Atalanta vs Juventus Tactical Analysis: A Tactical Battle Won

The battle for the top four places in Serie A is getting tougher with each matchday as Round 31 saw two of the main rivals in Juventus and Atalanta go head-to-head at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta entered the match on a four-game winning streak and looked the most confident of the remaining teams fighting for the top four finish. In contrast, Juventus had been one of the most inconsistent sides this season prior to their trip to Bergamo, with Andrea Pirlo’s men still a long way from guaranteeing a place in the Champions League next season.

Both the Bianconeri and the Nerazzurri are among the top four teams in the league in terms of goals scored – Atalanta in first, Juventus in fourth – but as is sometimes the case, the goals tend to dry out when these teams go head-to-head. A deflected goal from substitute Ruslan Malinovkyi proved to be the difference between the two teams, as Atalanta edged past their top-four rivals from Turin with a narrow 1-0 win.

The following tactical analysis will break down the key playing patterns of both teams, explaining the intricacies of their tactical approach to the game.

Starting Lineups and Formations

The starting XI of Atalanta and Juventus. Photo:

Both managers relied on their tried and tested tactical formations, as outlined in the graphic above, although the teams changed shape slightly in possession, which can be seen in the image below. In short, Gian Piero Gasperini went for a traditional 3-4-1-2 formation, while Andrea Pirlo opted for a much more rigid 4-4-2 set up.

Starting with Atalanta, there were no changes made to their traditional back line, including the goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and three center-backs in Rafael Toloi, Jose Palomino and Berat Djimsiti. Toloi (no. 2) was the one who occupied a wider position in the three-man back line to fill the gap left by the right wing-back Joakim Maehle. The Danish international was assigned a very attacking role in this game, somewhat in contrast to his counterpart on the other side, Robin Gosens, who was more reserved with his attacking contribution.

In midfield, the inseparable duo of Remo Freuler and Marten De Roon were key in distributing possession, with both occupying positions in the inside channels rather than in the center spots. As can be seen in the graphic below, Freuler (no. 11) had more contact with Atalanta’s right wing-back, while De Roon (no. 15) developed passing relations with left wing-back Gosens.

The same approach applied to the two strikers in Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel who rarely maintained their central positions and were often instructed to drift wide, either to the inside right channel or left inside channel, to form passing triangles with wide players. Even the playmaker Matteo Pessina was often seen drifting into the right half space to combine with Maehle and Zapata.

On the other hand, Juventus originally opted to play with a back four. However, sometimes it was also converted into a three-man defense, with Juan Cuadrado occupying the position as a winger high on the right side. Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini formed a partnership in the center of the back line, while the other full-back Alex Sandro was given more defensive duties to maintain balance at the back.

Alex Sandro’s more defensive role meant that Federico Chiesa could fully concentrate on offensive tasks, as Pirlo deployed him high and wide on the left-wing. The two central midfielders in Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur were responsible for helping out the back line when needed and using their distribution to aid the build up, while Paulo Dybala and Weston McKennie operated as playmakers between the lines. With Cristiano Ronaldo missing the game through injury, Alvaro Morata led the line on his own.

The average player positions of Atalanta (blue) and Juventus (white). Photo:

Atalanta’s Tactical Plan: Combination Play on the Principle of Overloading and Using Both Strikers for Space Creation  

In recent seasons, Atalanta have been known for their fluid and attacking style of play, which involves a lot of movement and player rotation. One of the most important facets of Atalanta’s possession football is their intention to always play forward, create overloads and passing triangles.

Much of this was on display in Atalanta’s repertoire against Juventus. Gasperini’s men looked fluid in their ball movement for long stretched of the game, creating overloads on both wings that allowed to create space in other areas of the pitch.

The two main statistical indicators, namely progressive passes and passes into the penalty area, show how penetrative Atalanta’s possession was against the Bianconeri. The Bergamo side played 38 progressive passes, 12 fewer than their season average (avg. 50.0); however, an impressive 15 of those passes entered the Juventus penalty area, which is a higher number compared to their Serie A season average.

Atalanta’s tactical plan was to progress their positional play mainly down the flanks and, through the principle of overload, create triangles that forced Juventus to shift to the overload side. The role of the two center-forwards should also be highlighted, ensuring that both Juventus center-backs were occupied, which created space in the inside channels once Juventus’ wide players were pulled out wide.

Atalanta mainly used the right and left wings for their build up play. Photo:

The key principles of Atalanta’s tactical plan against Juventus are illustrated in the following images below. As mentioned above, Gasperini’s side intends to create overload situations on the right or left wing, with three or four players in close proximity. In this case, Freuler, Maehle, and Zapata formed a triangle, trying to pull Juventus’ left-sided players out wide, with Pessina stayed in a more central position to exploit the gap between two center-backs.

A similar situation can be observed in the following illustration. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter Juventus’ final third via the right wing, Atalanta shifted play to the opposite flank, where the plan to create an overload was executed in a similar fashion, with Pessina situating himself between the lines for a potential progressive pass from a ball carrier.

