This town ain’t big enough for the both of us, they used to say in the Wild West. And in the Serie A saloon, it would appear, there is a similar simmering animosity between two contenders to be the most attacking and entertaining side in the division. Their latest showdown saw Atalanta send Lazio scampering off into the sunset in some style.
Sport is all about rivalries, of course. Be it Borg versus McEnroe or Senna against Prost, we like it when opponents seem to get under one another’s skin a little. In recent times, the Bergamaschi and Biancocelesti have dished up a string of classics which have been filled with more buzz and intensity than a triple espresso. For neutrals, they have been gloriously spectacular - but heaven knows how the nerves of their respective fans have held up in such pulsating affairs.
The result, in truth, was more emphatic this time around with Gian Piero Gasperini’s side completing a miserable day for the Inzaghi boys, Simone suffering a heavy defeat not long after brother Pippo’s Benevento. Nonetheless, there were moments when the home side were definitely on top and looked like they would open the scoring and, later, get back into the match. But Atalanta have the tools to hurt you if you lose focus for even a moment.
That felt like the main lesson from this defeat for the capital club. They were their old expansive selves at times and created more than enough chances to make the match much closer. But their attention drifted too often and they let their concentration dip when their opponents hardly ever did. The marauding Robin Gosens and Hans Hateboer and the scintillating Papu Gomez are not the kind of guys who need a second invitation to cause you distress.
This was a tetchy affair too, at times, and it felt like Atalanta handled it better than their hosts. Referee Fabio Maresca set out his stall to give few free-kicks and that seemed to suit them down to the ground. They like to get in your face and outwork an opponent, while Lazio were often caught looking round waiting for a whistle that never came. Two or three of their players lost their cool in seeking calls they felt should have gone their way.
Despite the scale of the defeat, though, it should not be a performance to induce outright despair in followers of the Roman club. They had spells of strong play and showed an admirable attitude to keep trying long after the game was gone. Although it might stick in their throat to admit it, they simply came up against a better side in this midweek match-up. The good news is they won’t meet teams anywhere near as good as the boys from Bergamo most weeks in Serie A. Except they’ve got Inter next. Oh dear.
And what to say of this Atalanta side? If we were looking to see if they could confirm the great things they showed last season then the answer - so far anyway - can only be a resounding yes. Despite losing a few of their stars, they remain an outfit whose matches nobody who loves football should dare to miss. It would be no surprise if they shook up Europe again this term.
Indeed, this looks like a team that is now more confident of its qualities and that might make them even more dangerous. They were always good, but now they seem aware of exactly what they are capable of. Their Scudetto rivals have got more strength in depth, which might ultimately tell, but be warned, this club is no flash in the pan.
This early skirmish in Serie A was another for fans to savour in what looks like being a gripping and dramatic season. There is no shortage of rivalries out there to provide us with more shootouts like the one we witnessed in the Olimpico. All we have to do is retreat to a safe distance and watch the battles unfold.
Giancarlo Rinaldi is the author of a number of books about Italian football. You can find out more about them here.