STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan) – Atalanta’s Champions League hopes are still flickering after they fought for a 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Wednesday night, earning them their first ever point in the competition.
La Dea now have one point from their four games so far, but what’s amazing is that they can still qualify for the last 16 as both of the two recent meetings with Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb ended in draws.
A chaotic night in Milan has ended with Atalanta claiming their first ever Champions League point against Manchester City, who ended the game with a defender in goal. ?@ConJClancy is at the San Siro for #FIFattheGames.
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) November 6, 2019
As Atalanta’s own chaotic evening was drawing to a delayed close in Milan, Shakhtar managed to claw themselves back from being 3-1 down to draw 3-3 in Croatia, scoring in the 93rd and 98th minute.
The results now mean that should Atalanta win their next games against Dinamo at the San Siro, and Shakhtar away, then they’ll stand a chance of qualifying should Manchester City do them a favour in their games against the other two as well, with both on five points.
Confidence is rising
Both Gian Piero Gasperini and Hans Hateboer spoke after the game on Wednesday with newfound belief in their abilities in Europe.
The coach was adamant that his side are still backing themselves to advance, which Hateboer echoed in the mixed zone afterwards.
“Even though we lost against them [Shakhtar and Dinamo], the feeling is that we can definitely beat them,” Hateboer explained in the mixed zone after the match.
“We’re confident about the return games against them both and we’re confident that we’ll still be playing European football after the winter.”
The confidence was clear on the night as the players left the stadium, each buzzing with what they’d done in the second half.
Even should they manage to finish third in the group, playing in the Europa League would be a huge success for Atalanta, and it shouldn’t be forgotten just how much of an achievement it is for them to be playing European football at all having – yes it’s about to be said again – finished third with Serie A’s 14th biggest wage last season and a squad who are paid less than Cristiano Ronaldo.
“But we’re still competitive in the group and can finish second or third, which is ideal,” Hateboer added. “Our objective has always been to play European football after the winter.”
The real Atalanta finally stood up
Atalanta showed something of themselves in Manchester, but that was soon forgotten after the blitzing they took in the second half two weeks ago, but this time they weathered a first half storm from City and the roles reversed in the second half.
A fine Papu Gomez cross was headed home by Mario Pasalic four minutes after the restart, and from there on the Italians were on top and had things under control, aside from the risk of being counterattacked.
Oddly, it was only when City went down to ten men that they managed to keep the ball for long periods in the second half, desperate to keep the Nerazzurri away from their goal with Kyle Walker standing in for the final minutes.
The opening game of the competition saw Atalanta crumble before ever getting going, and they suffered late heartache at home to Shakhtar Donetsk when they showed glimpses of what they can do.
But the shackles were off this time out, and they’ll take the very same approach into their next two games with nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Pierluigi Gollini pulled off a fine stop to deny Riyad Mahrez in the first half with City leading 1-0, and that save turned out to be key by the end.
The Algerian drove in from the right and fired at the bottom corner but the Italian did very well to get down and stop the shot. At the time it seemed a good save, but when they came back to leave with a point it took on new significance.
The same can be said for Hateboer’s own heroics, incredibly stopping Raheem Sterling from tapping into a near-open goal as he crept up behind the Englishman and blocked his shot.