Atalanta completed a marvellous comeback to beat Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo and go level on points with fourth-placed Milan.
The Partenopei’s season was fizzling out after Juventus clinched the Scudetto and they crashed out of the Europa League quarter-final to Arsenal last week. On the other hand, Atalanta knew a win would put them level on points with Milan (albeit behind on head-to-head record) and rested Josip Ilicic ahead of Thursday’s Coppa Italia semi-final with Fiorentina.
Gianluca Mancini was booked just 40 seconds in for pulling back Dries Mertens by the collar, while Jose Callejon tested Pierluigi Gollini from distance.
Dries Mertens pounced on a defensive error to go clear on goal, but as he tried to dribble around Gollini one-on-one, the Belgian lost his footing. There was no suggestion of a red card offence and Mertens immediately waved to the referee acknowledging as much.
Vlad Chiriches added to the Napoli injury crisis in defence when he dislocated his shoulder in the opening minutes. This is a recurring issue for him, so the Romanian made way for Sebastiano Luperto.
Elseid Hysaj made a decisive interception to stop Duvan Zapata nodding in a corner from six yards, while Arkadiusz Milik saw his strike charged down by Marten de Roon.
Play became increasingly difficult under a thunderstorm and that might’ve contributed to the bizarre opening goal. Kevin Malcuit burst down the right and pulled back into the six-yard box, where Mancini came sliding in and accidentally kicked the ball on to Mertens’ buttock, so it ricocheted into the net.
Mertens tried to score a more conventional goal soon after, dribbling past two tackles only for Berat Djimsiti to charge down the finish.
Piotr Zielinski was sent clear by a marvellous team move, but Gollini came flying off his line to make the save. At the other end, David Ospina was almost taken by surprise at the near post by a Papu Gomez snapshot.
Mertens managed to squeeze his finish past Gollini from a tight angle and it rolled in front of an empty net, but Milik was late getting there and Atalanta defenders could clear.
On the stroke of half-time, Ospina flew to palm a Gomez screamer out of the near top corner.
After Hysaj tested Gollini at the near post, there was an extraordinary goal-line clearance from Andrea Masiello to deny Milik. The Pole had chipped it over the goalkeeper and the defender somehow managed to get back to kick it away with millimetres still on the line, as technology was the only way to be sure it hadn’t gone over.
Atalanta fought back, Ospina parrying a Gomez dipping strike and Hans Hateboer’s angled drive skimming the upright on the rebound.
It was end to end stuff, as Mertens ran into the six-yard box down the left only to roll across the face of goal for nobody to meet it, then Hateboer made a sensational last-ditch tackle on the Belgian. Mertens hit the side-netting after a gift from the Atalanta defence, then Ilicic tried to set up Zapata rather than go for goal himself.
After wasting so many chances, Napoli eventually fumbled their lead. It was a well-worked Atalanta move, as Ilicic sent Hateboer down the right and his pull-back found Duvan Zapata in front of Koulibaly for a tap-in.
It remained wide open, as Ilicic stung Ospina’s gloves at the near post, then Milik drilled inches wide at the other end. Atalanta completed the turnaround 10 minutes from time, as Ilicic cut inside and threaded through for Duvan Zapata, whose run drew two defenders with him, so he back-heeled it for Mario Pasalic to sweep home from eight yards.
Malcuit pulled back for Callejon, with the shot too central and beaten away by Gollini, while on the counter only Luperto’s decisive interception prevented Ilicic tapping into an empty net.
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