Atalanta and Inter Milan face off in a cracking tie that could directly impact the Serie A title race and the battle for the top four.
Two of Serie A’s most entertaining sides go up against each other when Atalanta welcome defending champions Inter Milan to the Gewiss Stadium this Sunday. The visitors are currently top of the league and have lost just once in the competition. Inter have a game in hand over their closest rivals and could extend the gap at the summit to four points with a win.
In their way stand a plucky Atalanta side who can be the league’s greatest entertainers on their day. Fresh off a 6-2 hammering of Udinese, followed by a 2-0 win over Venezia in Coppa Italia, La Dea will be seeking to not just put some distance between them and Juventus in the battle for the top four, but also claw back into title contention.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side could move to within five points of Inter if they bag a win on the night. Given that a chunk of the season is still to be played, it loosens the grip the Nerazzurri have in the race for the Scudetto. There is certainly much to be played for in the standout clash of the weekend.
Inter and Atalanta are also among the league’s top three teams in terms of goals scored and have amassed 95 strikes between them so far. The difference, however, lies in defence. Simone Inzaghi’s side boasts the best rearguard in the league, while Atalanta have conceded the most goals of any of the top five teams.
The Nerazzurri endured a difficult start to their title defence but have improved as the season has progressed. They will have excellent morale after winning the Supercoppa Italiana against Juventus earlier in the week. Top of the league and with a Champions League last 16 match-up against Liverpool to come, Inzaghi’s side have proven themselves to be formidable opponents.
In September, the teams played out an exciting 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture. Goals could once again be on the cards when they meet on Sunday. The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.
Team News & Tactics
With a few players out injured, Gian Piero Gasperini will have to decide on his starting lineup. Berat Djimsiti went off injured last weekend while Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata are still sidelined. Marco Sportiello, Davide Zappacosta and Roberto Piccoli are a doubt for the game, and it remains to be seen if they will make the cut.
However, the home side does have some good news as skipper Rafael Toloi and Ruslan Malinovskyi could be in the mix to start. Remo Freuler is also back from suspension and could slot into midfield.
Gasperini looks set to continue with his proven 3-4-1-2 system against Inter. Juan Musso will start in goal behind the back three of Jose Luis Palomino, Merih Demiral and Toloi. Joakim Maehle and Hans Hateboer will be tasked to serve as the wing-backs. The duo serves a key role in Gasperini’s system and will be expected to bomb up and down the wings all night.
The returning Frueler and Marten de Roon will be tasked with holding the fort in the middle of the pitch. Paired to go up against Marcelo Brozovic, they are in for a difficult night. Winning the midfield battle will give Mario Pasalic more freedom to get forward and support Ruslan Malinovskyi and Luis Muriel.
Zapata’s absence is a blow, but Muriel has looked good of late and could prove to be a better fit against Inter’s back three. The Colombian is a more mobile player and could run rings around the Nerazzurri backline. His movement will be difficult to pin down if Malinovskyi also gets in on the act. With Maehle also pushing forward, Atalanta can cause serious concerns for Inter’s right flank.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Musso; Palomino, Demiral, Toloi; Maehle, Frueler, de Roon, Hateboer; Pasalic; Malinovskyi, Muriel
This season, the Nerazzurri picked up their first piece of silverware by securing the Supercoppa Italiana earlier in the week. However, the game went on for 120 minutes, and this could see Simone Inzaghi make a few changes to his playing XI against Atalanta.
Dzeko might have an excellent strike rate against Atalanta, but at 35, may not have the legs to start a second game in three days. Alexis Sanchez came off the bench to score the winner against Juventus and might replace the Bosnian in the Inter starting XI. Arturo Vidal is suspended for the tie, but he isn’t a first XI player anymore, and it is something the visitors can live with.
Inzaghi has little reason to change his 3-5-2 formation that has worked wonders for Inter this season. Samir Handanovic is a sure starter in goal and will be accompanied by Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni in defence.
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Denzel Dumfries was good against Juventus, but the Dutchman lacks the defensive nous possessed by Matteo Darmian. Given that Atalanta could overload their left flank, it makes more sense for the visitors to go with Darmian at right wing-back on the night. Ivan Perisic, meanwhile, is a regular for the Nerazzurri and a match-winner on his day. He looks set to hold onto his spot on the other flank.
Roberto Gagliardini impressed against Lazio last weekend but should make way for Hakan Calhanoglu, who is now available for Serie A games. The Turkish international will join Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella in Inzaghi’s first-choice midfield trio.
Lautaro Martinez is a sure starter upfront and is likely to accompany Sanchez. The latter continues to grow in confidence and is developing into a reliable player for the Italian giants.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Handanovic; Bastoni, de Vrij, Skriniar; Perisic, Calhanoglu, Brozovic, Barella, Darmian; Sanchez, Martinez
- Inter Milan are undefeated in their last six games against Atalanta. (W4 D2)
- Inter Milan are one of only two teams from the top five European leagues to have scored in each league game this term. The other is Bayern Munich.
- Inter Milan will be aiming to find the net for their 40th Serie A game in a row, a tally that only Juventus have achieved (2014 and 2017) in Serie A history.
- Gian Piero Gasperini has led Atalanta to just two wins in his 11 outings as manager against Inter Milan. This is the lowest win percentage Atalanta have against any team during the Italian’s reign.
- Atalanta have won just three of their nine Serie A home games so far. They are the lowest placed team from the Serie A top 10 when it comes to home form. Inter Milan, meanwhile, are the third-best team away from home.
Player To Watch
The Croatian international has been one of the linchpins of Inter Milan’s title defence so far. He continues to put in commanding performances week in, week out and is a sure starter for the Nerazzurri when fit. He will again be called upon to win the midfield battle and isolate Atalanta’s quick forwards up the field.
Gasperini’s side is quick to close down the opposition and press up high. In fact, most of their goals come after winning the ball back high up the field. Brozovic’s presence could, however, hamper that tactic. The midfielder is a cool customer and has shown himself to be a no-nonsense player. His ability to win the ball back and help his side retain possession will be key.
Not only will it kill one of the home side’s major strengths but it will also set Inter up for devastating counters. Atalanta push high up, often leaving spaces for the opposition to run into. With Ivan Perisic and Lautaro Martinez in their ranks, there are players who can get behind the La Dea defence. This can only be exploited if Inter have the ball. Brozovic can help them do just that.
Atalanta 2-2 Inter Milan
Atalanta caused Inter Milan many issues in their last game, and the latter were unable to play their way out of La Dea’s press. However, the Nerazzurri have improved since then and have set the standard in the league.
Gian Piero Gasperini is unlikely to adopt a conservative approach and will attack Inter from the word go. While this hands the defending champions a challenge, Atalanta’s gung-ho approach also leaves spaces for Inter to run into. A long ball into an open area could very well see the Nerazzurri players run through. It promises to be an entertaining tie between two of Serie A’s top teams, which could end in a stalemate yet again.