Milan (AFP) – Embattled Juventus could look to repel the threat of a shock upset to Atalanta on Saturday by deploying a makeshift, four-man defence as injuries continue to pile up for the Turin giants.
Still considered favourites to secure a record sixth consecutive scudetto, according to ex-boss Marcello Lippi in midweek, chinks are starting to appear.
Juve missed the chance to pull seven points clear of Roma and AC Milan last week when a side devoid of injured stars Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and defensive stalwarts Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini lost 3-1 at Genoa.
With Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves sidelined for up to two months after suffering injury in Genoa, Juve have been decimated less than a week before hosting Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League looking to secure top spot in their group.
As capital derby fever rises ahead of Lazio against Roma on Sunday, on-form Atalanta — in fifth at only five points off the pace — could steal the limelight.
Defeat to the Bergamo side could leave Juventus with just a one-point cushion on Roma and AC Milan, if they win their respective fixtures against Lazio and Crotone.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri is set to deploy rarely-used Daniele Rugani as part of the back four he hopes will stop Atalanta forwards Franck Kessie, Jasmin Kurtic and Alejandro Gomez, who combined have scored 12 goals in 14 games.
Rugani told Jtv: “Atalanta are on top form, it’s not a surprise to anyone they’re doing well. But that doesn’t interest us.
“We have to go out and claim all three points, get a win under our belts and send a strong signal to the rest of the league.
“It was a shock to lose to Genoa, but it has done us a favour.”
Atalanta coach Gianpiero Gasperini has spent the past weeks trying in vain to calm supporters’ growing belief they can end this season by claiming a place in Europe.
But given Atalanta have already beaten Torino, Inter Milan, Napoli and Roma, he can’t deny expectations are high.
“There are a lot of expectations on us for this game, it seems we’re even on a level playing field with Juventus, but that’s not the case,” said Gasperini.
“We’ll be going there with conviction but we know who we’re facing. We’re delighted with what we’ve achieved recently so in Turin we won’t have any pressure or fear.