Editors Note: This piece was written by David McFarland, a teenager just starting this sports writing adventure. A further note to all writers out there: enjoy your jobs now, because David is coming for them all. I was astonished at the quality of the piece he sent in to me given his age.
The team with the best attack met the side with the best defense, when Atalanta was held to a 1-1 draw by a poor Inter Milan side at the San Siro. An early Lautaro Martínez goal was canceled out by the 75th minute Atalanta equalizer. Inter needed keeper Samir Handanović needed to save a late penalty to rescue a point for the hosts. Inter have failed to win its last four meetings vs Atalanta, with two defeats and two draws.
Inter started the match fantastically, with Martinez scoring his 10th of the campaign after yet another link up with Romelu Lukaku. After a one-two with the Belgian outside the box, Lautaro took the ball past a defender and into the middle of the eighteen. Once there, the striker struck a low, strong effort into the center of the goal.
Atalanta responded well to conceding the goal and controlled the ball, a trend that would continue for the rest of the match. No equalizer was found, however, and Inter almost doubled its lead in the 22nd minute. Inside the six-yard box, Martinez picked up a loose ball on the end line and chipped it across the goal but before Lukaku could knock the ball into the net, José Palomino headed the ball clear.
The Bergamo side continued to control possession but could not generate a quality look on target until the 40th minute. Then, a set-piece sent into the box was headed down by Rafael Tolói but Handanović made the save, leaving a rebound, which Toloi somehow sent wide from point-blank range. However, it appeared as though Martinez had pulled back Toloi’s foot prior to the shot and that a penalty should have been called, but VAR could not find a definitive replay so instead a corner was given to Atalanta. That was the last major action of the first half. Atalanta dominated the 15 minutes preceding the interval, with Inter barely holding on to its lead. Despite having 64% of the possession, Atalanta failed to create many chances, with its best coming in the well-known mix up in the box. Contrastly, as the half wore on, Inter struggled to keep the ball in the final third as the Atalanta defenders controlled Inter’s lethal front two, who nonetheless were the most threatening players on the pitch when they were able to get on the ball.
Atalanta remained on the front foot into the second half and kept Inter pinned into its own half: when Inter cleared to its forwards, they rarely won the first ball and lacked support if they did -- the midfielders were too far back. Still, it took Atalanta a while to really threaten Handanovic. Then, in the 55th minute, an effort from 25 yards out via Atalanta substitute Ruslan Malinovskiy banged off the outside of the post. Atalanta would have to wait twenty additional minutes to level. Robin Gosens scored his sixth of the season in the 75th minute. A cross from the top right corner of the box took a series of deflections before ending up in the left side of the six-yard box. There, Gosens volleyed the ball into the far post, past a frozen Handanović. Although Inter tried to regain the lead, it conceded a penalty in the 87th minute when a ball was played to the chest of Malinovskiy, who was instead bundled down by Alessandro Bastoni. The spot-kick was taken by Luis Muriel but a diving Handanović came up big for Inter and pawed the ball away. Both sides looked for a winner in the remainder of the match, but the match ended level at 1-1, a scoreline that Inter cannot be disappointed with, considering the level of play both sides displayed.
This result is a blow for Inter’s pursuit of the Scudetto, as third-place Lazio close the gap to four points, with the Rome side having a game in hand. Meanwhile, pending the result of Juventus’s match, Inter could fall two points behind the champions if the Old Lady beats Roma. Against Atalanta, Inter started well but as the match wore on became more and more pinned back. The Milanese side could not find outlets with Lukaku or Martínez, who was well marked by the opposing backline. Defensively, the Nerazzurri did a decent job with the consistent pressure and only allowed Atalanta a few good opportunities, but it eventually cracked and was perhaps lucky to even get a point. Interestingly, of the 5 matches that Inter has dropped points this season, 4 have been at the San Siro. Next week Inter hosts Cagliari in the Coppa Italia on Tuesday the 14th before traveling to relegation fighters Lecce at the Ettore Giardiniero on Sunday the 19th in Serie A. Meanwhile, Atalanta, which came into this meeting on the back of two straight 5-0 wins, remains in 5th, slightly behind Roma for the last Champions League spot, while having 6 points separating them from 7th.
Atalanta will feel disappointed with the sole point, especially considering the late penalty, which should have been converted. Atalanta completely dominated the second half, with 12 shots taken and only 3 givens up, all while controlling the play with 64% of the ball. Still, of the 17 total shots, only 6 landed on target and few seriously troubled Handanović, showing the scarcity of obvious chances that Atalanta could find. Atalanta visits Fiorentina Wednesday for a Coppa Italia fixture at the Artemio Franchi and then hosts bottom-placed S.P.A.L. on Monday the 20th.