With 10 games to go Allegri’s charges are edging ever-closer to another Serie A title, but on Sunday’s evidence the Bundesliga powerhouses will not be losing sleep
The mark of a great champion, football tradition tells us, is the ability to win ugly. That last adjective would possibly be too harsh on consummate professionals like Juventus, especially after Mario Lemina sprinkled his magic at the end of what had been a fairly uninspiring game.
But if the Italian champions’ performance was not hideous to the eye, it was certainly workmanlike against an opponent that never looked like taking anything out of the game. The efficiency and work-rate showed by Massimiliano Allegri’s troops was enough to get past Atalanta, and it may well be enough to deliver a fifth consecutive Scudetto come May.
It will not, however, be enough to secure Juventus’ own mission impossible later this month, beating Bayern Munich in their own back-yard to assure the Champions League dream continues.
There were plenty of positives for Allegri to take from Sunday’s win, the 17th Juventus have picked up out of their last 18 (unbeaten) Serie A outings. The defence was once more formidable, with Gianluigi Buffon barely tested on his way to a ninth straight clean sheet.
Not only were Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli predictably flawless against the admittedly toothless Atalanta attack, but the latter also found himself in the right place at the right time to smash home Mario Mandzukic’s header. Mario Stoppiello could do nothing, while the host’s set-piece defence was so glaringly absent it would not look out of place on a wild west WANTED poster.
Further forward Paulo Dybala was his usual irrepressible self, twisting his rivals one way and the other as he probed constantly on goal. And youngster Lemina delighted the visiting fans with a fantastic individual effort, finally sealing the three points on the off-chance that Atalanta on one occasion might threaten ‘Gigi’ between the posts.
The warning signs, nevertheless, are there. It took Barzagli’s first strike in 91 Serie A clashes and almost four years to break the deficit, and Juve showed little sign of adding to their advantage until their knight in shining armour and bleached highlights came to save the day. Those offensive shortcomings will be forgiven against Atalanta, but not against the likes of Bayern in the Allianz Arena.
It is in the midfield where the Old Lady’s fragility shows. While tidy enough, Sami Khedira and Roberto Pereyra failed to feed the likes of Dybala and Paul Pogba the type of quality possession they need to punch holes in the final third.
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And while their defensive deficiencies were barely exposed against the wretched hosts, performances such as the first half against Bayern – who, lest we forget, only let Juve back into their Champions League tie thanks to a criminal and most un-Pep-like drop in intensity – and the Coppa Italia semi-final debacle against Inter show that behind the formidable statistics there are plenty of holes in the Bianconeri hull.
A win next weekend at home to Sassuolo coupled with Napoli dropping points to Palermo in the Sicilian capital would all but crown Allegri’s men as Serie A champions once again. The real test, though, looms in Bavaria.
Another 1-0 win on the road will take Juventus into the last-eight: and on the evidence given in Bergamo, unless the team can move up the gears in time Guardiola’s perfectionists will prove a bridge too far.