This post was guest-blogged by Matt Statto. Follow him on Twitter (@ilStatto)
For the 31st time, Juventus are Serie A champions. The 1-0 victory against Palermo courtesy of an Arturo Vidal penalty proved enough for Juventus to see off the challenge of the Rosanero. Now the job is simply to see out the rest of the campaign in style and by attempting to break even more records in the Serie A points total since Serie A became a 20 team league. Up next is Atalanta who have had a solid if unspectacular campaign themselves. Sitting fairly comfortably in 14th, Atalanta have achieved their main goal of retaining themselves as a side in Italy’s top flight and have given themselves a solid platform to build upon for next season where they’ll again look to achieve a similar goal, if not aiming for those a few places above them. Whilst struggling for form as of late with only 1 win in the last 7 games (a 3-4 victory at Inter no less), their steady early season form has meant they’re going into the final matches of the season with not a whole lot to play for, but at home with their passionate fans behind them, they won’t want to roll over for the retaining Scudetto champions.
April 20 2013: Genoa 1-1 Atalanta
Atalanta’s away fixture against Genoa was the last time I was able to catch the Nerazzurri play and it was a game fairly remisicicent of how they’ve lined up in the majority of games I’ve seen them compete in this season. Atalanta went with the traditional 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation which Stefano Colantuono has favoured throughout 2012/13, which sees them focus on getting bodies behind the ball and looking to be solid at the back as a priority above everything else. A key component of their side is the two banks of four, which play fairly compactly together, allowing for little space between the lines for the opposition to play through. Colantuono’s outfit are a well-drilled side who are difficult to beat as their focus on defensive discipline and compactness means the opposition has to work exceptionally hard for space.
Up front, Atalanta have varied from playing two out and out centre forwards – in on loan Inter striker Marko Livaja alongside their best player in German Denis – to a system which has featured one prima punta, but with a more creative striker playing just off him, this usually being the diminutive Maxi Moralez. Against Genoa, it the was the latter which featured, with Livaja leading the line with Moralez playing in the more withdrawn role. Atalanta generally look to play the ball out of defense up to the forwards who then lay it to the wide players who try to break from their deep defensive positions down the flanks to try and offer some attacking support down the wings. Atalanta often bypass the central midfielders in using the flanks so heavily and do look to push the full backs up to overload the wings when they do get the opportunity to break forward.
Genoa went with a 4-3-1-2 formation which allowed them to be in control of the possession. Their extra man in midfield allowed for them to dictate the game and maintain the ball so they could push their full backs high up the pitch in order to take advantage of the space down the wings in which the compact nature of Atalanta’s 4-4-2 allows. Unfortunately for Genoa though, they lacked quality in this area and were unable to make their possession down the flanks count, as neither Moretti, nor Granqvist are known for their ability to push forward and be influential in the advanced areas of the pitch.
Genoa’s ability to maintain the ball caused Atalanta problems throughout though, because by dictating possession, Atalanta were forced deeper and deeper, meaning the gap between the two banks of four in the defence and midfield, became so distant from the two strikers, Atalanta simply struggled for an out ball throughout the whole game, as the two inexperienced forwards in Livaja and Moralez were simply unable to influence proceedings. When they were able to get hold of the ball, they only had each other to pass to in order to conjure up some form of attack, as the support from the wide players in Bonaventura and Brivio was too slow in joining them further forward. This in part was due to the negativity of the Atalanta coach, but also the pro-activeness of Genoa’s Davide Ballardini to pin point a weakness in Atalanta’s system. Genoa aren’t typically a possession side themselves, but they retained the ball well here throughout.
What must be said though is that Atalanta defended very well under increasing periods of sustained pressure during the match. It’s never easy to retain concentration throughout the whole of the 90 minutes and barring an early lapse which saw them concede the first goal after just 6 minutes, throughout the rest of the game they defended well enough to earn themselves the 1-1 draw they finished up with. Genoa could and probably should have done much better in front of goal, but their lack of quality meant they were unable to truly break down a well organised and well co-ordinated Atalanta defence.
Keys To A Juventus Victory
Victory is certainly not going to be something which Juventus should just expect, however if the performance is up to scratch and there isn’t too much of a post-celebration hangover from Sunday, you must really think that Juventus have the quality to win the match-up, regardless of the lineup which Conte decides to field. Of course now that the league is won, Conte can choose to rotate his squad a little and allow for playing time for those who need it most (cough, Isla, cough) and it will be up on those players to come up with the quality to break down what I have already mentioned can at times be a very stubborn defence.
Juventus need to do what Genoa did and retain the ball well, using our 3 v 2 situation at the back to dominate possession and by pushing the wing backs forward, really force them back. Juventus should not show Atalanta respect with their positioning just because Atalanta are the home side, which I feel has sometimes been the case in games away at some of the provinciali this season, as Atalanta’s system really does struggle when the opposition is able to dictate proceedings to the point where their forwards become isolated under the constant pressure.
It’s going to be a tough game for the Juventus forwards due to the compact positioning of Atalanta’s banks of four and this means space will be at a premium. So it’s definitely going to take some intelligent play and good thinking to find pockets to pick holes in their defence. Juventus will find themselves with plenty of the ball in the wide areas and should this prove to be the case, it’s a real opportunity for Mauricio Isla to shine and prove his quality in what will surely be one of only a mere handful of starts for the Bianconeri this term. With time running out this season for the Chilean to prove to Conte he has what it takes to be a Juventus player, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad time for him to put in a game changing performance here, where the conditions down the flank may indeed suit him.
Juventus need to be wary of the quality of German Denis, who has found a rich vein of form this campaign and is very capable of scoring the goals to punish sloppy defending when the chances do arise for the home side. His finishing has seen him score an impressive 15 league goals in 12/13, which is more than any Juventus player and his goal tally is in fact 42% of his team’s overall goals scored, which just goes to show his importance to their season. Leading the league in that regard. He certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.