Milan (AFP) – Duvan Zapata’s hat-trick fired Atalanta to a huge 7-2 win over lowly Lecce to maintain their grip on the Champions League spots in a high-scoring Serie A weekend ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak.
Eleven days after they thrashed Valencia in their last match, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side showed why they are considered one of the most exciting teams in Europe with a breathtaking second-half display that blitzed their promoted opponents.
“Playing games like that boosts confidence. The match looked easy in the end, but it wasn’t for long periods,” said Gasperini, who poured cold water on talk of a league title charge next season.
“We lose a few too many matches. Our target has been around 70 points and for the ‘Scudetto’ you need closer to 90 … The teams that win the league tend to be more consistent than us.”
Atalanta sit fourth, three points ahead of Roma following their thrilling 4-3 win at Cagliari and six behind third-placed Inter Milan, whose marquee clash with title rivals Juventus was one of five matches postponed this weekend due to the spread of COVID-19.
Despite only four matches being held of a potential nine so far, 21 goals have been scored, the majority on an entertaining Sunday shorn of the Juve-Inter ‘Derby d’Italia’.
The remaining match in this round of fixtures, in which struggling Sampdoria host Europe-chasing Hellas Verona, could yet be postponed by Serie A despite earlier reports it would be played behind closed doors.
– Sunday goal glut –
Atalanta’s travelling fans, most of whom will have arrived in Lecce from Lombardy, the country’s virus hotspot, had to have their temperatures checked before they were allowed to enter the Stadio Via del Mare.
The teams went into the break level as Lecce defender Giulio Donati made it 2-2 in the 40th minute.
Donati had given the away side the lead early when he headed into his own net under no pressure whatsoever.
However the second period was one-way traffic once Josip Ilicic classily slotted home his side’s third, and Zapata — who headed home Atalanta’s second midway through the first half — completed his treble with two goals in eight minutes to seal the three points.
Luis Muriel then made it six with three minutes left when he scored on the rebound after his own shot bounced out off the post, and Ruslan Malinovskyi completed the rout in stoppage time.
In Sardinia, Roma extended Cagliari’s 12-match winless run with a victory which should have been more comfortable.
Paulo Fonseca’s side were well on top when Joao Pedro looped in a brilliant opener for the home side in the 28th minute, and they were deservedly in front by the break thanks to two close-range finishes from Nikola Kalinic.
Croat Kalinic, on loan from Atletico Madrid, then flicked Justin Kluivert through to slot home the third just after the hour mark, but with the match looking as good as done, Gaston Pereiro was allowed to stroll towards goal and pull one back with a neat curling strike.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan restored Roma’s two-goal advantage when he got the slightest of touches to Aleksandar Kolarov’s swinging free-kick but the hosts were given another lifeline when Chris Smalling handled Marko Rog’s cross in the final minute.
Pau Lopez got his hand to Pedro’s penalty but couldn’t stop the Brazilian from heading home on the rebound to make it a nervy finish for Roma.
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