They might both be giants | Football Italia_3

  If the Serie A season had started after lockdown, this would have been a top of the table clash. It speaks volumes, however, that it was much more of a surprise for Milan to be setting such a pace than it was for Atalanta. Their match in the eerily quiet San Siro told us how far one team had come and the journey still facing the other.

  That the Rossoneri have made progress under Stefano Pioli – with additions of no little note like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer – is undeniable. The resurgence earned their coach a deserved contract extension in a U-turn well worthy of the soap opera the club has appeared in recent times. Why overhaul everything when you actually have some decent foundations in place anyway? Don’t wreck it Ralf Rangnick felt like a pragmatic decision which probably suited everyone involved.

  There was a spell of about 20 years from the early 1990s when a visit of the boys from Bergamo was a pretty much guaranteed home win for the Milanese giants, but those days are long gone. More recent times have confirmed the Bergamaschi as one of the most glorious realities of Italian football. It has coincided with a pretty shambolic spell in the post-Silvio Berlusconi age at one of Europe’s most successful sides. Under the Friday night lights, though, there was definitely more hope than despair for once.

  A lot of the credit for that must go to Pioli, although Rino Gattuso might be looking on thinking what wonders he could have done with some of the new arrivals at the club. It doesn’t feel like he has done anything revolutionary, simply given a chaotic set-up a decent structure and shape. Since football returned, Hakan Calhanoglu has looked like a different player. The reason according to him? He is playing in his preferred trequartista role – who would have thought it?

  This more gentle evolution is probably exactly what Milan needed. You could see in this game that the presence of Ibra has inspired those around him to give a little more and to think a little more of themselves. If anyone was going to give the red and black devils a bit more fire in their bellies, it was probably him.

  It is more than that, of course. Alongside belief has come a bit of stability and a growing confidence acquired with each positive result. No wonder they decided not to rip everything up this summer and start again. Financially, too, let’s be honest that it probably makes more sense to carry out a smaller scale restyling under Pioli than might otherwise have taken place.

  It was enough to stand toe to toe with one of Italy’s best at the moment and make them sweat for most of their 90 minutes. Yes, there were spells where the slick Atalanta machine threatened to sweep them aside, but there were also periods where they more than held their own. If you remember the 5-0 hammering from earlier this season, such a recovery hardly seemed possible in the space of one – undeniably lengthy – campaign.

  As for Papu Gomez and company, they were a little below their best for this encounter, which again tells us much about what we have come to expect from them. Maybe even they don’t believe – despite Juve’s setback in Udine – that the Scudetto is a serious prospect. The way they are keeping Josip Ilicic wrapped up would suggest that the Champions League is quite heavily on their mind.

  That sentence says everything about the amazing story which has unfolded at the club in recent times. To have pushed the Bianconeri so close in the league – and it might have been closer without a couple of handball penalties – would be a big enough achievement for a side of their size. The fact that they are being whispered of as sneaky outsiders for the biggest competition in the continent is absolutely incredible. We think of the Champions League as a closed shop for the big boys only, but Atalanta are rattling on that door with a wonderful disregard for the established order.

  Indeed, Friday night showed us that, ultimately, there is room for teams to rise and fall above and below their traditional positions. Milan took a step towards the Europa League which they would historically have thought beneath themselves, while Gian Piero Gasperini’s side will be in Europe’s top competition, where they have looked more and more at home. Between them, they dished up an entertaining encounter where everyone could take away a positive. La Dea looks increasingly divine with each passing game and – if this side can be held together – could be on the verge of more special moments. And the Rossoneri? They might finally be on the right track – if they show a bit of patience and good sense in how they rebuild. Who knows, they could even catch up to Atalanta one day.

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Inter make Alexis hungry again | Football Italia_2

  The last few years haven’t been the best of Alexis Sanchez’s career. It has given many the impression that he’s past his prime and is far from being the player that he used to be at Arsenal or Barcelona. The move to Manchester United has gone on to become one of the most underwhelming signings in the club’s history. There seemed to be a lack of motivation, and with the money involved, it seemed like a move dictated by greed.

