Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 3/4
Atalanta and AS Roma are set to take each other on in the 24th matchday of their respective Serie A campaigns at the Atleti Azzurri d’Italia stadium on Saturday evening. It will be one of the two derbies of the round, the other being the clash between title chasers Lazio and Inter Milan on Sunday.
Atalanta have surprised the football world over the course of 2018/19, and they’ve obviously carried that spirit over into this campaign as well. Unexpected clubs finishing inside top four in the strongest leagues is not something unheard of, but rarely have any of them been able to sustain the form the following season. Leicester City were a good example of that when they won the Premier League in 2015/16 and finished in the lower half of the table in 2016/17; though they did reach the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Many expected Atalanta to drop both in Europe and domestically this season, but here they are, in the round of 16 of UEFA’s elite club competition and sitting fourth in the Serie A, with a great chance of repeating what they did last term. They’ve accumulated 42 points, and though it’s not realistic for them to be thinking about the title (Inter and Juventus share the top spot with 54, Lazio are third with 53), it seems at the moment that only Roma can jeopardize Atalanta’s chances of playing in the Champions League again in 2020/21.
Atalanta’s recent form has been somewhat patchy. Their last game of 2019 and the first of 2020 saw them destroy AC Milan and Parma by putting five past them apiece. The draw that followed away to Inter and the elimination from Coppa Italia at the hands of Fiorentina can’t really be described as disasters, but the home defeat by SPAL was certainly a shock. They bounced back in a perfect manner by putting seven past Torino in Turin, then drew at home to Genoa, before getting even with Fiorentina by winning 1-2 in Florence last week.
Coach Gian Piero Gasperini cannot count on defender Bosko Sutalo, but it shouldn’t make any difference to his plans as the 20-year-old Croatian hasn’t been included in a matchday squad all season so far.
Roma’s season hasn’t been very different to that of Atalanta so far which makes them fierce rivals probably for the rest of the season for that final Champions League spot, and that is arguably what makes this game extremely interesting. There’s only three points between the two teams at the moment. Should the Romans win, they’ll have drawn level.
They play in the Europa League this season after several Champions League appearances, and it was none other than Atalanta who took their place. They’ve secured passage into the knockout stages from a group in which they finished second to Istanbul Basaksehir, which also contained the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach and Austrian Bundesliga side Wolfsberg. They face Gent in the round of 32 on Thursday, which probably means they already have one eye on the Belgians as well which could serve as a distraction on Saturday.
Nonetheless, they have an experienced team, led by former Manchester City stars Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov, who know this game well enough not to allow their focus to split.
Coach Paulo Fonseca faces a bit of a crisis in the middle of the park. Having been sent off against Bologna last week, Bryan Cristante is suspended for this game. Amadou Diawara and Javier Pastore are injured. Nicolo Zaniolo is out for the season with an ACL tear, but fullback Davide Zappacosta, on loan from Chelsea, who suffered the same problem early in the campaign, could yet return to the team during the campaign. Not for this game, though.
While the visitors will be hoping to nullify the gap between the two teams by winning this contest, Atalanta will be looking to put some tangible distance between them in the same way. Only one team can win, obviously, and carried by the support from the stands, they are more likely to inflict the seventh defeat of the season on Roma.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 3/4
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