Inter slipping in the past round allows the other teams to dream big, at least in the first stretch of the season, and so heavy points will be at stake in the battle between Atalanta and Juventus.
Serie A Week 7 – Sunday 1 October 2023 – Gewiss Stadium | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Atalanta had some issues away, but they partially atoned against Verona, and their first portion has been satisfactory overall considering they had to deal with big injuries and have already put a decent cushion between themselves and Roma and Lazio, two of their main rivals. A good result here would fuel legitimate hopes to contend for a top-four position.
They probably thought Rasmus Hojlund would stay for another season to continue developing, as cashing in on a starlet after just one year is unusual for them. Still, it was justifiable given the fee, and they reinvested it surgically, although early physical problems have precluded them from taking advantage of their additions. El Bilal Touré got hurt in the summer, while Gianluca Scamacca went down with a thigh strain after a teasing brace. In hindsight, they should have kept ahold of Duvan Zapata till January, as they knew the former Almeria prodigy would be sidelined long-term, but they have made do with what they have.
They turned to a pacey frontline due to the circumstances, and it panned out. Ademola Lookman went back to his early 2022/2023 levels when he was dancing through defenders and scoring in every game before Hojlund stole his shine. Plus, Charles De Ketelaere has been totally comfortable as a second-striker, has looked rejuvenated especially mentally, and is sneaky physical for somebody so technical. Considering the terms of the deal, as they’ll have a season to evaluate him before spending, it was a worthy gamble. The early results couldn’t have been any better. Unfortunately, he’s questionable due to a thigh problem, and he probably won’t start even if cleared. Whether Mario Pasalic or Luis Muriel will replace him will be a hint about their posture.
Once they’re whole, they’ll have a fearsome strike force, even more so considering that the coach likes to change his strikers for the last 30 minutes. Throwing any of them at tired defenses will be a clear advantage. Moreover, they all seem to have bought into what Gian Piero Gasperini preaches.
They didn’t need to do much in the other roles, and they signed Emil Holm and Mitchel Bakker on the wings and Sead Kolasinac in the back. The ex-Spezia talent isn’t in top form just yet after an injury, but he has a shot to plug a hole that has been there since Robin Gosens left as he can be dominant and influential in the final third when he’s 100 percent. Instead, the Dutchman has struggled to adapt, and Matteo Ruggeri has been totally serviceable and is a pristine crosser. Adding either Fabiano Parisi or Carlos Augusto, who weren’t too pricey, would have taken their flank game to another level, but other teams were more determined.
Kolasinac has fit right in, and he gives them juice they didn’t have on the left-hand side of the defense. However, it forces the gaffer to make some decisions, because Berat Djimsiti, despite being their least touted center-back, is arguably the most reliable man game in and game out, but it’s tough to exclude either captain Rafael Toloi or Giorgio Scalvini, who hasn’t had the best start and might not be totally apt for the central role in the three-man line, but is an incredible talent. Rotating them has been the natural solution so far. The choice for this one will be telling about whom Gian Piero Gasperini trusts the most.
They stayed the course in the midfield, and perhaps an extra body would have helped, but the Martin De Roon, Ederson, and Teun Koopmeiners trio has insane chemistry, is perfectly assorted, and has a ton of quality since the maestro continues getting better and have increasingly more command. He’s freer to move around and venture forward with two pitbulls flanking him. They harnessed the energy of the Brazilian and made him more diligent, but he still has the occasional cut that surprises defenses.
Since they can’t outgun opponents with their current manpower and were stung by what happened against Frosinone and Fiorentina, where they threw away points because they were overeager and unbalanced, they toned their pace down a little, even though it stays above average, but not their intensity and rerouted it into their defensive phase. If they maintain this solidity once Scamacca and Touré are up and running too, they’ll be a problem for everybody.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Musso; Toloi, Scalvini, Kolasinac; Zappacosta, De Roon, Ederson, Ruggeri; Pasalic, Koopmeiners; Lookman.
Doubts: Musso/Carnesecchi, Kolasinac/Djimsiti, Pasalic/Muriel.
Injury Report: De Ketelaere (thigh soreness) – Questionable; Scamacca (thigh strain), Touré (thigh tendon rupture) – OUT.
Despite the win, the showing against Lecce was arguably the worst of the season for the Bianconeri even after what happened against Sassuolo. They completely lost the plot and came unglued multiple times in Reggio Emilia, plus blatant gaffes did the rest, but at least they continued to run and gun as they had done in the first few games. Instead, Massimiliano Allegri reverted to his methodical and ancient brand of football after that faux-pas, significantly slowing things down and putting more emphasis on the passive phase than on the offense, which leaned exclusively on Federico Chiesa’s sprints.
Time will tell whether it was a one-off because they needed a ‘get-right’ display after a loss, or if instead, the gaffer will go back to his roots on the regular since it worked out against a quality side. The suspicion is that the second one will be the case, as the wolf may lose his teeth but never his nature. Not only would it be a disadvantage relative to more cutting-edge teams, but it would also create a big dissonance since they have a much younger and fizzier squad that would be held back by slow rhythms.
It’s a quasi-big game, so a war of attrition might be in order, and other contests will better determine which way they’ll go. As for the positive notes, Chiesa has successfully adapted to his new role as a second striker, enjoying his newfound freedom and quickly realizing that he doesn’t necessarily need to stay central, where he risks getting bottled up, but can go whatever he wants to find some room to cook. Replacing Dusan Vlahovic and Arkadiusz Milik at the same will be a big a challenge, as Moise Kean isn’t in tip-top shape either, and the two absences will probably affect their whole game plan.
Juventus have a lot of room for improvement since several of their contributors haven’t performed up to their full potential. Adrien Rabiot has had just a pair of good showings, and his subpar form can be chalked up to a preseason calf strain. Nicolò Fagioli also only recently rounded into shape after a collarbone fracture and, even though Fabio Miretti has been okay, he’s much more consistent and impactful on his day. Perhaps they’ll get to the point of using him as a regista, finally getting Manuel Locatelli out of that prison since he’s much more dynamic than that, and he’s really not a great passer.
They are leaving a lot on the table on the wings, as Weston McKennie and Filip Kostic, while perfectly fine, rarely do more than the bare minimum. They have decided to introduce Timothy Weah and Andrea Cambiaso slowly after a pair of early starts, and that might work out in the long haul, adding a lot more velocity, playmaking, and unpredictability. The sooner they become regulars, the better.
The Old Lady has the horses for a more progressive style, but the big question mark is whether who’s at the helm is really willing to go there since he quickly backtracked at the first sign of trouble. More proactivity brings more variance and risks, which bit them, but it also raises their ceiling, and that could make the difference in a season with no juggernauts. There’s little doubt they can walk into a Champions League berth even with Allegriball, boring their fans to death in the process, but they could go to even more exciting places with the alternative.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Gatti; McKennie, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Vlahovic, Chiesa.
Doubts: Gatti/Rugani, Fagioli/Miretti, Kostic/Cambiaso.
Injury Report: Alex Sandro (thigh strain), Vlahovic (back pain), Milik (calf injury) – OUT.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals