One of our most solid performances of the season came at the right time…for the coppa italia at least.
Both sides came out the blocks eager, with Atalanta doing most the offensive work in the first half hour in which they created several decent chances to score. Whilst we were far from awful, that same plague of individual errors disjointed our play as we kept gifting possession in dangerous areas to the hosts.
We could have been 2 down within the opening 5 minutes. And yet it was Kulu who opened the scoring on the half hour mark after a heavy Juan challenge from deep looped the ball forward to find Ronaldo, who fell in the box with McKennie at hand to drift the ball to Kulu who struck a majestic, almost lackadaisical curling effort into the far corner for 0-1. It was a superb strike from a player who was lively throughout and also played a hand in the 2nd.
Atalanta were able to take one of their chances before the break. Rabiot losing the ball and looking for the free kick, Frueler driving down the flank to set up Malinovskiy for a sweet drive past Buffon for 1-1.
Fair to say we were certainly second best in the opening 45 on chances created and yet for one of the few times this season, we entered the 2nd period with the bit between our collective fangs.
Zapata was shut out on a rare forage into our box by a crunching De Ligt block, which left the dutchman briefly mangled. Other than which the chances then fell mainly to Juve.
Kulu at the near post was foiled. Before Chiesa hit the post with the goal gaping after a rare touch of class from Ronaldo, who was otherwise anonymous and off the pace.
Far from deflated the young italian then picked up the ball on the edge of the box, spotted the impressive Kulu, a crisp one-two and this time Chiesa made no mistake to regain the lead with the goal which proved the winner.
Atalanta could well have drawn level late on, yet Muriel fluffed his lines and Juve ran out winners, ceding no more chances and looking lively on the break.
Reasons to be cheerful
Bentancur was ubiquitous…I lost count of the amount of tackles, blocks, interceptions he made across the field. An unsung hero offering perhaps his strongest performance of the season.
Alongside him, Rabiot also gave a good shift other than the hapless dillydallying which led to the opening goal.
The double pivot pretty much worked to thwart Atalanta’s attacking verve, with Kulu and Ronaldo both often dropping deep to make up numbers in midfield. At times we had 9 behind the ball, very quickly, and this running hard intensity, was key to winning the tie.
Kulu was by far the most threatening in the final third, gifted room to glide past opponents and work across the final third.
Buffon was given another piece of silverware in what may prove his final appearance in a Juve shirt.
Once again, Juan was a little monster, his engine superb, biting tackles, delivering intelligent balls into the box and he never stopped running, fighting, inspiring his team mates to stay on the front foot. He is certainly to be considered for player of the season as his form of late has been top drawer.
The other side of the coin of victory
We created 4 great chances, whilst the home side created 6. The difference between the sides was mainly the quality of our front line. Having such quality in our front line is always going to help us with teams who attack in numbers.
The individual errors were plentiful in the first 45.
Ronaldo seemed close to disinterested and was barely involved throughout.
Atalanta began to fall apart towards the end of the match, became frustrated, ragged, volatile…which I hope Gasperini can recover for their final fixture against AC, which is pivotal for our own aspirations.
Mckennie was poor until given licence to move often into his more natural role bombing forward to add some presence centrally up top.
Overall it was a fine game, with both sides playing on the front foot. I do wonder why it has taken this long for the Juve players to show focus and intensity for a whole second 45 minutes. Though I repeat that we gifted more clear goalscoring chances to our opponents than we created for ourselves.
The cup victory is welcome after such a hideous season, and I am mostly happy for Buffon, perhaps also Chiellini, neither of whom may be present next season. Yet this success has been achieved through playing against two decent sides. For me, the league campaign and CL is where I look for a barometer of our progress and on both measures we have gone quickly downhill. With the coppa italia nowhere near enough to excuse nor forget this.
I still expect us to gain champions league qualification this coming weekend, as I have assumed we would throughout this wretched period. My concern remains that achieving this will be enough to keep Pirlo and his coaching staff in their roles for next season.
Pleased to see the players and coaching staff bursting with innocent and collective glee at the final whistle and yet it was Bentancur who made me smile the most during the game, when accusing Zapata of taking a dive after being nailed!
Both the performance, at least of the 2nd half, and victory, add a hint of respectability to our faltering campaign. I sincerely hope that Pirlo can finish his tenure at the club by securing the CL qualification.
A job well done. And yet for me, it remains too little, too late for Pirlo…