ROME: Since the end of September, no one had been better in Serie A than Atalanta. Relying on a long list of promising young players, many of them developed in the club’s youth academy, Atalanta had put together six consecutive wins and a nine-match unbeaten streak.
The Bergamo club’s streak ended Saturday with a 3-1 loss at Juventus, the five-time defending Italian champion. Alex Sandro, Daniele Rugani and Mario Mandzukic scored for the hosts while all Atalanta could produce was a late goal from Swiss midfielder Remo Freuler.
“They should be a reference point for us. We can learn a lot from them,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “There was clearly a gap on the pitch tonight. We weren’t able to impose ourselves.”
All three of Juve’s losses this season had come after midweek Champions League losses. While the Turin club has already advanced to the knockout phase, Juventus will still be looking to win its group when it hosts Dynamo Zagreb on Wednesday.
Up next for Juventus in Serie A is the derby against Torino, followed by a possible 1-2 showdown with Roma. Atalanta is sixth, eight points behind Juventus and level on points with fourth-placed Lazio and fifth-placed Napoli.
At the Juventus Stadium, the hosts dominated from the start. Sandro dribbled by a defender before bending in an accurate shot after a quarter hour to conclude an impressive solo action. The Brazilian then ran over to the touchline and grabbed a T-shirt with a dedication to Chapecoense, the Brazilian club that lost most of its team’s players and staff in a plane crash in Colombia on Monday.
Rugani doubled the lead with a header from a corner four minutes later and Mandzukic added another midway through the second half, also meeting a corner from Miralem Pjanic with a header.
Mandzukic, who has scored three goals and helped create another in his last four Serie A appearances, later exited with an apparent bruise. Freuler’s goal came eight minutes from the end, on a volley from the center of the area.
Franck Kessie, Atalanta’s prized 19-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder who has been linked with a possible move to Juventus, hardly made an impact.
Still, there were some glimpses of promise from Atalanta, like when 22-year-old defender Mattia Caldara raced back to deflect a shot from Gonzalo Higuain over the bar. However, Rugani scored on the ensuing corner.
Also, homegrown goalkeeper Marco Sportiello leaped to push away a dangerous free kick from Pjanic shortly before the half-hour mark.
And Caldara negated Higuain again in the final minutes. In the end, though, it was too little against a club designed to compete with the best in Europe. – AP