Atalanta on the brink of Champions League history


When Lombardy is mentioned, two clubs immediately come to mind; AC Milan and Inter Milan. However, there’s a third side causing a stir this season in Serie A – Atalanta.

San Siro co-tenants, AC and Inter have dominated Italy’s Northern region for over a century. The pair took turns to lay siege on the Serie A. A combined 36 Scudetto attests – one more than the dominant Juventus.

As well as taking turns to dominate the league, they’ve shaped the European football landscape. Milan picked the illustrious Champions League seven times, coming close four other times. Its blue-clad neighbours, meanwhile, lifted it three times out of five attempts.

Both sides have struggled in recent times, helplessly watching Juve dominate. This season’s triumph made it 8 consecutive Serie A titles for the Old Lady. Without much competition, Juve could extend that dominance next season.

There’s a twist this term. Either or both Milan giants could ultimately miss out on Europe’s elite club competition, the Champions League. With Juventus and Napoli’s tickets sealed as winner and runner-up, six teams are in the running for the final two places.

Eight points separate Inter Milan in third and Lazio in eighth. The Nerazzurri have lost serious momentum following three successive draws. Atalanta are in touching distance, one point behind. Milan and Roma – tied on points, are currently three off the pace.

This is an unfamiliar position for The Goddess. They qualified for the second-tier Europa League the past two seasons, Europe’s premium competition is currently a fantasy in Bergamo.

The club’s only other appearances in European competitions came in the UEFA Cup (1989-90 and 1990-91) and the Cup Winner’s Cup (1963-64 and 1987-88).

Following a remarkable victory in Rome,  Atalanta’s final three matches — Juventus and Sassuolo and Genoa will be crucial.

The fight for the final Champions League spot could come down to goal difference. Atalanta have a much superior difference of 28, compared to Roma’s 15, thanks in part to scoring a league-leading 71 goals — two more than Italian champions Juventus.

Duvan Zapata has 22 of those goals, putting him three behind Sampdoria forward Fabio Quagliarella in the race for the top scorer award, and within two of Atalanta’s season record set by Filippo Inzaghi in 1996-97.

No other Serie A team has played with such consistent courage this season: applying constant pressure on the ball and attacking as a team even if that means leaving themselves open at the back.

They have taken more touches in opponents’ penalty areas than any other side: a statistic which reflects both a habit for dominating opponents and the fact they are often winning back possession in advanced positions.