Gian Piero Gasperini deserves enormous praise for his work with Atalanta this season. With a modest squad and an even more modest budget, Gasperini has guided the team to the gates of the Champions League. With just two games for the Bergamo side left to play after Saturday, a win against Genoa was essential to keep up the pressure on the likes of Inter and Roma, both of whom have yet to play this round.
Arguably, no team is more deserving in Serie A of Champions League football than Atalanta this season. The club lead the division’s goal scoring charts with 73 goals so far and this attractive, attacking football has turned the heads of many football fans across Europe, all of whom will be curious about the prospect of Gasperini’s side in Europe’s most illustrious club competition next season.
Now is not the time for the side to slack, however, as they need just four points to be sure, but with a tricky tie away at Scudetto winners Juventus and a Coppa Italia Final against Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio to contest at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday.
Atalanta have met Juve twice already this term and both times suggested Gasperini’s style has the better of Max Allegri. Only Cristiano Ronaldo’s determination got 10-man Juve a point in Serie A, while the Bianconeri were demolished 3-0 in the Coppa Italia, but both those encounters were in Bergamo.
In many ways, Lazio and Milan have had similar seasons. Despite being in different races at this stage of the campaign, Lazio in the hunt for Europa League whilst the Rossoneri are aiming for the Champions League, both have had strong patches of form combined with disappointing dips in quality, injury problems and disappointing continental performances. That being said, both teams came into this weekend with just two wins from their last four league games, but did not let their travelling fans down.
For Milan, a 1-0 win away to Fiorentina was enough to secure a vital three points, keeping their first clean sheet away from home since Genoa on January 21. It’s a positive result which will boost the team heading into the final two games of the season against Frosinone and SPAL, both of which the Rossoneri will be favourites to win. Milan sit just a point behind Inter and with their fierce rivals and the Champions League in sight, Gattuso will have to ensure that his team deliver.
Lazio’s victory puts them within a point of city rivals, Roma, ahead of the Giallorossi hosting Juventus. However, with the Champions League all but out of sight after the disappointing defeat to Atalanta last week, it would have been easy for Simone Inzaghi’s side to slump and struggle against a plucky Cagliari. Goals from Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa soon put minds at ease though, despite a late trademark header from Cagliari’s Leonardo Pavoletti.
On Wednesday, Lazio must face Atalanta in the Coppa Italia Final in their own stadium in Rome. Lazio can qualify for the Europa League group stage by winning the tie, but Atalanta will be up for winning just their second ever domestic cup and their first since the 1962-63 season.
If Gasperini really does manage to balance a tricky fixture list, Coppa Italia triumph and fourth place, nobody can take that Coach of the Season award from his grasp.