With both teams reeling from the last round’s crushing defeats, and unable to string together anything like consistency, this is very a tough game to call.
Atalanta would have been disappointed to drop points at home to lowly Chievo, but their dire performance and come-and-get-me defending made certain that the Flying Donkeys enjoyed a happy coach ride home. With the exception of goalkeeper Andrea Consigli and the vibrant Jaime Valdez up front, the team looked utterly uninspired without their influential captain Cristiano Doni. And Gigi Del Neri was left furious in the wake of the defeat, declaring his team as “arrogant” and “cocky” and fully deserving of what they got.
Where was the team who thrashed Roma 3-0 just a few weeks back? All but gone, it would seem. Their defence has disintegrated into a disorganized free-for-all and all signs of the good form they showed in the early part of the season have evaporated.
It looks as if Doni will also miss the trip to Milan and they will sorely miss his driving creativity and dead ball expertise. A true unsung hero of Serie A, Doni still has a season or two in him to ensure his beloved Nerazzurri remain a fixture in the top flight. And his absence against Milan will be telling because they have no-one anywhere near his quality to step up in his place.
Meanwhile, Milan are still reeling from after a shock UEFA Cup exit and defeat at Sampdoria left their season in tatters. The title was gone weeks back, and it almost seemed as if the Rossoneri had nothing to play for at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris last weekend. Their midweek trip to Qatar did nothing to dispel this fear, with a lucrative friendly in the middle of a somewhat mini-crisis little good for Ancelotti and his side’s mindset. Ancelotti will now be looking over his shoulder, with their Champions League spot far from guaranteed. The experienced Tactician has found himself under intense pressure following another poor campaign with rumours circulating this will be his last season in Milan – through his choice or not.
Most weeks Milan look like one decisive player away from taking all three points. Last week that player happened to be pulling the strings for Sampdoria, and his name is Antonio Cassano. In the absence of Kaka, Milan really have no-one to take the game by the horns and force the opposition into making mistakes. This lack of biting ambition has been their downfall for three seasons now – surely something has to change.
Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and David Beckham are a ponderous trio who seemed to lose their sense of direction for long periods of the game against the Blucerchiati. It remains staggering that Carlo Ancelotti makes little attempt to find a starting place for the ambitious and industrious Mathieu Flamini. His box-to-box energy is something the creaky midfield is sorely lacking. Should the plodding Emerson start in Flamini’s stead, it will reveal much about Ancelotti’s distrust of youth.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s game may well prove to be Beckham’s last in the red and black of the Rossoneri with his loan spell set to end next week. Whether or not it will be extended is still unclear but the former England skipper has made a big impact in Milan – on and off the pitch. Ancelotti has been impressed by Beck’s commitment and work ethic with the Italian Coach determined to keep him until the end of the season (and beyond). If this is to be his last San Siro outing, expect an emotional, passionate display from the England man as the crowd bid him farewell.
The generally unimpressive Daniele Bonera is expected to start alongside “Captain Fantastic” Paolo Maldini, and it’s hard to see Atalanta causing too many problems. However, Sergio Floccari and Jaime Valdes may have some joy against a Milan defence that often, because of injuries, fail to display any familiarity or confidence. Still, the physical presence of the Rossoneri back line is more than capable of keeping the danger away from Christian Abbiati’s nervy reach.
This will be an intriguing encounter between two teams hoping to wipe the recent spate of defeats from their minds. Ultimately, the game should mean a little more to the Rossoneri than the Bergamo outfit, as they are fighting to claim their automatic qualification spot for next season’s glittering Champion’s League. Atalanta, on the other hand, are perhaps rather pleased to find themselves in relative mid-table security at this stage of the season and, aside from individual players scrapping for reputation, the impetus really should rest with the home team.
Il Diavolo managed an away victory against Atalanta back in October and a victory on Sunday will do much to restore the bizarrely fragile confidence of a team packed with champions. Three points will go along way in their chase to assure third place – so there’s plenty to play for.