Atalanta play away at home in final Champions League push
Atalanta, facing one of the biggest matches in the club’s 112-year history, will be playing away at home on Sunday as they bid to pip one of the two Milan teams to a place in next season’s Champions League.
The Bergamo team’s own stadium began rebuilding work this month and they are playing their final home matches of the season at the Maipei ground in Reggio Emilia — which happens to be the home of Sassuolo, their opponents on Sunday.
Around 18,000 fans are expected to make the 240-kilometre trip from Bergamo for what could be an historic evening for their team who have never previously played in the Champions League, or its predecessor the European Cup.
The remaining 4,000 places will be reserved for Sassuolo fans — in the away sector.
Atalanta are among four teams chasing the remaining two Champions League places on the final day of the Serie A season while, at the other end of the table, Fiorentina are among three sides trying to avoid the last of the three relegation spots.
Atalanta, Serie A’s topscorers with 74 goals, are third with 66 points from their 37 games ahead of Inter Milan on their head-to-head record, with AC Milan fifth on 65 and AS Roma sixth on 63.
Juventus won the title with five matches to spare and Napoli have guaranteed second place.
“Our confidence is now sky high and that is going to be crucial,” said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini after his team held Juventus 1-1 away last Sunday to extend their unbeaten league run to 12 matches.
“The Champions League would be extraordinary, but we mustn’t think that it’s already in our grasp.
Inter Milan’s confidence, on the other hand, is at a low ebb after they were thrashed 4-1 at Napoli last Sunday. They now face an Empoli side who are themselves battling to avoid the drop and have three successive wins behind them.
Inter’s erratic form has led to speculation over the future of coach Luciano Spalletti amid widespread media reports that former Juventus, Chelsea and Italy coach Antonio Conte is being lined up to replace him.
AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso is a similar position as his team prepare to visit SPAL. Milan set the Champions League as their clear target their season and Gattuso could be fired even if they qualify.
At the bottom, Genoa are in the relegation zone with 37 points with Empoli above them on 38 and Udinese and Fiorentina on 40, although there is no combination of results which can relegate Udinese.
Fiorentina, who returned to the top flight in 2004 after recovering from bankruptcy and have been ever-present since, host Genoa and defeat will condemn them to the second tier if Udinese avoid losing.
Vincenzo Montella’s side have lost their last six games in all competitions, are scoreless in their last four and winless in their last 13.
“Everything is going wrong at the moment, but we mustn’t think of ourselves as victims,” said Montella after they lost 1-0 at Parma last Sunday. “We mustn’t waste energy, or think everything has been thrown away. We must go onto the pitch without fear.”
REUTERS/Writing by Brian Homewood Editing by Amlan Chakraborty