27.04.2017 18:39 - in: Serie A S

      #AtalantaJuve: key names and numbers

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      A win in Bergamo would take Juventus to within inches of the Scudetto but Serie A surprise package Atalanta are enjoying an extraordinary season of their own…

      Black and white past, blue and black present?

      The past will tell you that all signs point to a Juventus win at the Stadio Atleti Azzuri d’Italia against Atalanta on Friday night but the latter – considering the extraordinary season they are enjoying – may well view the game as the perfect opportunity to finally land a blow on the Bianconeri.

      Staggeringly, Juve have beaten the Bergamo-based outfit 22 times in their last 24 league meetings, the other two of which were drawn, a run which includes an open streak of 13 consecutive victories. Home advantage has had little say in proceedings either; the Old Lady has returned to Turin with all three points nine times in a row, last tasting defeat in February 2001.

      Atalanta however will have every right to believe that this time, the story could be different. After a 3-1 loss in the league at Juventus Stadium in December, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men pushed the Bianconeri all the way in the Coppa Italia last 16 the following month, succumbing to the odd goal in five.

      Mario Mandzukic makes it 3-0 in December's Serie A win at Juventus Stadium

      With Juve chasing the title and the hosts what would be an historic place in the Europa League next season, Friday’s encounter promises plenty and is a must-win for both sides.

      Both in top form 

      As the majority of Serie A has discovered this term, it can be near impossible to halt Juventus regardless of where you play or what kind of form you are in, particularly at the moment.

      Victory over Genoa last Sunday was Juve’s 12th in their last 14 top-flight outings, a period in which Massimiliano Allegri’s treble-hunters have conceded just four times and never more than once in a game.

      While all four of the Bianconeri’s league defeats so far have come on the road, the reigning champions are unbeaten on their travels since January’s transformative 2-1 loss to Fiorentina.

      Gonzalo Higuain, Claudio Marchisio and Paulo Dybala salute yet another league win

      Juventus are built for season finales such as these and with the Scudetto now tantalisingly within reach, and a critical Champions League semi-final first leg to negotiate in Monaco the following week, it is unlikely that the same lapses in concentration that cost them points against Milan, Inter, Genoa and la Viola will strike again in Bergamo.

      That said, surprise package Atalanta are after their own unforgettable conclusion to the campaign and nonetheless can lay claim to being one of Serie A’s most consistent sides. A shock 7-1 loss to Inter in March remains their only league defeat in 13 games, winning six of their last eight on home turf.

      Gasperini's young Atalanta side are on the brink of qualifying for next season's Europa League

      Like Juve, Gasperini’s young charges have built their success on solidity in defence; only the Bianconeri can better Atalanta’s 14 clean sheets so far this season.

      What it could mean for the Serie A table

      This weekend could have a huge sway not only on the direction of the Serie A title but also of the destiny of the two automatic Europa League qualification places as Juve head to Bergamo two days before second-placed Roma face Lazio, who are currently one place and one point better off than Atalanta.

      Juve hold an eight-point advantage over their nearest contenders, who will need to win both the Rome Derby on Sunday and away at Milan the following week to keep their slim Scudetto hopes alive and prevent the Bianconeri from potentially lifting the trophy as soon as next Saturday when they host Torino.

      Atalanta meanwhile face Udinese, Milan, Empoli and Chievo between now and the end of the campaign. The second of these games will have a huge say in whether they will be playing in Europe next season.  

      Why are people talking about Atalanta this season? 

      In the words of Massimiliano Allegri in Thursday’s pre-match press conference, “they’ve built on what has always been their strength: developing lots of young players from their academy. Like in anything, the better results you get as time goes on, the more you grow. They have some excellent players and are managed by a talented coach.”

      Two of this season’s aforementioned breakthrough stars are owned by Juventus, centre-back Mattia Caldara and left wing-back Leonardo Spinazzola, the pair both playing significant roles in Atalanta’s unorthodox but highly effective 3-4-3 system, the adoption of which kicked off their surge up the table in the autumn.

      Caldara (right) has been a revelation at the heart of the Atalanta defence this season

      Caldara, signed by the Bianconeri in January but set to continue his development in Bergamo on loan until June 2018, has caught the eye with his composure and timing at the back while scoring more goals from open play than any other defender (seven) since the 2003/04 season.

      Down the right side, 23-year old Andrea Conti has found the net six times and made five assists, making him the only defender to reach double figures for goal contributions in the league.

      Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessié, another youngster to have repaid the faith of coach Gasperini, is the youngest player (born 19 December 1996) in this season’s Serie A to score more than five goals (Kessié has six to his name), thus attracting the attention of a host of top European clubs in the process.

      Kessie (left) and Gomez (right), both key players for the Bergamo club

      The Orobici’s talisman this term however has been (the relatively senior) 29-year old Alejandro “Papu” Gomez. Stationed out on the left wing, inside forward Gomez has either scored (14) or assisted (eight) 22 of Atalanta’s goals this term; only Dries Mertens and Gonzalo Higuain have managed more this calendar year.

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