Thursday July 23 2020
Same Atalanta, different Milan

Atalanta humiliated Milan back in December, but Vilizar Yakimov warns that Stefano Pioli’s men are eager to prove just how much they’ve changed in half a season.

Just how much can a team change after one defeat? That’s the question that popped up when re-watching Atalanta’s 5-0 win over Milan in Week 17. It was seven months ago in real time, but still technically only half a season away.

In fact, a case might be made that the defeat in Bergamo was the turning point in Milan’s campaign, as Stefano Pioli’s men have lost only two games since then.

In a way the Atalanta defeat decided the fate of contradictory figures like Krzysztof Piatek, Suso and Ricardo Rodriguez, who were all shown the door shortly after. At the same time, the disheartened display of the whole team was screaming for some fresh blood and despite the tricky financial situation and limited time, the club deserves credit for bringing in just that.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has undoubtedly been the most notable January addition, but even Alexis Saelemakers and Simon Kjaer have proved to be important signings and even difference makers on some occasions.

Since his arrival, Ibra has contributed with seven goals and four assists in 15 appearances and while those numbers look good, it would be unfair to judge the Swede’s impact only based on stats. Zlatan’s presence in the team demands a certain level of performance from everyone else, while his charisma and arrogance have done wonders for the confidence of the team.

A solid proof of the Zlatan effect is that Ante Rebic, who now has 11 goals to his name, was yet to score a single goal prior Ibra’s arrival. Rafael Leao is another player who appears to be much more confident ever since, netting four out of his five strikes in that period too.

Of course, as much as Ibra would like that, we can’t justify the dramatic improvement of the Rossoneri solely by his presence. Stefano Pioli has arguably been the main man behind the team’s resurrection in 2020, as the 54-year-old made some tactical twists and managed to get the best out of players like Rebic, Ismael Bennacer and Hakan Calhanoglu, who were simply not consistent enough earlier in the season.

The growth of Bennacer has been particularly exciting, as the 22-year-old Algerian has become one of the most influential midfielders in Serie A and has formed a formidable partnership with the rejuvenated Franck Kessie. The Ivorian was another frustrating figure in the pre-Pioli Milan, as his effort and motivation were often questioned, but his recent form makes him one of the team’s main pillars.

What’s been most impressive, however, is the fact that Milan have scored an average of 2.16 goals per game since the Atalanta defeat, as Stefano Pioli’s men have failed to find the back only once in 18 games played in 2020.

In fact, only Atalanta with a whopping 3.22 and Juventus (2.41) have managed a higher average of scored goals than the Rossoneri since the beginning of the year. Considering that Pioli’s men already defeated the Bianconeri a few weeks ago, we can easily say that, alongside La Dea, Milan has easily been the best team in the post-pandemic Serie A reality.

This makes the upcoming clash between the two sides completely different from the one-sided affair that we watched back in December and some might argue that the Rossoneri might even have a slight advantage.

Atalanta have continued to impress, but with what seems just a matter of time for Juventus to win their ninth consecutive Scudetto and a Champions League spot already secured, La Dea have shown signs of slowing down. Josip Ilicic has failed to reproduce his electric displays before the pandemic, even shelved entirely to prepare for the Champions League, while the games against Verona and Bologna were played in a much slower tempo than usual.

Gasperini himself confirmed that everyone in Bergamo is already thinking about their Champions League quarter-final clash with Paris Saint-Germain, so the timing of the game seems perfect for Milan.

Atalanta are still the same formidable attacking juggernaut that trashed the Rossoneri seven months ago, but might come short in terms of motivation and hunger, while Ilicic will be missed. On the other hand, despite already securing Europa League football, the Rossoneri have improved immensely and are obliged to defend their pride, as well as their choice to stick with Pioli beyond this season.