  But in recent weeks, many things are pointing to the fact that the Sanchez probably hasn’t played this well since his Arsenal days under Arsene Wenger. Inter’s 3-1 win over Torino on Monday has a confirmation of that, as the Chilean notched up a couple of assists and looked in sparkling form – once again.

  For probably the first time in around two years, there seems to be a zip about Sanchez. He looks rejuvenated and gives the impression of being a player who is actually bothered about winning games for his team. He is moving quickly across the Inter front-two and his movement in the final-third is causing big problems for the opposition on a consistent basis.

  Apart from grabbing assists against Toro, the former Barca man sparkled against Brescia as well. He assisted twice again and scored once too. He got a vital assist against Sassuolo and even though he couldn’t score against Verona, the Chilean did impress with his desire to keep plugging away and nearly succeeded too.

  He looks hungry for goals and hungry to contribute to goals as much as he can. The media has often been critical of his attitude in recent years. Reports have even suggested that he comes across as the selfish character who will be happy if he scores, even if his team loses. Whether that is true or not is anyone’s guess, but that doesn’t really ring true at Inter – at least from the outside.

  In recent weeks and months, Antonio Conte has been crying out for some depth and variety in attacking areas. He had tried to sign a target man like Olivier Giroud or Edin Dzeko in the summer and that didn’t work out. Sanchez was going through an injury patch and Conte decided to move Matteo Politano on, despite everything.

  The Torino game saw Conte rest Romelu Lukaku, who had picked up a slight knock. For how important Lukaku has been to the Nerazzurri this season, not risking him at this point of the season was a big decision to make. But the fact that Conte trusted Sanchez to do a job beside Lautaro Martinez said a lot about how he’s earned the manager’s trust with recent performances. And he didn’t let anyone down.

  He isn’t quite the tall and wiry forward that Conte ideally wanted in Giroud or Llorente and he isn’t the sort that Lukaku is either. But Sanchez brings that street-smart attitude that Conte really likes in his forward. That is exactly why he had a liking for Carlos Tevez at Juventus and for Diego Costa at Chelsea. And perhaps, that is why he likes Lautaro Martinez as well. Sanchez has this aura about him which can instil a work-ethic into a team, as it did for Arsenal back in the days. Sanchez’s workhorse nature allowed Giroud and Mesut Ozil to thrive in the freedom they got.

  This might only be a spell for Sanchez. But like Christian Eriksen, even he took a while to get to grips with Conte’s approach to the game. The injury on international duty didn’t help. More than that, he had one of Europe’s best striker pairing starting ahead of him and he had acquired a reputation for not being the best of characters either.

  But somehow, the 31-year-old has fought through it all to become a very reliable goalscoring option for Inter at such a critical point of the campaign. They just have this assurance now that if any of Martinez or Lukaku don’t play, they have someone to fall back on. They didn’t have that with Politano or in the first-half of the campaign.

  With talks reportedly ongoing about Inter signing him on another loan, Man Utd should ideally be looking at Sanchez’s form with some attention. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men use quick attacking transitions and they too need depth to compete on all fronts, despite being unbeaten in 18 straight games. Sanchez’s future might be uncertain but it still rings true that on his day, he can still be a match-winner.

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Inzaghi: ‘End Lazio season on a high’ | Football Italia

  Simone Inzaghi wants to ‘end this memorable season on a high’ with a win against Napoli, Ciro Immobile’s record and potentially second place.

  It kicks off on Saturday at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT), click here for a match preview.

  If Atalanta and Inter draw, then Lazio can still leapfrog them both into second with a victory.

  “I am focusing only on Napoli, as it’s the final push in a very long season, we had 12 games in a row that were really tough,” said Inzaghi in his press conference.

  “We want to end on a high for this season that has been memorable for everyone. We’ve been able to win a trophy and get back into the Champions League after 13 years.

