Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A over the weekend, after Lazio continued to fall away with their third win in a row.
But they were lucky to go an extra point ahead after escaping with a draw at home to the undisputed story of the season: Atalanta.
The final score in Turin was 2-2, but both Juve’s goals were scored from the penalty spot, both examples of the ludicrously punitive way the handball rules have been interpreted in Serie A this season, with Atalanta players penalised after the ball was leathered at them from yards away.
Otherwise Atalanta were sensational. There was a spell of eight minutes and 11 seconds in which Juve – the eight-time, soon to be nine consecutive Scudetto winners, at home – didn’t touch the ball in their own half.
“Atalanta [the whole squad] are only paid €5-6million more than Juventus pay Cristiano Ronaldo,” said James Horncastle on the European edition of the Totally Football Show. “We should never lose sight of that. It’s embarrassing, not only for Juventus but for other clubs with bigger budgets and bigger wage bills, to see a team like Atalanta go to Turin and be so dominant, impose themselves on Juve.
“This is one of the reasons why Juventus appointed Maurizio Sarri – to do that to teams, not let it done unto them. They were unlucky – again, this ridiculous interpretation of the handball rule has cost them another prestigious win.
“The first paragraph in La Republica: the stat of the day is that Juventus stopped Atalanta, not the other way around. A team of champions managed to get through the night against the best team in the league.
“They’ve certainly been the best team since the restart: they’ve only dropped two points, and they were on an 11-game winning streak in all competitions as well. You have to look at how some of the other teams who have been challenging for the title – like Inter, like Lazio – have fallen away on the basis that in the compressed schedule they don’t have the squads to compete: it makes no difference to Atalanta. They can bring on Ruslan Malinovsky, they can bring on Luis Muriel.
“This team has recruited so well – either through selling some of the players that Gian Piero Gasperini brought through, or from competing in Europe – when they have spent in excess of £13million on Marten De Roon, Duvan Zapata, or Malinovsky, or Muriel, they have got it absolutely right.”
Atalanta won’t win Serie A this season, but remarkably they could win the Champions League. The draw put them on the ‘wildcard’ side, facing PSG in the quarter-finals and then either Atletico Madrid or RB Leipzig in the semis.
Julien Laurens, Paris born and bred, watched the game on Saturday and was immediately terrified.
“It was very much the same feeling I had when they drew Dortmund in the last 16. There are similarities between them and Dortmund in the way they attack, and maybe in the way they they are inexperienced which is something PSG can exploit.
“It’s far more dangerous to play against Atalanta over one game than two against Dortmund. In the first game against Dortmund (in the last 16) PSG really messed up the tactics and formation, and then they had the second leg to come back and win it. Against Atalanta you don’t have that.”
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