Friday July 24 2020
They might both be giants

The two best teams in Italy since the restart proved to Giancarlo Rinaldi just how far Atalanta have come and what the future holds for Milan.

If the Serie A season had started after lockdown, this would have been a top of the table clash. It speaks volumes, however, that it was much more of a surprise for Milan to be setting such a pace than it was for Atalanta. Their match in the eerily quiet San Siro told us how far one team had come and the journey still facing the other.

That the Rossoneri have made progress under Stefano Pioli - with additions of no little note like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer - is undeniable. The resurgence earned their coach a deserved contract extension in a U-turn well worthy of the soap opera the club has appeared in recent times. Why overhaul everything when you actually have some decent foundations in place anyway? Don’t wreck it Ralf Rangnick felt like a pragmatic decision which probably suited everyone involved.

There was a spell of about 20 years from the early 1990s when a visit of the boys from Bergamo was a pretty much guaranteed home win for the Milanese giants, but those days are long gone. More recent times have confirmed the Bergamaschi as one of the most glorious realities of Italian football. It has coincided with a pretty shambolic spell in the post-Silvio Berlusconi age at one of Europe’s most successful sides. Under the Friday night lights, though, there was definitely more hope than despair for once.

A lot of the credit for that must go to Pioli, although Rino Gattuso might be looking on thinking what wonders he could have done with some of the new arrivals at the club. It doesn’t feel like he has done anything revolutionary, simply given a chaotic set-up a decent structure and shape. Since football returned, Hakan Calhanoglu has looked like a different player. The reason according to him? He is playing in his preferred trequartista role - who would have thought it?

This more gentle evolution is probably exactly what Milan needed. You could see in this game that the presence of Ibra has inspired those around him to give a little more and to think a little more of themselves. If anyone was going to give the red and black devils a bit more fire in their bellies, it was probably him.

It is more than that, of course. Alongside belief has come a bit of stability and a growing confidence acquired with each positive result. No wonder they decided not to rip everything up this summer and start again. Financially, too, let’s be honest that it probably makes more sense to carry out a smaller scale restyling under Pioli than might otherwise have taken place.

It was enough to stand toe to toe with one of Italy’s best at the moment and make them sweat for most of their 90 minutes. Yes, there were spells where the slick Atalanta machine threatened to sweep them aside, but there were also periods where they more than held their own. If you remember the 5-0 hammering from earlier this season, such a recovery hardly seemed possible in the space of one - undeniably lengthy - campaign.

As for Papu Gomez and company, they were a little below their best for this encounter, which again tells us much about what we have come to expect from them. Maybe even they don’t believe - despite Juve’s setback in Udine - that the Scudetto is a serious prospect. The way they are keeping Josip Ilicic wrapped up would suggest that the Champions League is quite heavily on their mind.

That sentence says everything about the amazing story which has unfolded at the club in recent times. To have pushed the Bianconeri so close in the league - and it might have been closer without a couple of handball penalties - would be a big enough achievement for a side of their size. The fact that they are being whispered of as sneaky outsiders for the biggest competition in the continent is absolutely incredible. We think of the Champions League as a closed shop for the big boys only, but Atalanta are rattling on that door with a wonderful disregard for the established order.

Indeed, Friday night showed us that, ultimately, there is room for teams to rise and fall above and below their traditional positions. Milan took a step towards the Europa League which they would historically have thought beneath themselves, while Gian Piero Gasperini’s side will be in Europe’s top competition, where they have looked more and more at home. Between them, they dished up an entertaining encounter where everyone could take away a positive. La Dea looks increasingly divine with each passing game and - if this side can be held together - could be on the verge of more special moments. And the Rossoneri? They might finally be on the right track - if they show a bit of patience and good sense in how they rebuild. Who knows, they could even catch up to Atalanta one day.

Have your say...
Lazio fan is so funny saying that Milan can challenge the Scudetto and UCL in couple of years. Once Sarri was sacked, Juventus will win the title at least 5 rounds in advance. Inter r miles ahead?They can’t even qualify the group stage and they r miles ahead of a potential UCL challenger Milan? LOL.
Lazio won’t qualify group stage and finish top 4 in Serie A next season.Their tactic is not working in Europe. So is Inter’s.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 10:04pm
Milan need more than a few top players.. besides the fact - Milan don’t have much money to spend!! FFP will still be an ongoing issue. These players are doing well under these circumstances. But the playing field changes once all the teams get regular rest. Inter aren’t playing well at all but are still a far superior team. Milan will do well just to compete for top 6 again next year.
on the 26th July, 2020 at 10:20am
as for milan who knows over the last decade there have been many false dawns besides they might sell off key players in the summer.

there are 5 maybe 6 players who are quality and have been consistently decent for prolonged periods the rest of team are questionable. the likes of hakan and kessie have only really started to show their quality equally they could disappoint again.

mian lack a consistent goalscorer along with technical wide players and cover for key players.
on the 25th July, 2020 at 5:48pm
providing atalanta don't sell off their best players they are interesting prospect they could probably afford to lose gosen but only for a absurd fee they shouldn't have to see with the revenue they will receive from the champions league and sells they have already made.