  “Cristiano Ronaldo permitting, Immobile can win the Capocannoniere trophy and Golden Boot, Luis Alberto provide more assists than anyone else and there’s also my personal record as the Lazio coach with the most games under his belt.”

  That’s this term, what does Inzaghi see for the future of the Biancocelesti?

  “We want to reach the Champions League in the best way and it’d be disappointing for us to finish fourth, considering the team deserved more. It has been a fantastic season, including the Italian Super Cup, 11 consecutive victories and many individual targets for the players too.

  “Hopefully, we can start the next season with a ‘normal’ fixture list and fans in the stadium. We can’t play every two days, it’s like a knockout tournament to see which players get injured first.”

  Because of the lack of strength in depth, Lazio will have to invest heavily in the transfer market this summer.

  “We’ve got to expand the squad, we know where the gaps are. There is a constant exchange of ideas and opinions with the club.”

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Sarri: ‘Dybala recovering well’ | Football Italia

  Maurizio Sarri has not yet decided whether to completely rotate his Juventus squad against Roma, but hopes to have Paulo Dybala and Aaron Ramsey back against Lyon.

  It kicks off on Saturday at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT), click here for a match preview.

  The coach had suggested using the Under-23 team in this final game of the Serie A season, having already won the Scudetto and lost 2-0 at Cagliari midweek.

  “We’ll evaluate today and tomorrow morning. Those who need to rest will be allowed to do so, those who can play will go on to the pitch,” said Sarri in his press conference.

  “I wasn’t complaining about the fixture list, I just pointed out a fact, that we played five times in 12 days. I am fully aware of the difficulties in drawing up the calendar in these circumstances, but I was not trying to change anything, I just said we had to adapt to the situation.”

  While Juve have been playing non-stop in Serie A, Olympique Lyonnais played their last competitive game on March 8, and they face off in the Champions League Round of 16 on August 7.

  “We don’t know what effect there will be. Clearly, we are dealing with extraordinary circumstances and everyone has their own way of adapting. Right now, the mentality of my team is of a side that has already won the Scudetto, so there’s no need to run any risks.

  “We’ll see how Cristiano Ronaldo is doing, but he is among those who played the most, so we have to discuss it with the medical staff and see how he’s feeling.

  “Ramsey should be back in group training today, we’ll see tomorrow, but there’s a very good chance he’ll be ready in the Champions League. Dybala is with the medical staff. They told me he the recovery process is going well, but I don’t know when he’ll return.”

  That doesn’t mean he expects tomorrow’s game with Roma to be a dull affair, quite the opposite.

  “I hope to see two teams free of pressure who can just play football. We’ve recently improved a lot in our approach, pressing higher up the field, keeping more possession, but still respecting the characteristics of the players. Considering it’s the first season, I am satisfied, though obviously there’s huge margin for improvement.”

  Juventus have already purchased Arthur Melo for next season, but it seems as if the midfielder is refusing to play in the Champions League for Barcelona.

  “I don’t know the situation, so any comment I made would be a wild guess. I prefer to say nothing.”

  Sarri was asked what most irritated him this season and had a typical response.

  “I am permanently annoyed, so I can’t really name one thing…”

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Mbappe’ to miss Atalanta? | Football Italia

  Kylian Mbappé limped off in tears during the Coupe de France Final and could now be at risk for PSG’s Champions League quarter-final with Atalanta.

  Just 30 minutes into the first competitive match in France since the lockdown in March, Saint-Etienne legend Loic Perrin was sent off for an horrific tackle on Mbappé.

  The striker’s ankle turned very badly indeed and he limped off in tears.

  The incident also sparked a brawl between the two sets of players, with Italy international Marco Verratti booked despite being on the bench at the time.

  Thilo Kehrer also went off injured in the opening minutes.

  Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta will go head-to-head in the Champions League quarter-final on August 12.

  It is a one-off game on neutral turf in Lisbon.

  Tackle just on Mbappe !!!! Horrible tackle !!! pic.twitter.com/AujXWkxxyQ

  — Justin (@jutin__) July 24, 2020

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