Protect the flanks
There was once a time in Bergamo when Atalanta’s fungible approach to attacking in wide areas was envied across the continent. La Dea’s diamond rotations flummoxed opponents week in, week out as Robin Gosens emerged as one of Europe’s most potent wing-backs.
However, their performance in this regard has certainly diminished as of late. La Dea never quite recovered from the exit of diminutive magician Papu Gomez, while Gosens was out of the picture for some time before his January move to Inter.
Nevertheless, Hans Hateboer’s recent return is a welcome boost for Gasperini with Davide Zappacosta also impressing on his return to the club. But, with the manager taking a more considered and less chaotic approach this season, Atalanta aren’t quite as explosive or destructive as they once were. Injuries have certainly taken their toll and they could be without Duvan Zapata for the remainder of the season.
Still, Atalanta’s wing-backs and build-up in wide areas will be a source of concern for Allegri. A concerted effort will have to be made to shut them down. In last season’s Coppa Italia final, Andrea Pirlo’s use of his wide midfielders as de facto wing-backs was key in slowing Gasperini’s side down the flanks.
Allegri, meanwhile, has adopted a similar approach against high-quality three-man defences this season. He, too, has used his wide midfielders as wing-backs with this ploy working a treat in Juve’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea. However, in the reverse fixture against the Blues, the Bianconeri were overwhelmed by wide rotations and a more dynamic approach by Thomas Tuchel. And while Atalanta don’t boast the quality of Chelsea at wing-back, they certainly possess similar guile and craftiness.
With many projecting a front three of Dybala, Vlahovic and Morata on Sunday, the signs are pointing towards Allegri using a 4-3-3 out of possession once again. We saw this change in tack against Verona and it’s a more aggressive approach in comparison to his 4-4-2 that would facilitate the use of wide midfielders as wing-backs.
I’d love to see Allegri go bold and attempt to match La Dea up. Otherwise, we may be subject to another big game where Juve sit so deep that they simply can’t transition with any proficiency. That’s the challenge for the Juve boss on Sunday: can he ensure Atalanta don’t dominate in wide areas without compromising the Bianconeri on the counter-attack.