The gulf between Atalanta and Brescia has grown so wide since they last coincided in Serie A that the Bergamaschi had the luxury of playing their B team on Tuesday evening and still ran out 6-2 winners.
Gian Piero Gasperini made as many as seven changes to his starting XI for the game, but it hardly mattered as Mario Pasalic put them ahead inside two minutes, and they had four before half an hour had been played.
Teenager Roberto Piccoli was given his first Serie A minutes of the season in the second half, as was third-choice goalkeeper Francesco Rossi, while Ebrima Colley played the entirety of the second half as captain Papu Gomez and his usual fellow starters watched on smiling from the bench.
A different derby
For all of the importance placed on the football, Atalanta’s derby double over Brescia this season came in circumstances that their fans will want to be no more than a distant memory the next time they meet, whenever that may be.
When the two sides met at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti back in November, it was their first clash in 13 years and, naturally, was highly anticipated in both cities.
But it didn’t play out as it should have. Fewer than 30 Atalanta supporters made the short trip to their neghbouring province as the ultras protested against overly intensified security measures that had been implemented.
The rest of the fans stood in support of their ultras’ cause, and only a handful were scattered around the away section to watch La Dea’s 3-0 win.
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) November 30, 2019
Gasperini was quick to comment afterwards that he would have preferred the game to have been played in normal circumstances, with both sets of fans in attendance, and he looked forward to the return game in Bergamo where he expected normality to resume.
“We hope the next derby is played in front of a full stadium,” the Atalanta boss said back in November, “I want all of the derbies to be heard and fought”.
What has happened since couldn’t have been predicted, though, and COVID-19’s outbreak across the world and, in particular, Northern Italy and Bergamo saw the corresponding fixture played in even more unusual surroundings with no fans from either side allowed to attend.
Atalanta’s Curva Nord and Curva Sud have continually made their displeasure known with football’s going ahead behind closed doors post-lockdown and even a 6-2 thumping of their most bitter rivals won’t alleviate their frustration.
Even the rivalry has changed in recent months. Both clubs have found an unpredictable solidarity and common ground through their shared suffering in 2020.
A flag was hung from a bridge between the two provinces during lockdown with the message “divided in the stands, united in pain” alongside an image of two players – one representing each club – embracing, but it didn’t last long before it disappeared.
The gap between both sides has never been greater. Atalanta are second in Serie A behind only perennial champions Juventus – albeit temporarily – while Brescia are languishing 49 points behind them, second from bottom and ahead of only SPAL.
This 2019/20 season was supposed to be the rebirth of the Lombardy Derby, but with the Nerazzurri taking a 9-2 aggregate win and only a handful of their supporters seeing either game, it hasn’t come to fruition.
Bergamaschi, for the very first time, could be forgiven for hoping that their bitter rivals return to Serie A soon so they can, finally, relive a proper derby in the not too distant future.