Preview: Atalanta BC vs. AC Milan

Preview: Atalanta BC vs. AC Milan

AC Milan meet Lombardy rivals Atalanta BC on Sunday evening, needing a win to seal their return to the Champions League after eight long years away.

Though the hosts have already secured a third consecutive campaign in Europe’s elite, their Coppa Italia final defeat in midweek took some gloss off an otherwise sparkling spell.

With a precious win to end the season on Sunday, former title hopefuls Milan can not only set a new all-time record for away wins in a Serie A season, but also – more importantly – ensure they have a seat at Europe’s top table again at the start of next season.

Defeat, however, could see the Rossoneri’s dreams shattered; potentially becoming only the second team in the history of the top flight to finish outside the top four of the standings having been crowned ‘Campione d’Inverno’ – Winter Champions.

Unless either Juventus or Napoli fail to capitalise on seemingly straightforward final-day fixtures, Stefano Pioli’s young squad will require all three points in Bergamo, following their frustrating goalless draw with Cagliari last time out.

Coming on the back of a clinical 3-0 defeat of Juventus and their seven-goal mauling of Turin’s second side Torino, many were unsurprised to see Milan struggle to win at home last Sunday, as it has been their form at San Siro in recent months that ultimately killed hopes of a first Scudetto since 2011.

As their record suggests, though, the Rossoneri have remained a formidable proposition on the road, so earning vengeance for their 3-0 loss in the reverse fixture with Atalanta – plus a 5-0 humbling by the Bergamaschi last season – could still be on the cards.

Even as they enter the final 90 minutes without attacking talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic to lead their line, at the other end, Pioli’s men have now kept a clean sheet in each of their last four Serie A games – their best such run for 15 years.

Nonetheless, they now undertake a crucial encounter against free-scoring opponents with nothing left to lose – and a team against whom Milan have won just once in their last 11 meetings.

Aside from puncturing their local rivals’ aspirations of joining them in the Champions League places on Sunday, Atalanta are sure to seek a club record second-place finish, just days after suffering cup final heartache.

Wednesday’s cruel 2-1 defeat to Juventus will have left a bitter taste in the mouths of Gian Piero Gasperini and his charges, as despite going in level at half time, they ultimately blew their chance of collecting the club’s first major trophy in almost 60 years.

The Nerazzurri, however, have been in scintillating form in the league of late and could win eight home games in a row for the first time in their history with victory this weekend.

Furthermore, they have racked up 27 goals in their last nine league fixtures at the Gewiss Stadium, as red-hot sharpshooter Ruslan Malinovskiy has become the first Serie A midfielder involved in at least one goal for 10 consecutive games since 2005; top scorer Luis Muriel recently racked up his 25th strike of the season; and flying wing-back Robin Gosens moved onto a remarkable 12 goals for the campaign.

Such stellar performances – including five-goal hauls against both Parma and Bologna, plus last week’s 4-3 win over Genoa – have helped Atalanta to reach 78 points heading into the final round: a tally already equalling their previous record, posted only last season.

To reach a new high, then, they must now demonstrate that their resilience matches their brilliance, with victory over their more feted neighbours.

Atalanta BC Serie A form:
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Atalanta BC form (all competitions):
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AC Milan Serie A form:
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