On paper this is a fixture that has caused Juventus little cause for concern in the past. Saturday’s night showdown (20.45 CET kick-off) in Turin between the league leaders and Serie A’s form side Atalanta will be the 109th between the two teams and, in terms of relative positions in the table, arguably one of the most significant.
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Quirks of the calendar would have it that two of Juve’s last five Scudetto celebrations have coinceded with visits from Atalanta (2012 and 2014) while last season’s 2-0 win came at the very beginning of the Old Lady’s current home winning streak of 23 matches.
As we will soon find out, this weekend’s encounter however could be the tightest yet.
While Massimiliano Allegri was quick to point out that it is far too early to describe Saturday evening’s encounter as a key match in the title race, it is largely due to Atalanta’s strong recent form that the question was posed in the first place.
Gasperini’s men are Serie A’s form team at the moment, picking up 25 points from their last 9 matches, more than any other side in the league. The Nerazzurri’s surge up the table has in fact yielded two club records: one for consecutive victories (six), the other for a run of four straight games without conceding a goal away from home.
As a result, they sit just behind Juve (12) as the second meanest defence in the top-flight (14).
The likes of Inter and Roma have all fallen at the hands of Saturday’s Juventus Stadium visitors since late October and the Bergamo-based club will arrive in Turin with the best possible opportunity of registering a just fifth win in 54 trips to Piedmont.
Having the confidence to defeat the Bianconeri in their own backyard is one thing, achieving it is another altogether.
Juve’s 23 victories in a row is the longest active winning streak on home turf in Europe’s top five divisions, two short of the club record 25 set in the 2014/15 season. As it happens, the 2-0 triumph over Atalanta in October 2015 was the second victory of said run which now stretches over more than 12 months.
A victory here, followed by another against Roma in two weeks’ time would see Allegri’s men go the entirety of 2016 without dropping a single point in Serie A at Juventus Stadium while surely keeping them in the Scudetto driving seat into the new year.
Central to Atalanta’s success so far this term has been the emergence of a clutch of promising young players from the club’s renowned academy.
The likes of centre-back Mattia Caldara, wing-back Andrea Conti, midfielders Franck Kessié and Roberto Gagliardini and forward Andrea Petagna have all impressed in recent months with Caldara, Kessié and Petagna all making their Serie A debuts in that time.
The fact that 19-year-old Ivorian Kessié is the team’s leading scorer in Serie A this season (five), is a sign not only of the youngster’s immediate impact at this level but also that La Dea’s goals have come from all over the field hence far.
Attacking midfielder Jasmin Kurtic, operating slightly further forward and normally behind two centre forwards, follows him with four and like Kessié will need to be closely guarded by the Bianconeri defence, both players having shown a knack of getting beyond the strikers and into dangerous positions in the penalty area.
That said, the Bergamascans’ primary source of goals this term have been set-pieces. Gasperini’s men have found the net 13 times in such a way, nine of which from corners, both figures pipping the efforts of every other team in the top flight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Atalanta’s backline is the most prolific in Serie A (seven goals scored) as well as being among its most solid defensively (14 conceded.)
Form-wise striker Petagna is the man to watch: the former Milan youngster is enjoying somewhat of a hot streak, netting all three of his league goals so far in his last four matches.
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