STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan) – Atalanta fell agonisingly short of getting their first ever Champions League point on Tuesday evening as Shakhtar Donetsk stole all three with a 95th-minute winner.
Duvan Zapata headed the Bergamaschi ahead in the first half after Josip Ilicic had missed a penalty, but it wasn’t enough as the Ukrainians managed to complete the turnaround in the game’s final seconds.
Atalanta impressed throughout, but they remained vulnerable to counterattacks in what was an even and open game, but with Alejandro Papu Gomez often dropping deep, they were lacking more incision closer to goal.
Atalanta aren’t missing much, but fine margins count
There was very little separating the two sides on the night and, if anything, it was Atalanta who perhaps edged it. But the Champions League is unforgiving, as they had already learnt at Dinamo Zagreb, and Shakhtar handed them another lesson.
Rather than be too disheartened, though, Gian Piero Gasperini was relatively pleased afterwards and he was quick to remind anyone who pressed him that they had only been beaten by a counterattacking goal in the dying moments.
“We were at the right level this evening,” he responded at his post-match press conference when asked what his side were missing to make the step up in Europe.
“The result runs the risk of making you think otherwise. We were at least on par with Shakhtar, if not better on a number of occasions.”
To a point he’s right, too. Atalanta did dominate the first half and spells of the second, but they were wasteful in front of goal and Ilicic’s penalty might have seen things end differently, but it wasn’t to be.
It’s not the first time they’ve been wasteful in Europe though. They had their chances in Zagreb a fortnight ago, and even going back to their last European adventures they were made to pay for lacking a clinical streak against Copenhagen in last season’s qualifiers and Borussia Dortmund in the knockout rounds of the 2017/18 Europa League.
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Marten de Roon echoed the words of his coach as he passed through the mixed zone, evidently dejected.
“It’s very sour and frustrating to lose a match in the final seconds,” De Roon told Elf Voetbal on his way out of the San Siro, “particularly because we were in control at the end of the game.
“That blow hurt us and there’s huge disappointment with this defeat. It’s clear that the Champions League is about the fine details.”
The feeling of heartache was palpable when that winning goal was scored, but the supporters who made the 50-kilometre journey – just the latest in a long list of games this season, having previously played their home games almost 200 kilometres from Bergamo in Parma – were applauding their players’ efforts within seconds of the ball hitting the net. Dejected and completely out of energy, several of those in black and blue sank to the ground, but were lifted again by their again-phenomenal support.
With Manchester City next up, the room for error will increase even further, but De Roon said they’ll take on the English champions with the mindset that they have nothing to lose.
Kjaer would offer a lot
Jose Luis Palomino put in an impressive performance on Tuesday night having spent much of the 2019/20 season so far a long way from his best form. But the Argentinian is still a little erratic and with Andrea Masiello and Rafael Toloi alongside him, as well as having Marten de Roon and Mario Pasalic in front of them, they’re lacking a cool head at the back who will only think about defending.
Simon Kjaer can offer exactly that, and his Champions League experience is an additional bonus.