Ricky Kaka went up to 101 Milan goals and Bryan Cristante scored his first, but 3-0 does not reflect Atalanta’s performance.
Massimiliano Allegri called this “a relegation dogfight,” as the Rossoneri were only one point ahead of their Lombardy cousins. They ended 2013 in the worst possible way with defeat to Inter and missed Riccardo Montolivo, Stephan El Shaarawy, Valter Birsa, Ignazio Abate, Kevin Constant and the suspended Sulley Muntari. Mario Balotelli suffered flu symptoms and amid the crisis 18-year-old Bryan Cristante was given his first Serie A start. New buy Keisuke Honda was in the stands. Atalanta were without Giampaolo Bellini, Stefano Lucchini, Lionel Scaloni and Marko Livaja, but had conquered San Siro last season.
Robinho wasted a glorious opportunity in the opening minutes when he side-footed a volley well wide of the near post. Cristante almost scored, but Alessandro Matri’s low cross-shot was just beyond his toe in the six-yard box.
Cristante, who had previously only ever played five minutes of Serie A football, went even closer when he got in front of a defender to volley Robinho’s pull-back on to the bar from 10 yards.
Atalanta were forced into a substitution for Carlos Carmona, who suffered from a back injury. Kaka attempted a low drive that Andrea Consigli was at full stretch to palm round the post with one hand, while the goalkeeper was grateful that Antonio Nocerino only cushioned a volley into his arms.
San Siro erupted with the first goal, as it was Ricky Kaka’s 100th in a Milan jersey. Urby Emanuelson went on the counter-attack from an Atalanta corner and set up the Brazilian, who shrugged off Consigli to sweep home from a tight angle.
That goal seemed to revive the Rossoneri’s confidence and soon after Robinho also forced a save out of Consigli. However, Atalanta could so easily have equalised just before half-time when Cristian Raimondi’s shot was deflected on to the upright.
Matri had a good chance in stoppages, but Robinho’s assist was over-hit for the striker, who couldn’t get his head to it.
Milan were fortunate straight after the restart when German Denis ballooned over a Maxi Moralez assist with the inside of his foot. Atalanta were furious after Yohan Benalouane found the back of the net, as it was disallowed due to the slightest of nudges on Philippe Mexes.
Christian Abbiati showed great reflexes when using his foot to deny Denis from point-blank range following a defensive error.
Despite flu symptoms, Balotelli was introduced for the final half-hour in place of Matri, but Atalanta continued to have the better of the second half and Cristian Zapata crucially deflected a Denis effort wide, then Giacomo Bonaventura’s shot was charged down by Nigel De Jong.
Abbiati punched away a looping cross and Zapata got in the way of the follow-up, as Atalanta pinned Milan back into their own half.
Just as the Orobici seemed destined to equalise, they went 2-0 down. Balotelli pulled back from the by-line for Robinho to scuff it, but Kaka pounced on the loose ball to score from five yards.
If it was Kaka’s 101st goal, then it was the first for Cristante. The 18-year-old scored on his first Serie A start, placing a right-foot daisy-cutter in off the far post.
Balotelli forced Consigli to parry his shot with an outstretched foot and the goalkeeper also denied Kaka a hat-trick. Ex-Valencia defender Adil Rami was given his Serie A debut late on.