German Denis completed an incredible comeback from 3-1 down to beat Inter 4-3 with his hat-trick despite Tommaso Rocchi’s first goal in 14 months, while Antonio Cassano went off injured.
The Nerazzurri were decimated, as the 2-0 midweek win at Sampdoria revived their recent results, but they lost Rodrigo Palacio for at least a month with a thigh strain. As Diego Milito, Cristian Chivu, Dejan Stankovic, Joel Obi, Luca Castellazzi and Gaby Mudingayi were also injured, plus Walter Gargano suspended, Coach Andrea Stramaccioni had precious few options.
Atalanta also had problems picking a side, as Stefano Lucchini and goalkeeper Andrea Consigli both sat out bans with Maxi Moralez, Guido Marilungo and Igor Budan sidelined. The Orobici were in mourning after former President Ivan Ruggeri died on Saturday.
The fans were certainly not out in force, as San Siro was two-thirds empty. Atalanta lined up in their all-silver away strip.
Antonio Cassano’s cross-shot whipped past both Tommaso Rocchi and Esteban Cambiasso, but Giacomo Bonaventura had a shot charged down by Javier Zanetti and the flag was incorrectly raised for offside.
Polito was first really tested after 21 minutes when smothering a fierce Fredy Guarin free kick from distance.
Cristian Raimondi intercepted a dangerous Cassano cross from reaching Rocchi, then a chipped Guarin cross was nodded just wide at the back post by Rocchi. From that corner, Andrea Ranocchia headed over.
Samir Handanovic smothered Carlos Carmona’s effort at the base of the near stick when the midfielder had other options waiting for the ball in the middle.
Atalanta threatened again, as Davide Biondini’s lob was just over, but the San Siro crowd held its breath when Cassano pulled up after a failed backheel flick. He had heavy strapping applied to his right thigh and tried to carry on for a few minutes, but had to hobble off for Ricky Alvarez.
It wasn’t a good introduction to the game, as Alvarez immediately shinned a volley from nine yards so far off target that it went out for a throw-in. Alvaro Pereira had provided the inviting cross.
Alvarez did get a shot on target that Polito spilled, but the goalkeeper was able to recover before Cambiasso could pounce.
Rocchi’s daisy-cutter was deflected inches wide of the near post, possibly clipping the upright. From that corner, the former Lazio striker got his 100th Serie A goal – the first since February 1 2012. He got in front of his marker to flick in at the near post with the outside of his right boot.
Cambiasso knocked a cross back from the by-line, but none of his teammates were ready to tap in, while at the other end Denis volleyed a Luca Cigarini assist straight at Handanovic.
Alvarez dribbled to the by-line and pulled back for Rocchi, but his marker did just enough to stop the former Lazio striker getting a shot away from six yards.
Atalanta made an attacking move, introducing Inter-owned striker Marko Livaja. It paid off immediately, as Livaja provided the assist, crossing from the right for Bonaventura to control – aided by a Walter Samuel error – and bundle it past the on-rushing Handanovic.
The draw lasted only 61 seconds, as a horrible Michele Canini scuffed clearance pinged it into the air and Alvarez was quickest to react, pouncing on the loose ball.
Inter went on the counter from a poor Atalanta free kick and after several attempts were charged down, Guarin’s strike was caught by Polito.
Alvarez was on fire and created a two-goal cushion with a wonderful solo effort. His step-overs confused Guglielmo Stendardo down the right side of the box and he smashed an angled drive in at the near post.
Atalanta got back into the game again when the referee pointed to the spot for what he felt was a Walter Samuel handling offence, though replays suggest he did not make contact when jumping with his arm up near the head of Denis. Denis stepped up and buried it despite Handanovic guessing the right angle.
The Orobici completed the comeback from 3-1 down to make it 3-3! Denis turned on the edge of the box to go round Ranocchia and smashed a powerful finish in off the inside of the near post.
Inter fell apart and failed to clear, so Bonaventura flashed a ball across the face of goal for Denis to volley low from nine yards, completing his hat-trick in the space of 12 minutes. The Atalanta players leapt on to Denis, accidentally flattening an electronic advertising board.
It still wasn’t over, as Samuel charged down a Brivio attempt, then Alvarez flashed an angled drive across the face of goal. Ranocchia had penalty appeals when a free kick was whipped past him at the back post, but the referee and goalline official waved play on.
Atalanta went down to 10 men in stoppages, as Raimondi was shown a straight red card for lashing out at former teammate Schelotto as they were waiting for a corner.
Inexplicably, Inter failed to score with the last kick of the game! Guarin got to the by-line and pulled back for Ranocchia, who somehow ballooned it up into the air from a yard! It was simply an astounding miss, particularly in the circumstances.
There were violent scenes after the final whistle, as Schelotto had to be dragged away during a fight with his former Atalanta teammates.
Sent off: Raimondi 91 (A)