There’s always a danger in anticipating a game too much. It was more than possible - after all - that the lengthy break might have dulled Atalanta and Lazio’s ability to entertain. In the end, though, we need not have worried.
From the first whistle to the last, Serie A’s most sparkling sides stood toe-to-toe in a no-holds-barred encounter. The visitors looked like blowing their hosts away in a blistering opening half hour or so of beautiful football. But the boys from Bergamo never know when they’re beaten and showed amazing reserves of energy and character to come back and turn the game around. It was hard not to think, when it was all over, of some smiling going on in Turin. Tra due litiganti, il terzo gode - they say in Italy - when two dispute, the third enjoys.
The neutrals will have savoured this one, though, along with Juventini. Not every match since football’s return has made us all that glad to see it. This one, however, was like an old friend welcomed with open arms. Well, you would, if that were allowed.
From a Biancocelesti standpoint it felt like a grievous, but not necessarily fatal, blow to their title aspirations. This was one of the toughest away trips in Italian football and they simply seemed to run out of steam. If they can produce over 90 minutes what they did in a breathtaking first 30, they could still have a Scudetto tilt in them. It is worth remembering that this was their first game after the lengthy standstill, they will surely gather match-sharpness in future encounters. They need to do it quickly, mind you.
But what a team they looked in those opening exchanges. Nearly every time they broke, Simone Inzaghi’s side created a chance and they did it in a range of fashions. They could go wide, they could go long or they could pass intricately through the middle. And then they had Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, a giant with the footballing grace of a ballerina. If you’ve not signed up to his fanclub yet, I don’t want to talk to you about Calcio.
Maybe the absentees, too, did harm the capital club in the long run. Taking the likes of Lucas Leiva, Luiz Felipe, Adam Marusic and Senad Lulic out of the reckoning would hurt anyone. It didn’t look like it made much of a difference early on, but it is hard not to think that a stronger all-round squad of players might have helped them to see this one out.
And what to say of La Dea? This was an emotional night in a city which has been so devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Sport seems small fry in the face of genuine tragedy, but the team did its little bit to raise spirits. After Inter’s slip-up earlier in the day, they look genuine contenders for third place in Serie A at the very least.
They were oddly disjointed in the opening exchanges but, over time, they found their stride once again. Even without the magical left foot of Josip Ilicic for most of the match, they still managed to deliver some spellbinding stuff. Go and Google Ruslan Malinovskyi’s goal right now if you haven’t seen it yet. We already said it before the break, but if you don’t watch Atalanta every week right now, you really are missing out.
They couldn’t make a serious tilt at the Champions League too, could they? The head says probably not, but the heart says what a story that would be. In the revamped closing stages might they just be the kind of surprise package that could hit its stride and peak form to win a handful of key matches? There would certainly be few dry eyes watching around the world if Papu Gomez picked up that particular piece of silverware.
Some of us have been reluctant to get drawn back into football of late after all the world has been through. Sport seems a little bit hollow without its fans and with a major global disaster still playing out in the background. But this game went some way to pull us all in again with its skill, endeavour and ebb and flow. Pump up the fake supporter noise - if that’s your kind of thing - and you can almost feel the old feelings start to course through the veins.
It’s been an odd season, for sure, but on this evidence it could still be a compelling one. Summer football, to paraphrase John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, had me a blast.
Giancarlo Rinaldi is the author of a number of books about Italian football. You can find them here.