Serie A Match of the Round – Empoli vs Atalanta


There was not a lot of juice in this week’s round, where the two most anticipated matches Lazio-Milan and Genoa-Sampdoria were hard-fought, but low scoring. The most entertaining fixture turned out to be a unforeseen one, Empoli-Atalanta.

The Azzurri came into the game looking to build on the win over Udinese in Giuseppe Iachini’s debut, while Atalanta were coming off four straight victories, including the brilliant one over Inter, where they had their best performance of the season.

Iachini switched from the 4-3-1-2 they have been using so far to a 3-5-2 he is more accustomed to, basically replacing Miha Zajc with a defender, Frederic Veseli, and picked Manuel Pasqual over Luca Antonelli on the left wing.

Gian Piero Gasperini recovered Andrea Masiello and chose Berat Djimsiti to anchor the defense, then sticking with the XI that has been working lately and therefore deploying Duvan Zapata up front.

The Orobici came out very aggressively, but the Tuscan club had the first major chance of the game, when Francesco Caputo tried to put it past Etrit Berisha, who was coming out of the goal, with a header, but he hit the goalie and a defender cleared the ball before it could cross the line.

Just after the 30-minute mark, the Nerazzurri broke the deadlock: Josip Ilicic sprung Hans Hateboer loose deep down the right flank with a back heel touch, the fullback sent in a square ball that was intercepted by an opponent, but Remo Freuler was at the right place at the right time to punch it in from the six-yard box.

An incredible turn of events went down four minutes later: Empoli won a penalty as Masiello stopped with his elbow and header by Caputo. However, the striker hit the crossbar from the penalty spot and, on the ensuing fast-break, Zapata scuttled along on the left flank, skated past an opponent and found Hateboer on the far post for an easy header.

The home team managed to cut the lead before the break, as Antonino La Gumina bagged his first Serie A goal by blasting a loose ball home after a cross by Giovanni Di Lorenzo was thwarted.

Gasperini had some dubious subs after half time, inserting Mario Pasalic and Gianluca Mancini for Zapata and Rafael Toloi and the Goddess started to lose their grip on the proceedings. Empoli took over slowly but surely and Rade Krunic grazed the post with a daisy-cutter at the 65th minute. Ten minutes later, they knotted the game, as Manuel Pasqual, perfectly fed by Caputo down the left wing, delivered a juicy ball that Masiello deflected on his own net trying to anticipate the lurking La Gumina.

With ten minutes to go, Ilicic slalomed past five or six defenders, but his shot was deflected at the last moment. The Slovenian attacker got sent off a little for vehemently arguing a call.

Empoli had enough gas in the tank for a couple more actions and broke through at the 91st minute, when Manuel Pasqual found Matias Silvestre on a corner kick and the defender beat the goalie with a prefect thumping header.

With this result, the Azzurri left the relegation zone, while Atalanta dropped to the ninth position. As far as the fantasy game goes, Freuler and La Gumina hauled in four points for scoring, Silvestre was docked one for a yellow card, like Pasqual, who had an assist, while Zapata and Hateboer picked up the full two for setting up their teammates.

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