Surprisingly separated by just two points in the standings, Empoli and Atalanta BC meet at Stadio Carlo Castellani on Sunday, following unpredictable starts to the Serie A season.
While the newly-promoted home side have slayed Juventus and beaten Bologna to sit comfortably in mid-table, the visiting Bergamaschi have picked up only one point from their last two outings – against Lombardy rivals Inter and Milan.
After sustained excellence at home and abroad over the past three years, perhaps Atalanta’s strongest squad during that time have been frustratingly inconsistent this term, and they have won just three of their seven domestic fixtures so far – leaving them in eighth place.
They were, though, unbeaten in five games across all competitions – including a spectacular draw with champions Inter – before the visit of Milan a fortnight ago, with their Champions League exploits apparently building momentum in the camp.
However, it was the Rossoneri who secured maximum points against La Dea after a 3-2 victory, keeping them ahead of the ambitious upstarts from nearby Bergamo, who finished within a point of Stefano Pioli’s Scudetto contenders last May.
Conceding after only 28 seconds to Brescia-born Davide Calabria, the hosts were already three goals behind before a late rally saw them give the scoreline a respectable gloss. Duvan Zapata’s penalty and a stoppage-time strike from substitute Mario Pasalic were ultimately in vain, as the Nerazzurri slipped to a second Serie A loss of the season.
After a two-week hiatus for World Cup qualifying and the Nations League finale, Gian Piero Gasperini has reconvened his troops for a trip to Tuscany, where they will now meet the Serie B champions.
They can travel full of confidence, as Atalanta’s last defeat away from home in the league was back in March, to Inter. Since then, they have posted six wins and three draws – a record bettered only by leaders Napoli and second-placed Milan during that time.
Having posted successive victories and previously overturned an ailing Juventus side, before the break, Empoli were hopeful of springing another big surprise with a win at Roma.
Their visit to Stadio Olimpico, where the capital club have been almost invincible as the home team in recent months, did not live up to those aspirations though, as the Azzurri were beaten by goals from Giallorossi captain Lorenzo Pellegrini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan a few minutes either side of the half-time interval.
Roma took control of the match from thereon in, consigning Aurelio Andreazzoli’s men to their fourth defeat since their return to the top flight, in which they are yet to draw a game this term.
Though hardly considered great entertainers like their Sunday afternoon visitors, an industrious Empoli team features a smattering of attacking talent that will make them a threat to the often vulnerable Atalanta defence.
Having troubled Roma before being withdrawn through injury on the half-hour mark, young Inter loanee Andrea Pinamonti has joined chief creator Nedim Bajrami in an enterprising front line, which bodes well for the Tuscans’ plans of improving on the last time the Bergamaschi came to town.
The clubs last faced each other in Serie A back in April 2019, when a goalless game saw the most shots attempted in a 0-0 draw in over 15 years of such records being kept – with a remarkable 50 shots in total (Empoli 3, Atalanta 47) raining down on goal without hitting the net.
Empoli Serie A form:
Empoli form (all competitions):
Atalanta BC Serie A form:
Atalanta BC form (all competitions):
We say: Empoli 1-2 Atalanta BC
Empoli are a side buoyed by their adaptation to life in the elite and have nothing much to lose against one of Serie A’s new ‘Seven Sisters’, that dominate the top of the standings.
Though such fearlessness makes the Azzurri a tough proposition for many teams, Atalanta can fight fire with fire on Sunday, making up lost ground with a win courtesy of their array of attacking talents.