How Juventus are quietly rediscovering the form that made them Italy’s best
Juventus may well be currently languishing outside the top 10, but as their performance against Atalanta suggests, the reigning Serie A champions are starting to rediscover the form that made them great, writes Ryan Wrenn.
Just six months ago, the 2-0 win Juventus earned over Atalanta on Sunday would have come as no surprise. Everything about the game – 70% possession, nine shots on goal, no shots on goal conceded to Atalanta – embodies what this Juventus side has become since its return to prominence in Serie A in 2011. It’s a team that wins seemingly through sheer force of will.
The context in which Sunday’s game occurred, though, suggests a different story. By their respective positions on the table you might think that Juventus had lost that spark that made games like these so easy for them over the last four seasons. That a team like Atalanta could find themselves in the top half of the Serie A table only puts Juventus’ plight into perspective.
That, though, is not to suggest that Atalanta is undeserving of their position in the table. The result on Sunday might make it hard to see, but coach Edy Reja has designed an efficiently potent team especially considering the resources available to them. They can and will recover from this dramatic dip in form against Juventus.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 26, 2015
That last bit is important: this should not be discounted as an off week for Atalanta. Even if they inexplicably left their best player – Alejandro Gomez – on the bench to start the game, this was a side that came into the game buoyed enough by earlier successes to think they could get something out of what’s looked like a wounded Juventus side. Their inability to do so is less a sign to Atalanta’s overall quality and more an indication that things are finally coming together for the reigning champions.
Even claiming that is a bit misleading. Comparing this term’s underlying stats to last term’s is to see, if anything, consistency. Possession and passing figures are all virtually unchanged. Indeed, total number of shots and shots on target have actually improved per WhoScored, and Juventus concede a league-low average of 8.2 shots conceded per game so far this term. Allegri must look at those figures and scratch his head in bafflement.
Not all shots are created equal, of course. Juventus’ middle-of-the-pack goal scoring rate of 1.22 per game clearly suggests that those shots might not have been taken in the best of locations or contexts. It could also simply mean that Juventus players have been unlucky and that, on a long enough time line, their efforts would be repaid.
Those figures and Sunday’s results fly in the face of critics who say that the loss of such players as Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez over the summer has compromised Juventus’ ability to compete in what’s become a hotly contested Serie A season. While it’s true that the highlight reels for Juventus’ season so far lack Vidal’s relentless energy, Pirlo’s sublime free kicks and Tevez’ charges on goal, lacking such flash isn’t always an indication in a drop of baseline quality.
Perhaps even more telling to what this Juventus side is capable of is the fact that the team roster was compromised on Sunday. Both choices at right-back – Stephen Lichtsteiner and Martin Caceres – were out with injuries, forcing Allegri to field midfielder Simone Padoin in that position instead. Even if he scored Juventus’ second goal, Mario Mandzukic was more effective as a decoy for Dybala’s efforts in and around Atalanta’s penalty area. Sami Khedira is a great acquisition for the club, but his skills in defensive midfield are largely wasted against a team as content to sit back as la Dea.
Given a clean bill of health and a bit better foresight, each of these positions could have been more capably played by someone else currently on Juventus’ roster. Injuries are hard to control, and Allegri could be forgiven if he’s yet to find his preferred starting XI after the summer’s upheaval, so the fact that the Bianconeri got a result despite these liabilities is an achievement in and of itself.
These are just the positives one could derive from Juventus’ Serie A form. With two wins and a draw so far they top a Champions League group that includes Manchester City and Sevilla, a series of results that indicate this is still the Juventus team that reached the finals before only falling to a superb Barcelona side.
A mere three points separate Juventus from sixth place Sassuolo, their opponents in the upcoming Serie A midweek fixtures. A win there would go a long way to redeeming Allegri’s boys and could even propel them into the crowded mixer for the Scudetto.