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Both AC Milan and Atalanta are pushing to qualify for next season's Champions League
Milan have won back-to-back games 1-0 after a dramatic loss of form at the start of 2023
Consistency has eluded Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta for much of the campaign
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La Dea are inconsistent but they have an excellent away record, while the odds available are too attractive to ignore.
Back Atalanta to beat AC Milan this weekend. (+230)
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AC Milan won the Serie A title ahead of schedule last season. They were only the third-favorites to claim the biggest prize in Italian soccer, with Juventus and Inter both given a much better chance of finishing top of the table by the best online sportsbooks.
Stefano Pioli thus has plenty of credit in the bank for overseeing that triumph in 2022. At the same time, this season has been testing so far. With Napoli set to win the title, Milan are one of five teams competing for the Champions League qualification places.
They currently occupy one of the places within the top four, but it is a close-run thing. Inter are second with 47 points. Next are Roma and Milan with 44 points apiece, followed by Lazio with 42 and Atalanta with 41.
This race has the potential to go right down to the wire. It could have been even tighter. Had Juventus not been deducted 15 points for financial irregularities, they would be second right now, above Inter on goal difference.
Milan look to have turned a corner after a dismal run of form following World Cup 2022 and the winter break.
After consecutive 2-2 draws with Roma and Lecce, Pioli’s side lost three games on the bounce against Lazio (0-4), Sassuolo (2-5), and Inter (0-1). That run of two points from a possible 15 saw Milan drop down to sixth and led to questions being asked about Pioli’s position.
Since then, though, Milan have won three games in a row by the same scoreline: 1-0. Torino and Monza were narrowly defeated in the Serie A, while Brahim Diaz’s goal saw the Italian outfit past Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. Those wins have lifted the mood in the red-and-black half of the city.
Gian Piero Gasperini has done a magnificent job at Atalanta. The former Inter and Genoa head coach took charge in 2016 and immediately led the team to a top-four finish. In each of 2019, 2020, and 2021, la Dea came third. In the middle year, they also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Atalanta dropped down to eighth last term, but there was never any question of Gasperini being fired. Under his stewardship, the club from Bergamo have punched well above their weight.
For context, the season before his appointment Atalanta finished 13th. The year before that they only narrowly avoided relegation, finishing just three points clear of the drop zone. Serie A followers are now used to Atalanta being perennial European contenders, but that was by no means inevitable.
Atalanta are right in the mix for Champions League qualification this time around. However, they have been somewhat inconsistent in 2022/23. Since early October, Atalanta have won back-to-back games only once.
Atalanta put together an impressive five-match unbeaten run, which included an 8-2 demolition of Salernitana, after the winter break.
But they have lost two of their last three matches, going down to Sassuolo and Lecce either side of a 2-0 victory over Lazio, which had looked like the toughest game in that sequence.
As ever, Atalanta have adopted an attack-minded approach this season. Only Napoli and Inter have scored more goals than Gasperini’s men. But the long-serving manager will know that his side must become more reliable if they are to secure a top-four finish.
Ordinarily, it might be worth backing over 3.5 goals in this fixture. But Milan look to have gone back to basics with those three successive 1-0 victories. Atalanta, meanwhile, have not been scoring quite as freely as usual.
Just three points separate these two evenly-matched teams in the standings. Milan are understandably favorites given they have home advantage, but odds of +230 on an away win with Caesars are very appealing indeed.
That is especially the case when you consider that Atalanta have an excellent away record. Only Napoli have taken more points at opposition stadiums than la Dea, who have only lost twice on the road in 2022/23.
It is still too early to say that Milan are back to their best. And while games involving Atalanta have been hard to predict of late, Gasperini’s side tend to turn up in the big matches. They will get a bit more space to attack against a team like Milan, and that could work in their favor.
There is not much to choose between these sides and a heavy defeat for either is unlikely. On balance, though, the best wager is tipping an away win at the San Siro on Sunday.
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Teams: AC Milan vs Atalanta
Location: San Siro, Milan, Italy
Date and Time: Feb. 26, 2023, 2.45 p.m. EST
How to Watch: Paramount+
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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