After a hard-earned draw in Europe during midweek, Atalanta BC return to Serie A duty in desperate need of points to revive their top four aspirations, as they meet Sassuolo on Sunday.
The Bergamaschi held RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie, but following last week’s loss at Napoli they sit seventh in the standings – just three places above their hosts.
Despite relatively smooth progress in Europe, where Thursday’s 1-1 draw in Leipzig followed impressive aggregate victories over Olympiacos and Bayer Leverkusen, recent travails in domestic competition have seen Atalanta suffer their worst spell for several years.
After a 3-1 home reverse to Napoli last Sunday, when the visitors took a two-goal lead before half time, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have only won three of their last 13 Serie A games – both losing and drawing five.
Indeed if they fail to beat Sassuolo on Sunday, it would be the Bergamo club’s worst such run over a period of 14 league matches since mid-2016, so a sharp change to their recent goal rate of just over one per game is surely required if they are to overhaul Juventus in fourth place.
Having previously scored an average of 2.2 goals per game, the absence of star striker Duvan Zapata has played a major role in La Dea slipping eight points behind the Turin giants, though they still have a game in hand.
Now that the much-coveted Colombian is back in the fold after a long injury layoff, Atalanta will aim to maintain a long unbeaten streak against their latest opponents: they have won 10 and drawn five of their last 15 Serie A meetings with Sassuolo.
That represents the club’s longest unbeaten run against any team in the Italian top flight, and includes September’s 2-1 success in the reverse fixture.
For all their impressive achievements in recent years, Sassuolo’s lone home win against Atalanta in Serie A came in the teams’ first ever top-flight meeting – back in 2013, when current captain Domenico Berardi scored past the Neroverdi’s number one goalkeeper, Andrea Consigli.
Since then, three draws and four losses have established the Emilian side as the junior partner in the relationship, but with their visitors now struggling for form in Serie A, the time could be ripe for Alessio Dionisi’s side to strike.
After victories against Fiorentina and Spezia previously, Sassuolo will be seeking a third successive home win for the first time since September 2018, and only their loss to Lazio last week ended a sparkling run of results.
Since the beginning of 2022, a side featuring Italy international strikers Berardi, Gianluca Scamacca and Giacomo Raspadori have scored the most goals in Serie A (26 in 12 matches) and have attempted the most shots too – also turning over Inter and Venezia to improve their prospects of a top-half finish.
However, any dreams of a late push for European football have been undermined by the 20 goals they have conceded since the turn of the year, while also facing 179 shots – the third-most of any team during that period.
The 19th and 20th of those goals came at Stadio Olimpico last Saturday, in their 2-1 defeat to Lazio, but having also beaten Milan and Juventus this season, they will be fearless when Atalanta roll into town.
Sassuolo Serie A form:
Atalanta BC Serie A form:
Atalanta BC form (all competitions):
We say: Sassuolo 2-2 Atalanta BC
Neither side has proved themselves secure defensively over recent weeks, and their respective strengths certainly lie in attack – so it could be an open affair.
While Sassuolo have benefited from a whole week to prepare, it has been another quick turnaround for Atalanta, who may ultimately be grateful to leave the Mapei Stadium with a point.