Inter and Atalanta share some similarities under Antonio Conte and Gian Piero Gasperini, but also have two distinct styles. It will be a game of two differing ideologies and approaches to the same sport, trying to impose their will on the other.
La Dea sometimes couldn't care less about defending. They've scored the most goals in Serie A this season, finding the back of the net 48 times. They've exceeded their XG by 5.65. Even if they hadn't exceeded their XG, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men would've still scored more goals than anyone else in the division.
Antonio Conte’s men represent the other side of the coin. The Nerazzurri have let in the fewest Serie A goals, just 15, with Stefan de Vrij probably being their best defender this season. Even by XA, Inter should be letting in the least number of goals in the division. That is very much poles apart, when it comes to comparisons with Atalanta.
Gasperini was famously sacked just five games into his 2011 Inter tenure, with then-President Massimo Moratti stating a three-man defence wasn’t in the nature of this club. It must therefore be somewhat pleasing for Gasp to see them make their best Scudetto challenge since that era while using three at the back.
Both these coaches have been using variations of 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 for many years now, honing it over time at their clubs and in Conte’s case country.
With a target man and a workhorse striker upfront in Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Inter rely incredibly on the both of them for goals. But the Nerazzurri go direct to the duo, helping them to combine. It is usually an outball from the wing-back areas that finds one of the front two. That happens quickly and Inter take little time to make this attacking transition happen.
This made Inter the side with the eighth highest amount of average possession per game - 52.6. It is less than Milan, Sassuolo and even Bologna. They've played an average of 503.7 passes per game, the fifth highest in the division.
As for La Dea, the absence of Duvan Zapata hasn't had that much impact on them. The combination and movement of their front three leaves the opposition rattled.
Papu Gomez, Josip Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi have stepped up in the absence of Zapata. Robin Gosens and Mario Pasalic have chipped in too, contributing to nine and seven goals respectively.
The Bergamo side boast the fourth-highest average possession per game, 54.8 percent. They have played more average passes than Inter, but Gasperini's men are less adept at long balls up the field. Inter have played 33.9 successful long balls per game. Atalanta stand at 28.4 and have played more inaccurate long balls per game than the Nerazzurri.
But their tendency to keep the ball on the ground and keep pressing forward with it has become their identity. That's why they've played more successful short passes than Inter, 395.7.
But one thing that sets Inter and Atalanta at the same level is their set piece taking ability. La Dea have scored six goals from set pieces, finding the net with four penalties. But Inter are at another level in that regard. Conte's men rely a lot more on deadball situations, scoring from seven set pieces and six spot-kicks.
That probably comes from Inter coming up with 3.8 successful corners per game, with Atalanta's numbers at 2.7. That explains why Atalanta have scored 35 goals from open play, more than anyone else in Serie A. They rely more on keeping the ball than anything else and the side thrives on it.
Atalanta have scored over two goals or more per game in every clash bar four. The fact that Inter have scored two goals or more only six times says a lot about their differences. One loves to score and outscore teams. The other focuses on scoring and not letting the opposition score.
And when they lock horns tonight, it will be a fascinating encounter. It will be a battle of sides with a mission to prove the supremacy of their style. But whoever wins, both have already made a name for themselves playing their own ways. That just makes them unique.
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