For the first time in four seasons, fans of Italian football can look forward to a Coppa Italia Final with a very different feel to it as attacking Atalanta take on Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio. It has been Juventus that have lifted the trophy with relatively straightforward victories in recent times, but this year there will finally be a new winner.
A look at the head-to-head results between this season’s finalists reveals a fairly even record, with each side having notched two wins, two draws, and two defeats. However, a closer inspection provides a cautionary tale for those who follow Inzaghi’s men as the two victories for the Bergamaschi have come home and away in the league this season.
A 3-1 domestic victory over their Laziale rivals at Stadio Olimpico just over a week ago should give Gian Piero Gasperini’s men huge confidence going into this encounter, and in truth his side looks unstoppable at this moment in time. Genoa were their victims this weekend in Serie A, another three points on the board meaning the Bergamo-based outfit sit in third place and on course to reach the Champions League for the first time in their history.
“This team is extraordinary in terms of mentality,” Gasperini revealed to Sky Italia after the weekend’s win. “The rest comes later, tactically, physically, but the psychological level is so important. I see every fear and doubt disappear in that dressing room and we focus entirely on winning the game.”
Such a fearless approach is plain for all who watch this side to see and has drawn inevitable comparisons with the way that Ajax play. “We don’t feel tired, our legs and minds are racing, and we don’t intend to stop,” right back Hans Hateboer told La Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of Wednesday’s final. “I too have improved, above all working hard on my defensive movements, but can do much more.
“It’s true,” the Dutchman continued when asked about similarities to Ajax. “We both play with one-on-one situations all over the pitch. Ajax have more quality, just look at what they’re doing in Europe, but we share the same principles of football.”
This can be seen in their game plan to win the ball back from their opponents and press forward with both numbers and aggression. A look at this season’s stats show that Atalanta lead the league in interceptions (12.3 per match on average) and with 73 goals in 36 matches have even outscored champions Juventus.
For these reasons, it seems pretty clear that La Dea are the favorites to lift the trophy this season, but Lazio will certainly be out to destroy that narrative. Inzaghi’s men have kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven Coppa Italia matches, and must work to keep Atalanta’s attacking prowess in check.
“I can only thank the players, as they give me everything they’ve got,” Inzaghi told reporters at Sky Italia following the weekend’s 2-1 victory over Cagliari. There are still three Finals to go, the first is the most important with Atalanta. We faced them last week and want to learn from the mistakes of that defeat.”
Unfortunately for the coach, he will be without star midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but at least he has three fit strikers to choose from. Last weekend saw last season’s joint Serie A top-scorer Ciro Immobile rested in favor of an attacking duo of Joaquin Correa and Felipe Caicedo, and the latter pair’s good performance surely put them in pole position to start on Wednesday.
“If you look at our best results, they’ve been when someone has come off the bench and made a big impact with the right attitude,” Inzaghi continued in the same interview. “I don’t know yet who will start against Atalanta, I expect it’ll be only two strikers, but whoever is left out shouldn’t feel aggrieved. They need to give us a big hand in the second half.”
After the league defeat to their Coppa Italia final opponents, Inzaghi rued “individual errors” that cost them the match. He, of all people, will know that they mustn’t put a foot wrong versus their dynamic opposition even to stay on level terms, and they face an even bigger mountain to climb if they are to lift the trophy on home soil.