Atalanta are by far one of the most interesting teams to analyze in Serie A, as Gasperini’s men have more than one way to penetrate the opposition’s defensive block. In the image below, we can see that this time the home side did not try to form a triangle on the basis of overload, but instead used their two-center forwards as magnets to pin down Juventus’ back three. In this instance, Maehle positioned himself very wide, leaving Alex Sandro no choice but to close down the Atalanta right wing-back. This left Pessina with a gap to exploit with a progressive run into open space.

Maehle plays a perfectly weighted ball into the penalty area to Pessina, where Zapata and Muriel attacked the goal through the middle.

Another example of the above play pattern is presented below. This time Atalanta formed a triangle on the left wing, with Muriel stepping out of the center-forward position, meaning de Ligt had to follow the Colombian for a split second. As we can see, Zapata remained fairly static inside the box between the two defenders, preventing them from sliding across to cover the space that was vacated. As a result, one of Atalanta’s attacking players had the opportunity to run into the open space in the penalty area through an intricate passing play.

Below is another similar scenario with spatial manipulation and player rotation. A triangle is formed on the right side of the pitch, with Muriel positioned more centrally, while Zapata pins two Juventus defenders on the other side. In this case, Atalanta’s quick and short passing game on the overloaded side unbalanced the opposition’s defensive shape, creating a gap in the central channel. As a result, Muriel was able to make a forward run into open space as the left-sided Juventus players were drawn in by the passing interchange from Atalanta, while the right side of defense had to keep an eye on Zapata. The Colombian then played a through ball to Pessina, who should have buried his chance, giving Atalanta the lead.

However, in the second half, Gasperini decided to change things up a bit and have an extra player operate between the lines, with the intention of attacking the goal more centrally. At first, it was the right wing-back Maehle who was pushed into a more central position, while the right center-back Toloi occupied the vacated space out wide.

Maehle eventually made way for Malinvoskyi, who was brought on to partner up with Mario Pasalic in a more advanced central role. Although following a set-piece routine, Atalanta’s winning goal came from a central zone.

A heat map of Pessina, Pasalic, and Malinovskyi identifying the time spent in each zone. Photo:

Juventus Tactical Plan: Manipulation of Atalanta’s Man-to-Man Marking Using Long-Balls Tactic

Even though the Bianconeri put a lot of emphasis on possession play and try to build their game from the back with sequences of slow and short passing combinations, Juve are also often able to adapt their style of play by bringing more directness, verticality, and switch of play into their game.

To back up the above statements, we can take a look at some statistical metrics. Pirlo’s men play the second-highest number of progressive passes per game in the league (41.3), the second-most passes into the final third (38.0) and the sixth-highest number of cross-field balls to switch the play (15.7).

Juve’s tendency to play more directly at times is also borne out by the total distance of passes towards the opposition goal in meters. Pirlo’s men lead Serie A in this area, as their passes travel an average of 3164.4 meters per game. In contrast, Sassuolo – a team with the highest possession percentage in the league (60.6%) – are only 6th in the league, averaging 2741.8 meters per game.

Against Atalanta, Juventus recorded even higher figures for all of the above metrics, including progressive passes (43), passes into the final third (43), and cross-field balls (16). The reasons for this are twofold: first, when Atalanta applied high pressing tactics, Juve had to play out from deep, which made the pitch longer, allowing for more vertical ball movement. Secondly, when Atalanta retreated into a deep defensive block, it was much easier for Juventus to reach the final third of the pitch. However, despite Juventus being relatively ball-secure throughout the game (56% possession), they struggled to take advantage of the situations when they exploited Atalanta’s man-to-man marking system.

Against Atalanta, Juventus were often pressed high into their penalty area with a man-to-man system. One of the examples can be seen below where Juventus are being hard pressed in a man-to-man style. When executed correctly, it is a system that is virtually impossible to break down through short passing combinations, leaving a long ball tactic as the only viable option.

However, the same long ball tactic can also work in favor of the attacking team if executed properly. In this game, Juventus were more hesitant to play out from the back, opting instead for a more direct option. Pirlo’s side were particularly keen to break Atalanta’s first two lines of pressure, meaning they at least have numerical equality and space to run into once the ball reaches the forward players.

Juventus break through Atalanta’s first two blocks of pressure and are in a favourable position to trouble the opposing defense.

A similar pattern of play can be seen in the following sequence of pictures. Juve are forced deep into their own half with a man-to-man defense, leaving no choice but to kick it long. In this case, the Bianconeri executed their tactical plan to perfection, drawing in the majority of Atalanta players, which left space behind the home team’s back line.

A similar intention to exploit Atalanta’s man-to-man defense was also evident when Juventus were in possession in higher zones of the pitch. As we can see, clever positioning of Juventus players in central midfield pulls Atalanta defenders out of their positions, creating space for Juventus’ wide players to run into.

Shot Map of Both Teams

xG (expected goals): Atalanta 0.90 – 0.81 Juventus

Result: Atalanta 1-0 Juventus

xG (expected goals) shot map of both teams. Photo:


Although the game did not end with the most exciting scoreline, the tactical side of the game was worth watching.