Juventus badly needed their Coppa Italia win over Atalanta on Wednesday night. It’s one of the few times in this torrid season for Andrea Pirlo where his team have looked unified.
Even during the trophy lift though, you could see on Pirlo’s face that he knew this wasn’t what he had to deliver in order to keep his job. It’s Champions League football that means so much more for the people upstairs who will decide his fate in the coming weeks. As for what the fans want, they are probably in agreement with the executives.
Regardless of what happens on the final day of the season, this was a performance that, should he be given the chance, Pirlo can extract the best elements of and build a successful team around.
The Bianconeri had to weather the storm over the first 25 minutes of the game, as Atalanta created chances in that ruthless fashion we’ve become accustomed to. Jose Luis Palomino and Duvan Zapata came close for La Dea among others, and Juve seemed to be lacking a spark.
On the half-hour mark, though, the game turned, and it was one of Juve’s hopeful stars of the future who showed the world what he can really do. After a counter-attack broke down slightly in the box, the ball presented itself for former Atalanta youth player Dejan Kulusevski. Without a moment’s hesitation, he curled the ball beautifully around the flailing Pierluigi Gollini.
Kulusevski proceeded to shush the watching crowds both in the stadium and at home, which was fair given the criticism he has received this season. He’s failed to show the same prowess that he did whilst on loan at Parma last season, but this goal and overall performance showed there is a real player there who can show up when it matters. At 21, he has the talent to be key for Juventus for many years.
Despite being pegged back by Ruslan Malinovskyi in the first half, Juve started the second extremely well. This time the ever-present danger man was Federico Chiesa. If Kulusevski has the potential to be a key player for many years, Chiesa has the potential to be Juve’s talisman for many years.
The 23-year-old first came close when he played an excellent one-two with Cristiano Ronaldo, before hammering a shot against the post. From that moment it seemed clear that Juve were going to get a second goal.
That goal came with just under 20 minutes to go when Chiesa injected pace into an attack that seemed to have stalled by firing the ball into Kulusevski who had his back to goal. He dug out an excellent return ball that split Atalanta open, and Chiesa thumped it past Gollini. That’s a combination that Juve fans will want to see a lot more of in the future.
It bodes well for the Bianconeri that they were able to score two good goals and remain threatening despite their main goal threat, Cristiano Ronaldo, being rather anonymous by his own standards throughout the final.
Despite these glimpses of a bright future, it was the way Juve seemed to roll back the years that really clinched the win in the end. Through breaking up the play and knocking Atalanta right out of their rhythm, Juve reduced a wonderful attacking side to one making brainless fouls born out of frustration as the clock ticked down.
That game management is something Juve used to do better than anyone else, and recapturing that could be vital if they want to atone for their sins next season, whether that be under Andrea Pirlo or somebody else.