STADIO ENNIO TARDINI (Parma) – Atalanta gave themselves work to do in the second half at Parma on Tuesday evening but a touch of class from captain Papu Gomez saw them complete yet another comeback to leave with a 2-1 win.
On what was an incredibly hot evening in Emilia-Romagna, the Bergamaschi’s sluggish first half suggested it was them who were most affected by the muggy conditions.
The heat was clearly taking its toll on the players from as soon as the game got underway with the temperature at the Tardini feeling as high as 38 degrees celsius into the first half.
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Misplaced passes aplenty and difficulties pressing those in possession meant a slow start which appeared to play into the hosts’ hands.
But once the sun had set and the temperature dropped, Atalanta began playing as they have for a number of seasons and took control in the second half.
Pierluigi Gollini and Mario Pasalic were both guilty of early errors, misplacing passes and failing to control the ball to let Parma in.
Bruno Alves had already thumped a freekick into the wall by the time Dejan Kulusevski slipped Gianluca Caprari in to tee up Riccardo Gagliolo, but the full-back’s effort was stopped by Gollini.
Kulusevski was head and shoulders above everyone in the first half and he had terrorised Jose Luis Palomino before the Argentine was forced off injured, even coming close with a low strike that came back off the post.
Palomino’s departure saw Bosko Sutalo shift to the left to attempt to handle the Swede, but he didn’t fare any better than Palomino and Kulusevski soon opened the scoring.
Gervinho broke and tried to put the No.44 through but just as Sutalo looked to have intercepted, the ball got caught in his feet and broke for the Juventus-bound forward to poke into the top corner for his tenth goal of the season.
Atalanta chances didn’t come in the opening 45 minutes, with Papu Gomez coming closest to carving something out on a couple of occasions but his final ball was uncharacteristically off.
Ruslan Malinovskyi’s arrival at half time saw the visitors find themselves on the ball considerably more around Parma’s aread, most often through the Ukrainian or Papu Gomez but Bruno Alves and Kastriot Dermaku were holding firm.
A couple of half chances fell to Luis Muriel either side of another for Zapata, but none of the three shots troubled Sepe.
Atalanta got the goal they craved and there wasn’t much surprise that it came from Malinovskyi’s left foot. As he tends to, the Ukrainian rifled in a freekick that went straight through a weak Parma wall to beat Sepe, even with Antonino Barilla knelt behind it to block anything that squirmed through.
Parma did all they could to hold on to the point, packing their box by bringing on Giuseppe Pezzella and Simone Iacoponi late on, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a moment of magic from Papu Gomez.
La Dea’s captain got on the ball in the 85th minute and ran straight at the heart of Parma’s backline. Faced with a former teammate on the edge of the box, he knocked the ball through Jasmin Kurtic’s legs and collected it on the other side to drive a left-footed strike past Sepe.
That lead was almost doubled instantly as Zapata broke and centred for his compatriot Muriel but the No.9’s shot was blocked.
Zapata himself was denied by Sepe in the final minute of the 90.
Kulusevski hadn’t finished though. Some more dazzling footwork along the byline well into stoppage time allowed him to square for Dermaku, but the Albanian’s close-range effort was blocked.