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Serie A: Late Handanovic Heroics Save Crucial Point for Inter

Inter Milan 1-1 Atalanta

Inter Milan are the outright leaders of Serie A, but only just. The Nerazzurri very nearly suffered their second defeat of the season at home to Atalanta, but a late penalty save by Inter captain and goalkeeper Samir Handanovic preserved a much-needed point which pushes them above rivals Juventus.

In our SBOTOP preview of this match, we anticipated a high-scoring shootout between the two top-four clubs, especially with Atalanta coming off back-to-back 5-0 wins over AC Milan and Parma. But Inter managed to keep their visitors to a single goal.

After this draw, though, their Serie A 2020 odds to win the league are likely to take a hit if Juventus can beat Roma and reclaim top spot.

 

Highlights of the game

It took all of four minutes for Inter to get out in front, and it was all thanks to their outstanding attacking duo of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. The two have struck up quite a terrific strike partnership this season — they were both on target in their 3-1 win over Napoli — and it showed in the opener.

Lautaro Martinez hits an early first half goal for Inter Milan during their Serie A battle against Atalanta
Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez celebrates with Romelu Lukaku after scoring a 4th-minute goal against Atalanta

With his back to goal, Martinez passed the ball off to Lukaku, and the Belgian immediately sent it back to the Argentine, who had made a quick turn toward goal. Martinez got the ball in control ahead of an Atalanta defender and unleashed a right-footed strike which went between the legs of keeper Pierluigi Gollini.

Shortly thereafter, Martinez was once again on the attack. After some fine holdup play from Lukaku, Martinez crossed the ball into the six-yard box from a tight angle as Gollini came to close him down. An Atalanta defender had to head the ball away to prevent Lukaku from pouncing.

Atalanta had their first attempt on goal five minutes later through Mario Pasalic. The towering midfielder made a purposeful run at the edge of the box and uncorked a long-range strike. But he got his shot all wrong as it flew harmlessly wide of Handanovic’s goal.

But they came much closer to an equaliser five minutes from half-time. Papu Gomez’s free-kick was headed toward goal by Rafael Toloi, who was denied by a great save from Handanovic. Toloi tried to follow up on the rebound, but Atalanta somehow couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net.

The visitors continued their search for that elusive goal after the break, and they went inches from getting it on 55 minutes. The ball broke to substitute Ruslan Malinovskiy at the edge of the box, and the Ukrainian midfielder produced a sweetly struck shot. But unfortunately for him, it struck the post.

All of Atalanta’s pressure would eventually pay off, though, as they would tie the game up on 75 minutes. After Josip Ilicic’s shot was charged down by Inter, Malinovskiy headed it toward the path of Robin Gosens, who got his foot on the ball and poked it past Handanovic.

Inter came close to restoring their lead on 86 minutes. Marcelo Brozovic set himself up for a volley at the edge of the box, but it went straight at Gollini.

And mere seconds later, Atalanta were awarded a penalty. Inter defender Alessandro Bastoni, a 20-year-old former Atalanta youth product, was adjudged to have fouled Malinovskiy in the back.

Substitute Luis Muriel stepped up to take the spot-kick, but the Atalanta top scorer was denied by a terrific save by Handanovic.

Inter had one last chance to steal all three points through Borja Valero, but his stoppage-time shot went wide.

In the end, though, Inter will feel rather fortunate to come away with a point, as they could so easily have come away with nothing.

 

Key statistics

As the statistics show, Atalanta were well worth their point and will be rightly disappointed not to pick up two more. Atalanta dominated possession 64 per cent to 36 and outshot their hosts, 17-10.

Zapata, who was making his first start since returning from his lengthy injury layoff, had two shots, both of which were on target.

Meanwhile, his replacement Malinovskiy made quite an impact with three shots in around 40 minutes of action.

 

What’s next?

Inter would always have their hands full against Atalanta, but their next assignment should be somewhat easier if recent Serie A 2020 results are anything to go by. They will host sixth-placed Cagliari, who have now lost four games in a row after going down 2-0 to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and AC Milan.

Meanwhile, Atalanta will also have what should be a winnable game on paper as they take on Fiorentina. While Atalanta will be away, they will take on a Viola side that’s gone winless in their last eight games (five losses, three draws).

 

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