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Have your say...
I don't like false modest and Juveman Gasperini, but I admit he has been doing a great job with Atalanta for the last 4-5 years at least, thanks also to the phenomenal Papu Gomez who is and has been the engine of that machine, and I honestly think that Atalanta will laminate PSG, and embarrass them greatly, and good luck to them.
on the 25th July, 2020 at 1:36am
@Roland B. I agree better man-management might have been called for here, although I would have stopped short of deliberate yellows during the Bologna match as Sassuolo is arguably one of the most in form sides post break. When it was 11v11 the match was quite even. I think your early sub idea immediately at 11v10 is correct. Or I would have chosen one of Theo or Bennacer to sit out the match completely to hedge at least one being available. Romagnoli was also on a yellow pre-injury I believe.
on the 24th July, 2020 at 4:57pm
I don't remember Inter missing three of their best players in a big match simultaneously. Then again they have good bench, Milan's alternatives are terrible compared to the first choices.
on the 24th July, 2020 at 8:34am
This here is on the Milan coaching staff for not doing much to prevent the absence of Théo and Benacer they knew well enough that they were one booking away from suspension so I would have 1) Done the José Mourinho I would have make them pick up a needless Yellow against Bologna which I think was the game Sassuolo which mean they miss the Sassuolo game but are available for the Atalanta’s game
2) sub them as soon as we went up vs 10 men Sassuolo. So this one it’s on the Milan coaching staff
on the 24th July, 2020 at 3:39am
should still be a good match regardless of who is out! Can see complaints about no romagnoli, bennacer, or theo, lots of clubs have had lots of injuries. Inter have been without lukaku, barella, sensi, broz, de vrij etc. for a lot of the games they have dropped results. These are the players that smashed the first half of the season when they started so well. Will be interesting to see how everyone goes next season on an even playing field with rest and full squads!
on the 24th July, 2020 at 1:26am
You have to be clueless to not include Calhanoglu as one of the key players in current Milan. Jeez
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 9:18pm
Why do all these reporters get their knives out when Milan are in a hole but when things are going good then there is glory everywhere from the same people.

The comments from the haters never change.
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 7:52pm
It may not be 5-0 again, but I think Milan will be lucky to come away with a point here. Missing Theo, Bennacer, and Romagnoli is absolutely fatal. It's 3 of our top 5 players, the other two being Rebic and Ibra. I think the team should actually approach this game as a defensive challenge, the goal: not lose. Defend and counter. Gigio; Laxalt, Gabbia, Kjaer, Calabria; Krunic, Kessie; Rebic, Hakan, Salaemaekers; Ibra. Krunic and Kessie should stay deep at all times in this one.
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 3:39pm
It sucks because this is a game you want to put milan to the real test but now you know theo romagnoli bennacer are guaranteed out. Three vital players. On the other hand, milans bench have done so well you want to see if they have what it takes to compete with Atalanta and show their depth. Should be interesting but if milan lose I hope people don't start to turn around so easy again
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 2:16pm
no ilicic for atalanta and no romagnoli, musacchio, duarte, theo, conti, bennacer, castillejo, for milan.

should be re-titled same atalanta vastly depleted milan.

defensively as a fan i am worried hopefully kjaer is fit for the game otherwise there really isn't any defensive alternatives we could see biglia play as a centre back. gabbia has been pretty solid considering his experience he does need a solid partner. laxalt is questionable. i would prefer krunic as cover for bennacer over bigli
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 1:24pm
no ilicic for atalanta and no romagnoli, musacchio, duarte, theo, conti, bennacer, castillejo, for milan.

should be re-titled same atalanta vastly depleted milan.

defensively as a fan i am worried hopefully kjaer is fit for the game otherwise there really isn't any defensive alternatives we could see biglia play as a centre back. gabbia has been pretty solid considering his experience he does need a solid partner. laxalt is questionable. i would prefer krunic as cover for bennacer over bigli
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 1:23pm
In all reality, not just how the table would've looked like if we are looking only t post-corona Serie A table, Milan & Atalanta are the best Italian teams, with the most points and wins behind their name. So, watching this match, would be a real treat!
Although the obvious fatigue & the missing players, like Theo & Bennacer in Milan, and Ilicic in Atalanta, will surely be a factor. But let's hope for a real clash that'll show us who's the best re-started Serie A team!
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 12:16pm
Good article but what the writer fails to mention is the fact that the aforementioned Bennacer along with Theo and Romagnoli will not take part in the match. Obviously without three of their best and most influential players (pillars, if you will) Milan can't replicate the recent displays, specially since the alternatives are much, much worse players. It's a shame though, could've been a real spectacle with them taking part.
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 11:48am
but consider without Romagnoli Theo Bennacer and i think kjaer too
on the 23rd July, 2020 at 10:12am

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