Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli future appears bleak after the Coppa Italia holders’ hopes of retaining their crown were ended by a 3-1 defeat at Atalanta.
Gattuso led Napoli to their sixth Coppa Italia triumph in his first half-season at the club in 2019-20, and talks of a new deal were rife earlier this season.
Yet those discussions have made way for reports of Gattuso’s imminent departure and, despite a spirited second-half showing sparked by Hirving Lozano’s 53rd-minute goal, his time might be up.
Without Kostas Manolas or Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli’s defence was carved open in the first half – Duvan Zapata integral as he scored the opener and twice set up Matteo Pessina, whose double sent Atalanta into a final against last season’s runners up Juventus.
After drawing 0-0 in the first leg, Atalanta threw away a three-goal lead against Torino on Saturday and might have conceded early on this time had Lorenzo Insigne directed a dipping volley on target.
But it was Atalanta who hit the front when Zapata arrowed a brilliant 10th-minute shot into the left-hand corner from 25 yards out.
Zapata turned provider six minutes later, the Colombia striker playing a crisp first-time pass into the path of Pessina to round off a slick team move.
1+1 – Duván #Zapata has both scored and provided assist in two matches with Atalanta in 2021 (v Sassuolo in Serie A and tonight), as many as in the entire 2020. Predator.#AtalantaNapoli #CoppaItalia pic.twitter.com/IS8xZR5QFn
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 10, 2021
Atalanta could have had a third prior to the break if Zapata had kept a close-range prod down.
With nothing to lose, Napoli came out rejuvenated after the break, and had their rewards when Lozano turned in at the second attempt following Pierluigi Gollini’s save.
Zapata should then have restored Atalanta’s two-goal lead, yet failed to keep his header on target after meeting Josip Ilicic’s corner.
His profligacy may have proved costly, but Gollini made a superb stop to deny Victor Osimhen, and Pessina ultimately wrapped up the win with a deft close-range finish to book Atalanta’s place in the final.
What does it mean? Finally time for Gasperini glory?
Atalanta have been one of the most entertaining and enthralling teams to watch under Gian Piero Gasperini’s tutelage. They lost to Lazio in the 2018-19 Coppa final, but will have their second chance in the space of three seasons to claim the silverware their incredible rise has been worthy of.
Napoli meanwhile have now lost four of their last seven matches in all competitions, and it remains to be seen if Gattuso will be in charge when they face Juve next.
Zapata the difference
Luis Muriel has been Atalanta’s main man for goals this term, but his strike partner Zapata delivered a match-winning performance on Wednesday.
His opener was a wicked effort which gave David Ospina little chance, before he then played inch-perfect passes into Pessina for Atalanta’s second and third goals. He has now both scored and assisted in two matches in 2021, matching his total from last year.
Napoli’s defence found wanting
Missing Manolas and Koulibaly, Napoli’s defence simply could not handle the fluidity with which Atalanta’s attack played.
The hosts managed 19 attempts in total, with seven of those hitting the target, and in spite of Napoli’s brief resurgence, Atalanta were worthy victors.
Atalanta have a Serie A trip to Cagliari on Sunday, with Napoli hosting Juve in a huge match a day earlier.
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