amad traore is a interesting youth prospect he would probably benefit from going out on loan given that muriel and zapata dominate the striking position. if they take advantage of the academy the could be real contenders
on the 25th July, 2020 at 5:37pm
Milan could challenge for the title next season. I dont know why it is said it will take years?
With such a short pre-season they can build on the momentum
on the 25th July, 2020 at 5:21pm
@firetruck . Man city is not an elite club lol
on the 25th July, 2020 at 3:24pm
As a LAZIO fan i say AC MILAN are going in right track they just need 2-3 years of sticking with same players. with right investment and good players brought they will definitely challenge for SCUDETTO and Champions league. Inter Milan are miles ahead of them.
on the 25th July, 2020 at 3:11pm
its called 'irony' Milan Fan. Brush up on comprehension along with your continued tactical analysis of the game.

CG: with crotone? genoa? x9 misunderstood tests with inter?
i would think 'winning' with smaller teams has built-in relativism
on the 25th July, 2020 at 2:54pm
One thing I have to say that is going into this game knowing theo romagnoli and bennacer were out I thought here's our real test, can these boys have depth to cover those important holes? Cause we all know in a regular season you won't be playing the same players every game. Well they impressed. It's no easy task to go up against Atalanta and we hit two posts and could easily have won. Belief in this team now and to build on it. Need a quality rb and creative midfielder
on the 25th July, 2020 at 1:41pm
Milan seem to have awakened and this is very exciting so far... however to state that they need 3 top players to be among Europe's elite is far fetched. With 3 top players they can surely win the league.... but placing them with Man C, Liverpool, both Madrid teams etc is a little too ambitious. If they get quality and maintain this then in 2-3 years they will be back to the elite tier
on the 25th July, 2020 at 11:49am
As a Milan fan I tip my hat to what Atalanta have achieved. It is a well run club financially, it’s renovating its stadium and as we all know has an amazing youth setup. Regards Milan, I think with a smart transfer campaign where we focus on quality rather than quantity they can hopefully push on next season. Getting back into the c. League would increase the finances and attract a higher caliber of player. @maldinis heir, very interesting point regarding playing in front of crowds!!
on the 25th July, 2020 at 11:24am
This is from a devoted Juve fan.Milan is my 2nd team.People must calm down a bit with Atalanta.Yes, they've done well.Clap clap clap. But Gasperini has won diddly squat in his coaching career, and he is 62. Sarri is not far off, but let's not go there.Milan needs three top players,and they will be back among the elite in Europe. Atalanta is nothing more than Napoli was two seasons ago - a flash in the pan that people get excited about, that will win nothing.
on the 25th July, 2020 at 9:03am
but then he loses it. So, again, we'll have to see. All we can do is make decisions based on what is infront of us. Had Milan played like this all season they'd be challenging for the title. Whether or not that's possible with this squad depends on the answer to those two questions not some transfer merry-go-round where more of our players end up playing for teams that finish above us (like Caldara, Bonucci, Acerbi, De Scilgio, Cristante, Pašalić, Higuain and Kalinic).
on the 25th July, 2020 at 5:10am
The main questons I have about this Milan squad are: a) can they perform before crowds?; and can Pioli keep them at this level (or will it end like Lazio and Inter)?. I've thought for a long time that Milan players struggle especially at home. That is where the real pressure comes from. Playing behind closed doors has really helped them. But for all our sakes they can't stay behind closed doors. Also, for some unknown reason, Pioli seems to be able to get his sides to put together these runs
on the 25th July, 2020 at 5:05am
It was a good solid performance from both sides. Atalanta are evidence of what a well managed team can achieve. Their players are nothing special. It's all about Gasperini getting the best of those players. Of course we can say the same about Milan now. Milan and Atalanta have swapped players in recent years and almost to a man they've performed better for Atalanta. Kessie epitomises that. He's only now starting to play at the level he did at Atalanta. That is the secret sauce,
on the 25th July, 2020 at 5:02am
Atalanta has been an amazing team this season but as a club they obviously are not among the 4-6 that should be fighting it out for CL qualifying spots. Milan, for years, have been the opposite.

Just like Ranieris PL miracle was fun, I'd love to see Atalanta win the CL. If Porto could...

The game was solid from both, but had Milan had just Bennacer for Biglia, forget Theo, Roma, Conti - they would have clinched it tonight. And that isn't something we could have said before the lockdown.
on the 25th July, 2020 at 4:35am
i looked at both sides team-sheet i see similarities between the double-roasters! s'maekers castillejo kessie these are atlanta players man! only less gelled!! discredit to milan. in these days chinese can give you money, liverpool got lucky with fenway as they are penny-pinchers as well demanding...
on the 25th July, 2020 at 3:50am

There is only one giant between these two teams, and she's been sleeping for a long time. She's waking up now.

All credit to Atalanta for this little fairytale they got going for themselves, but please, do not insult Milan with sentences like "they could even catch up to Atalanta one day."

Atalanta need another century to even come close to catching Milan.
on the 24th July, 2020 at 11:21pm

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