In the end, Andrea Pirlo did win something in his first year as Juventus coach. After winning the Supercoppa earlier in the season, the Bianconeri conquered the Coppa Italia as they beat Atalanta 2-1 in the Final at the Mapei Stadium with goals from Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa.
It might not be enough for the young coach to retain his spot at the helm of the Old Lady as his confirmation will mostly depend on Juventus qualifying for next season’s Champions League. But, at least, Pirlo contributed to replenish the Bianconeri‘s cabinet trophy and the way the white-and-blacks celebrated at full time says much about how important had it become for them to win the Cup at the end of a disappointing season.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta once again fell at the last hurdle. They had lost to Lazio in the Coppa Italia Final two years ago and deluded themselves tonight as they had the upper hand for most of the first half. Ruslan Malinovskyi equalized Kulusevski’s almost-random lead for the Bianconeri, but La Dea progressively lost effectiveness in the second period and were incapable to react when Juventus and Chiesa hit the gas.
The Nerazzurri still have a chance to end an unprecedented second in the Serie A table and have already celebrated their third Champions League qualification in a row. But speaking of Atalanta in terms of a “surprise package” doesn’t make sense anymore. The Nerazzurri are by now legitimately part of the Italian football aristocracy and came to the Mapei Stadium to win tonight. Gian Piero Gasperini and his boys will not be happy.
The first good piece of news of the night came in the form of the roaring support both sides enjoyed from the stands. 4200 spectators, all vaccinated or tested negative to COVID, filled the bleachers of the Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia in the first game open to the public since September 2020.
The show did not disappoint and started when the lineups were announced. For the game that could decide his destiny as a Juventus coach, Andrea Pirlo chose Dejan Kulusevski to join Cristiano Ronaldo in the attack. Between the sticks, Gianluigi Buffon started his last game in white-and-black. The Bianconeri flaunted a preview of their upcoming kit for next season, featuring a classic design that will make old school calcio fans happy.
Gian Piero Gasperini also surprised pundits and commentators as he left on the bench his most in-form striker Luis Muriel. It was Matteo Pessina to partner with Duvan Zapata on the front line as Ruslan Malinovskyi played behind them in Gasperini’s usual 3-4-1-2 setup.
It was the usual Atalanta: The Nerazzurri started aggressively and tried to choke Juventus with their intensity. It didn’t take much for them to send the first warning sign: Duvan Zapata forced his way from the left and served Josè Palomino in the middle of the box but the Spaniard’s conclusion from point-blank range found Buffon’s opposition.
But it couldn’t be a real Final without some good controversy. When Adrien Rabiot tackled Atalanta’s Colombian striker in the box, the Nerazzurri hoped for a penalty but referee Davide Massa was of a different opinion.
The Bianconeri were nervous and they showed that when Matthijs De Ligt attempted a risky back pass to Buffon. Zapata read his intentions and tried to anticipate him but the 43-year-old keeper was again alert and defused the challenge.
For half an hour, it was all Atalanta. But then, Juventus for once were clinical like in their best days from the past few seasons. Dejan Kulusevski’s curling effort on 31 minutes was literally their first chance. The Swede didn’t squander that, driving the ball past a hapless Pierluigi Gollini to put the Old Lady ahead. Atalanta protested over an alleged Cuadrado foul in the build-up but Massa didn’t want to hear it.
If truth be told, the referee used the same interpretation in occasion of the Nerazzurri‘s equalizer, which happened on 41 minutes. This time, it was Remo Freuler to suspiciously push down Adrien Rabiot, prompting Atalanta’s man advantage in the opposition area. Malinovskyi found the ball on his feet and whipped it past Buffon to make it 1-1 before half time.
Juventus needed to change something and indeed Pirlo’s motivational speech in the locker room must have worked somehow. The Bianconeri‘s approach to the second half was more intense, while Atalanta inevitably started to run out of breath.
The man of the day turned out to be once again Federico Chiesa, perhaps the best-performing man in the Bianconeri roster this season alongside a devastating Juan Cuadrado. First, the 23-year-old galloped along the left flank to serve Kulusevski a mouth-watering chance for the tap in, though Pierluigi Gollini’s answer was equally brilliant.
His next effort, courtesy of a sublime Cristiano Ronaldo back pass (the only good thing seen from the Portuguese ace tonight…), hit the post.
But with Juventus now in control, Chiesa adjusted his aim and hit the target literally a few seconds before leaving the pitch for Paulo Dybala. Andrea Pirlo was delivering his last instructions to the Argentine when Chiesa exchanged the ball with Kulusevski and sneaked between two Atalanta men to receive the Swede’s returning pass.
Pierluigi Gollini went one-on-one with Chiesa but couldn’t prevent the Azzurri‘s winger from slotting the ball home – much to Gasperini’s disappointment as the coach was furious at his central defenders.
The Atalanta coach had already sent in Luis Muriel and doubled up with Josip Ilicic for the final assault. Pirlo, on the other hand, understood that it was time to cover up and replaced Kulusevski with defender Leonardo Bonucci – who joined the resistance despite a knee injury.
It was the right move as Atalanta’s intensity slowly turned into frustration and their assaults became more chaotic as minutes went by. Juventus comfortably controlled the Nerazzurri‘s last offenses and tried to punish them on the counter – though the score didn’t change anymore.
it was the 14th Coppa Italia success for Juventus, the first for Cristiano Ronaldo and the sixth for Gianluigi Buffon in what was his last appearance with the Bianconeri – this time for real. And, for one night, the future for Juventus looked a bit brighter.
May 19, 2021 – Coppa Italia 2020-2021 Final
SCORERS: 31′ Kulusevski (J), 41′ Malinovskyi (A), 73′ Chiesa (J)
|ATALANTA (3-4-1-2): Gollini; Toloi (76′ Djimsiti), Romero, Palomino; Hateboer (76′ Ilicic), de Roon, Freuler, Gosens (83′ Miranchuk); Pessina (68′ Pasalic), Malinovskyi (68′ Muriel), Zapata (Rossi, Sportiello, Maehle, Sutalo, Lammers, Caldara, Ruggeri) Coach: Gasperini
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon; Cuadrado, De Ligt, Chiellini, Danilo; McKennie, Bentancur, Rabiot, Chiesa (74′ Dybala); Kulusevski (83′ Bonucci), Cristiano Ronaldo (Szczesny, Pinsoglio, Arthur, Ramsey, Morata, Demiral, Bernardeschi, Frabotta) Coach: Pirlo
REFEREE: Mr. Massa from Imperia
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Chiellini, De Ligt (J), Romero, Freuler, De Roon, Ilicic, Malinvoskyi (A); Red Card: Toloi (A); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 5′