Defending champions AC Milan will aim to make it two wins in two in the new Serie A season when they travel to the Gewiss Stadium on Sunday to face Atalanta.

Serie A is back in action with the second round of matches this weekend as reigning champions AC Milan take on Atalanta on Sunday evening in what promises to be an entertaining affair at the Gewiss Stadium. Both teams will be eager to continue their positive start of the season, with the Rossoneri seeking to begin their title defence on a strong note and La Dea striving to improve their home form.

Atalanta had a dismal home record last season, winning only four of their 19 league games on their own turf. That was a big reason why La Dea had to settle for an underwhelming eighth place last season after three third-place Serie A finishes on the spin. That will have come as a disappointment to a team who have grown accustomed to competing in Europe’s premier club competition in recent years.

Following their worst finish under Gian Piero Gasperini’s reign, Atalanta have been quite active in the summer transfer window so far and have signed Jeremie Boga, Ederson, Merih Demiral, and Ademola Lookman, among others, for a combined total of €70 million as they plan to assemble a competitive squad this summer.

New signing Lookman was on the scoresheet as Atalanta secured a comfortable 2-0 away victory at Sampdoria on the opening weekend. Gasperini’s men have most recently welcomed Udinese’s highly-rated full-back Brandon Soppy, who coincidentally scored inside two minutes in his former side’s 4-2 defeat to AC Milan at San Siro last weekend.

AC Milan were far from slick in a 4-2 come-from-behind opening-day triumph over Udinese at San Siro, with a series of defensive blunders from the Friulani proving key to the Rossoneri opening their title defence with all three points.

Milan will have an uphill battle on their hands to defend their Serie A crown this season, with city rivals Inter bringing star Romelu Lukaku back to San Siro, Juventus improving their roster, AS Roma also flying high under Jose Mourinho, and Napoli kicking off the season with a flourish.

Stefano Pioli’s side will not have to wait long for their first major test of the season, with a trip to Bergamo to face Atalanta always a tricky assignment. Milan won both fixtures at home and away against Atalanta last season with an aggregate scoreline of 5-2. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Atalanta

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have been entertainers in recent seasons with their flamboyant brand of football. And, while it appears to be the end of an era, with major hitters either sold or fading out, the philosophy and style of play never change. Nonetheless, Gasperini will line up Atalanta in a 3-4-1-2 system to start with, but that is bound to change depending on how the game pans out thanks to the flexibility of his side, more so following the arrival of fresh recruits.

Davide Zappacosta and Merih Demiral are both eligible for selection but are expected to start on the bench this weekend. The same goes for new signing Brandon Soppy, while Jose Palomino continues to serve his ban for doping accusations.

Juan Musso will play in goal, with Rafael Toloi, Memeh Okoli, and Berat Djimsiti forming the back-three. The trio will have to keep their shape intact to prevent Rafael Leao from running in behind them and exploiting open spaces. Hans Hateboer and Joakim Maehle will be the wing-backs, holding an array of responsibilities on both ends of the pitch, including facilitating the forwards by overloading the channels.

Teun Koopmeiners and Marten de Roon will be tasked with holding their own against Rade Krunic and Ismael Bennacer in the midfield battle that could determine the flow of the game.

Mario Pasalic should play behind the Colombian strike-duo of Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata, with the latter aiming to improve his record of just one goal scored in his last 13 top-flight outings. Lookman marked his Serie A debut with a sublime finish on the opening weekend and will be an option off the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Musso; Toloi, Okoli, Djimsiti; Hateboer, De Roon, Koopmeiners, Maehle; Pasalic; Muriel, Zapata

AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains the only long-term absentee for AC Milan, with him sidelined for the rest of the year. Otherwise, Milan boss Stefano Pioli has a clean bill of health ahead of the trip to Bergamo, with Sandro Tonali returning to full training after missing the league opener due to a minor injury.

Pioli prefers to use a 4-2-3-1 formation and is unlikely to deviate from it here. Mike Maignan is a certain starter between the sticks for Milan, with a back four of Theo Hernandez, Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu and Davide Calabria in front of him. Both the full-backs are expected to camp high up the pitch to exploit space in behind left by Atalanta’s wing-backs.

As for the midfield, Pioli started the pairing of Rade Krunic and Ismael Bennacer in the 4-2 win over Udinese, and he might stick with the same players for the upcoming encounter, enabling Tonali to recover properly. Brahim Diaz was the key to Milan’s attack against Udinese, and he looked back to his best, scoring one goal and assisting another. He will once again be responsible for all of their creativity.

Summer signing Charles De Ketelaere made a cameo debut against the Zebrette, and endeared the supporters with some fancy skills and a showcase of his playmaking ability, but will have to settle for a place on the bench, with Pioli keeping his trust in Junior Messias and Rafael Leao for now.

Ante Rebic’s goal-scoring exploits last time out mean he is likely to lead Milan’s attack against Atalanta. Pioli can also call upon former Liverpool striker Divock Origi and Olivier Giroud as other striking options to make an impact off the bench if needed.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Hernandez, Tomori, Kalulu, Calabria; Krunic, Bennacer; Leao, Diaz, Messias; Rebic

Key Stats

  • The hosts have lost three straight Serie A games against AC Milan, having been undefeated in ten of the previous 11 (W4 D6).
  • AC Milan have won their last seven Serie A games. The last time they had a longer run in the competition was back in 2016, under Carlo Ancelotti (9).
  • The visitors have scored at least two goals in six of their last seven Serie A matches.
  • Atalanta have failed to win their last six Serie A home matches (D3 L3), scoring one goal or fewer in five.
  • Stefan Pioli’s side are unbeaten in their last 17 games in Serie A (W7), while they are undefeated in their last 12 away trips in the league (W9).

Player to Watch

Mario Pasalic

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Having lost Remo Freuler to Nottingham Forest last week, as well as the exits of Matteo Pessina and Aleksei Miranchuk, the Bergamo-based outfit will rely on Pasalic to progress the ball forward from midfield areas and link the midfield to attack.

That is quite a new role for the Croatian international, who directly contributed to 20 goals from 37 Serie A outings last term and was more involved in the attacking third. Pasalic remains Atalanta’s key player for this game. The attacking midfielder likes to cut inside, make late runs into the box and is a threat on set pieces.

Regarded as one of the better goal-scoring midfielders in the Italian top-flight, his finishing is also top-notch as he has consistently overperformed his xG numbers, currently producing an actual return of 0.50 non-penalty goals from 0.39 expected non-penalty goals per 90. He will be eager to get into scoring positions and deliver the goods on the pitch here.

Prediction

Atalanta 2-2 AC Milan

Both of these enterprising sides generally put forward an exciting spectacle and should serve up a delight for neutrals and supporters alike, as two or more goals have been scored in the last 11 meetings between Atalanta and Milan.

The hosts kind of lost their rhythm after a couple of very consistent seasons prior to last season, partly due to injuries. Despite the outgoings, they still have a plethora of attacking talent and will want to make a statement by going toe-to-toe with the champions.

AC Milan’s phenomenal away record in the league cannot be overlooked. And while it promises to be an end-to-end battle, Milan are a more balanced outfit and hold a slight upper hand heading into this game, with different bows in their armoury.

However, given the reigning Italian champions’ display of early season rustiness with a shaky defensive performance against Udinese last weekend, Atalanta do have a window of opportunity to pose a threat and catch the visitors off guard on attacking transitions. That is why the Hard Tackle predicts both sides to share the honours in a 2-2 draw.

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