Juventus Stadium, Torino
December 16, 2012
Past 10 days have gone well for Juventus. The Old Lady qualified for the Champions League knock-out round after snatching a difficult win at Donetsk and followed it up by welcoming back Antonio Conte while squeezing past Palermo at the Renzo Barbera. Juve’s win against Palermo was further accentuated by their nearest rivals losing against Inter. In mid-week, Conte returned to the sidelines at the Juventus stadium while #12 Sebastien Giovinco scored his 12th Juventus goal on 12th minute on 12-12-12 to help his team get to next round of Coppa Italia. This will be the last match Juventus play at home in a very successful 2012 and Conte’s first Serie A match in Turin this season, so expect another momentous occasion. Facing them will be a tricky Atalanta side which has tided over a two point penalty to occupy a healthy mid-table position.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Coppa Italia game proved to be more costly than Conte would have wanted, with three players picking up injuries. Emmanuele Giaccherini pulled out with a stomach bug while Arturo Vidal picked up a minor muscle injury. The most serious blow came with a long term injury for Nicklas Bendtner who is now set to be ruled out for two to three months. Leonardo Bonucci will also be missing out against the Nerazzuri after picking up a yellow card against Palermo.
Antonio Conte is unlikely to tinker with the 3-5-2 formation for this match, despite playing a 4-3-3 in Sicily last week. Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini are likely to start with Luca Marrone slotting in for Bonucci. Marrone is a like-for-like replacement for the ex-Bari defender in more than one way. In Conte’s system it is Bonucci, with his superior passing range and better ball control, who plays the role of a sweeper with the other two dropping back. Marrone has proved time and again that his vision for a killer long pass doesn’t betray his young age. He is not a natural defender, having played as a central midfielder for most of his youth career. However, he has shown admirable ability to adapt to the new and has consistently impressed, including in the mid-week game.
Mauricio Isla had another quiet game in mid-week and is likely to be replaced by in-form Stefan Lichtsteiner. The Swiss mail train has regained his form after a slight dip in form last month and is back to his best. His movement on the right-wing and understanding with Pirlo and Vucinic is telepathic at times. In the past one and half years, Juventus has created dozens of chances with Pirlo releasing an accelerating Lichtsteiner with a through pass. Atalanta are likely to have five men in the midfield to mirror Juve’s formation and the Swiss international is likely to have an interesting match-up with Federico Peluso.
Paul Pogba continues to impress for Juventus and is likely to team up with Pirlo and Marchisio in central midfield. Often faultily compared to Pirlo during the transfer window, Pogba is a player who is more in the Edgar Davids or Patrick Vieira mode. The French starlet is dynamic and has brilliant off the ball movement with a penchant of trying out booming volleys. Unlike Vidal, Pogba is much more comfortable near the opponent penalty box rather than winning possession in midfield. He is likely to make late runs in the penalty box in tandem with Marchisio,with Pirlo spraying over-head passes towards them. It is a tactic which has worked well for Juventus this season.
Sebastian Giovinco will look to overcome the dodgy numerological references as he lines up with Vucinic upfront. The Montenegrin has shown encouraging signs of returning to form in Juventus’ past three matches and is likely to act as the holding player with Giovinco making runs into the opponent penalty box.
Possible Starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Marrone, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pirlo, Pogba, Marchisio, Asamoah; Vucinic, Giovinco
The Nerazzuri continue to upset all the odds, continuing the trend of last season. Few experts tipped them to repeat what they did last season but they have defied all bet makers till now. German Denis is still enjoying his Indian Summer in Atalanta and has scored in their last two matches. They will need to bounce back quickly from a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Roma in midweek, however. The Nerazzuri has picked up some impressive scalps this season, including both Milan clubs and Napoli.
Atalanta are likely to play a 4-4-1-1 formation with Argentine Maxi Moralez acting as the link-man between midfield and Denis. Moralez was one of the best players for Atalanta last season and has been solid so far this season. Juventus often play a high-line of defence and have looked vulnerable against fast counter attacks. Atalanta’s best chances of scoring a goal will be Moralez or Ezequiel Schelotto making runs behind the Juve back three with Luca Cigarini trying to spot their runs. Cigarini was once tipped to be the next great Italian midfielder. A series of ill-fated transfers cost him some vital seasons of his career but he seems to have regained some of his form in Atalanta.
The Orobici will also count on their top scorer German Denis to come good in Turin. The Tank is a physically strong striker and he will look to take advantage of Luca Marrone’s inexperience and comparatively lighter physique. The Argentine is in good form right now and the Old Lady must remain wary of his aerial and physical strength.
The most interesting battle will take place on the wings where Federico Peluso will square off against Lichsteiner. The Swiss wing-back is famous for his energy and drive but Peluso has emerged as one of the most consistent Italian full-backs in past one year. His sense of positioning and ability to time his overlaps well is likely to cause Lichtsteiner to be a bit more conservative.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Consigli; Bellini, Lucchini, Manfredini, Peluso; Schelotto, Radovanovic, Cigarini, Bonaventura; Moralez; Denis
Player(s) to Watch Out For
Paul Pogba (Juventus)
The 19 year-old is steadily showing why two of the biggest clubs in the world were tangled in a bitter transfer saga for his signature. Atalanta is a solid unit and is not likely to play an open game in Turin. Pogba’s energy and dynamism will be vital to unlock the opponent defence.
German Denis (Atalanta)
The Nerazzuri are not likely to create a whole lot of chances in Juventus stadium. However, given the kind of form Denis has shown since moving to Bergamo, he might not need too many chances to score a goal.
Juventus 2-0 Atalanta
Juventus players will have an extra motivation to finish off last match of 2012 with a win plus Antonio Conte is not likely to settle for anything less than three points on his return. Juve’s superiority on the wings is likely to make a difference and the Old Lady can dominate this match in front of their home fans.