62′ Padoin 6 – Provided width and coverage in an effective manner. Still, strange to play him at RB.
Marrone 6.5 – Luca needs to play more, but he’s certainly solidified his role as the vice-Bonucci. Solid defending combined with good passing from the heart of defense- the central defender role in a 3 man defense requires a lot of responsibility, being both playmaker and the last defender, but young Luca always looks up to it. Why won’t Conte ever play him as a midfielder, though?
Chiellini 7.5 – A monster in defense. Destroyed every attacking play that came his way, Keyser Giorgio is in some incredible form right now. Pressured Atalanta very high up, which provoked two major incidents in the match- an assist to Marchisio, and a second yellow for Manfredini. A colossus.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 – An endless train on the right flank of midfield. Completely locked down any attack coming from his side, and got up the pitch to spread Atalanta wide. Not as incisive as against Palermo, but a fantastic display. Isla hasn’t helped his cause, but Stephan has won the duel without question.
Vidal 7 – An unstoppable force on the right side of the pitch. Between Lichtsteiner and Vidal, Atalanta was completely unable to get down their left side of the pitch. Nearly scored a goal too, and really should’ve, hitting wide from about 5 yards out.
Pirlo 8 – Another magisterial display from il Maestro. Pinpoint passing, unrivaled vision, and of course, a sensational free kick to make it 2-0. Andrea was back to his absolute best against his hometown regional rivals Atalanta.
Marchisio 7.5 – A motor in midfield. Recovered balls, created space with his movement, and defended with grit. He’s been quietly brilliant in the last month, and capped a fine display with a long range goal- it may have taken a slight deflection off Stefano Lucchini, but it was a great hit.
70′ Giaccherini s.v. – Came onto a game that was already dead.
Asamoah 6 – Covered Schelotto well, but wasn’t decisive on the other end. The Ghanaian started his career at Juventus in an unstoppable fashion, but has had a significant dip since then. He’s still playing well, just not as phenomenal as in September. It may be worth giving De Ceglie more of a look-in, who couldn’t compete with Asamoah’s form before- but might be able to now. Considering Kwadwo will be gone to the African Cup of Nations soon, it’ll happen regardless of whether Conte chooses to or not.
Vucinic 7 – It had been nearly a year since Mirko scored at home, and bagged a goal quickly into the match to set the tone. Looked dangerous and creative, his strength and finish for the goal was fantastic. Played a bit more advanced than normal, but it worked well with Giovinco.
51′ Quagliarella 6.5 – Fabio was frozen out of the squad recently for his outburst against Alessio when subbed off against Milan, but was brought back into the team for Atalanta. Looked very hungry and motivated, he popped a few shots here and there, and like Giovinco, scored a goal correctly chalked off for offside. An added weapon.
Giovinco 7 – An electrical performance. Set up Vucinic, won the foul for Pirlo’s goal, and constantly threatened Consigli. Had a number of shots on goal and even scored, but was slightly offside for the finish. Still not quite at his Parma levels, but I think he’s starting to convince his doubters that he can add something to this team.
Conte 8 – A perfect match. Iron tight defense, ruthless offense, and a midfield that couldn’t be beaten. And for once, Conte actually used substitutes in a good way, giving key players like Vucinic, Barzagli, and Marchisio a bit of rest for Padoin, Giaccherini, and Quagliarella, all who deserve more playing time to prove themselves.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP (by Aaron Giambattista)
Juventus has played their second to last match in 2012, and the last game at home. With two matches to go, Juventus has assured themselves the title of Winter Champions, since Inter and Napoli both lost this weekend. In the last 17 years, the Winter Champions have gone on to win the Scudetto 13 times. The club is 7 points ahead of 2nd place, with unquestionably the best defense in the league (10 goals in 17 games, next closest is 17 goals conceded in 17) and the 2nd best offense in the league, only 2 behind Roma.
The club navigated the 3 tournament congestion in the fall with 3 different coaches- Massimo Carrera, Angelo Alessio, and finally, Antonio Conte. And despite the congestion, despite the lack of a top player, despite the turmoil in the coaching staff, the club is not only in 1st in Serie A comfortably, they’ve won their Champion’s League group stage after being written off by many reporters. (and fans)
There’s one match left to go, to make this nearly the perfect fall- winning away at Cagliari [a team with the worst offense at home] would given Juventus the highest amount of points in a calendar year. Afterwords, it’s time for the boys to rest. Players like Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Lichtsteiner, Asamoah, Vidal, Pirlo, and Marchisio have been a constant presence in our first XI, and we’ll need them ready for the Spring- we’ve got a hell of a few months coming up.
ANTONIO CONTE IL NOSTRO CAPITANO!
Juventus 3-0 Atalanta Video: All 3 Goal Plus Full Highlights