Christiano Ronaldo rescued a point for league leaders Juventus when he came off the bench as they travelled to Atalanta on Wednesday, to preserve their unbeaten record so far this season.
Allegri’s men dropped their first away points of the season after a battling 90 minutes of football at 8th place Atalanta. Down to 10 men, after Bentancur was shown red in the 53rd minutes at one of Serie A‘s toughest venues to visit, super sub Ronaldo arrived at the far post on the 78th minute to take a point from a tough away fixture.
It was the visitors who started on the front foot, asserting their dominance from kick off, just 90 seconds into the game it was Alex Sandro’s innocuous delivery into the Atalanta box which Berat Djimsiti miscued and redirected the ball into his own net.
It was Colombian, Duvan Zapata who has scored all of Atalanta’s last 8 goals who turned the game around for the hosts, receiving the ball 25 yards out with his back to goal before firing a left-footed strike past Wojciech Szczesny.
With Bentancur sent off in the 53rd minute for a second bookable offence, it was powerhouse Zapata who put Atalanta ahead with a headed finish from a corner three minutes later.
Ronaldo came to the rescue for Allegri after being left out of the lineup for the first time since arriving from Real Madrid in the summer, when Mandzukic headed back across goal for the Portuguese talisman to nod home with 12 minutes left.
Atalanta deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation (see average positions below) but was missing both Rafael Toloi and Jose Luis Palomino through suspension which means Djimsiti and Masiello both play in the back three with Mancini. Marten de Roon is unavailable through injury which means Pasalic comes into partner Freuler in central midfield.
Gomez and Iicic played in attacking midfield roles with Zapata as the lone forward. Hateboer and Castagne played in wide midfield roles, supporting attacking moments and providing width, particularly through Hateboer on the right flank.
With Ronaldo left out of the starting 11 for the first time this season, Douglas Costa took his place supporting Mandzukic on the left with Dybala on the right in Juve’s usual 1-4-3-3 formation. Emre Can and Bentancur came back into the lineup for Allegri, whilst the same back four who faced Roma last time out all kept their places.
Atalanta attack down the left
Atalanta heavily favoured their left side to attack down, with 47% of their attacks coming through that side of the field. A large part of this was Zapata’s starting position, opting to play on Bonucci rather than the more experienced Chiellini, whilst being heavily supported by Gomez and Castagne.
This tactic gave Atalanta numerical superiority over Juventus, on the side of the field which also saw Dybala and Bentancur defending in the same areas, neither of whom are renowned defensive mentalities, and who only recovered the ball three times between the two of them throughout the game.
Along with taking advantage of numbers around the ball in attacking moments, Atalanta forced the issue from a defensive standpoint on the same side of the field, with Dybala having 67 touches of the ball, it was Douglas Costa who was more consistent with 95% pass completion rate and Alex Sandro with 46 total passes with 39 of those accurate.
This gives a clear indication of the set up which Gasperini’s men took to deny the dangerous Betancur and Dybala space to play.
It was Gomez who was instrumental in Atalanta’s equalizer, threading a ball through a very flat midfield line of Juve and triggering the powerful Zapata to turn and flash his shot past Szczesny.
Playing on Bonucci once again, but this time with Atalanta overloading the right hand side of the field with numbers, pulling Chiellini out of a central area whilst isolating Zapata against Bonucci and forcing right back Sciglio to cover a large area of space, too much to cover in time to impact the rampant Zapata as well as Castange who kept Atalanta’s width in the left channel in the build-up to the goal.
Possession isn’t what it seems
Although Juventus edged out Atalanta in overall possession, it was Atalanta who was more committed with their passing game. Completing 4.5 passes per possession compared to Juve who could only manage 3.7 passes per possession.
Atalanta took advantage of their formation once again, with three players situated high up the field with Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez being able to apply high pressure allowed Juventus only 7.81 passes per defensive action compared to Atalanta’s 11.95 passes per defensive action with only Mandzukic situated in a high position of the field to apply pressure on the ball.
Atalanta also played over a higher tempo when possessing the ball, completing an average of 15.3 passes per minute compared to Juve’s 13.4, with Juve favouring long passes with 12% long passes compared to Atalanta’s 8.8 despite the home team having better numbers to play a longer passing game if they chose.
Juventus, with 16 wins and two draws from 18 Serie A games, are top with 50 points, nine ahead of Napoli who lost at Inter Milan in the later kick off on Wednesday. Despite battling back to gain a point from a losing position, Allegri will be unhappy not to pick up the full complement of points to extend their lead over closest rivals Napoli, especially on a day Gli Azzurri dropped points.
Gian Piero Gasperini will have wanted more after finding themselves leading with an extra man advantage but will be happy to secure a point from the league leaders after struggling to find consistency in results in recent weeks.
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