Football Features

Mixed emotions in Milan as Atalanta make history: Five things learned from Serie A’s final day

By Ben Green

Published: 21:53, 26 May 2019

After an epic final day of Serie A action, the fates of both Milan clubs and those languishing at the foot of the table have been decided.

Inter Milan beat Empoli 3-1 to secure Champions League football, while AC Milan’s 3-2 victory over SPAL proved just a consolation as Atalanta comprehensively saw off Sassuolo 3-1 to finish third, ensuring another season of Europa League football for the Rossoneri.

Further down the table, defeat for Empoli means they will now join Chievo and Frosinone in Serie B next season. A 0-0 draw between Genoa and Fiorentina was enough to keep the Griffin in the top-flight, while Udinese retained their status with a 2-1 win over Cagliari.

And so, after another riveting Serie A season reached its concluding chapter, what did we learn from the final day?

1. Atalanta make history

After an exhilarating campaign, Gian Piero Gasperini’s free-flowing Atalanta have finished in the Serie A top four and will compete in the Champions League next season for the first time in the club’s history.

Having trailed Sassuolo at the Stadio Citta del Tricolore, it was looking as though Atalanta’s fairytale story was coming to an end, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s that dreams are never over in football – not until the final whistle that is.

Gasperini’s side soon fought their way back into the match – a Domenico Berardi red card certainly helped – and they will now pit their wits amongst the very best the continent has to offer next term.

But this was no fluke, the Goddess certainly revelled in its status as the underdog, but having finished the season as Serie A’s highest scorers – above Juve – Atalanta are certainly worthy of their third-place finish – not to mention they play brilliant football and boast a certain Duvan Zapata in their starting XI.

2. Cream of the continent for Conte

If reports are to be believed then Antonio Conte looks destined for the Inter Milan hotseat this summer, with the former Chelsea manager set to pitch up in Lombardy to take the reins from Luciano Spalletti, and he will do so with the Nerazzurri competing in Champions League football.

There were concerns before the match against Empoli that Inter might falter at the final hurdle, an all-too-real possibility given the uncertainty over Spalletti’s future; and those apprehensions certainly intensified as the match went on, notably when Francesco Caputo raced through on goal in the first half only to see his effort thwarted by Samir Handanovic.

However, Inter would ultimately go on to secure maximum reward at the Giuseppe Meazza – though not without a wobble at the end – setting Conte up to begin his tenure with elite European football as the Italian coach tries to re-establish the Nerazzurri as one of the continent’s finest sides.

The treble-winning Inter Milan days of Jose Mourinho’s reign look an age away at present, especially when you consider how feebly the Italian giants crashed out of the Champions League this season. But could we be about to witness a revolution in Milan, one that could actually challenge the Juventus stranglehold and cause a stir in Europe? Conte’s potential arrival would certainly make for an interesting 2019/20 Serie A season.

3. The sleeping giant remains in hibernation

After another inconsistent season of flirting with the top four without ever really stamping their authority on proceedings, AC Milan have once against failed to qualify for the Champions League.

The 2013/14 season was the last time the Rossoneri contested in Europe’s blue riband knockout tournament, making it a staggering five seasons since this once habitual Champions League club locked horns with the very best.

Having acquired the services of what many Milan fans were dubbing the ‘new Andriy Shevchenko’ and ‘new Kaka’ in Krzysztof Piatek and Lucas Paqueta, Gennaro Gattuso failed to capitalise on the quality at his disposal.

His future will no doubt be in serious question, with Ivan Gazidis now at a crossroads whether to stick or twist. The historic loyalty shown to Arsene Wenger during his Arsenal days will certainly be a huge boost to Gattuso, but having failed to clinch top four, it’s difficult to see where he goes from here.

4. Empoli nearly pull off the unthinkable

Only a win would have be enough for Inter Milan to secure Champions League football, and they knew it, but three points was never going to come easy for the Nerazzurri; and they nearly dropped points against Empoli, but for a late Radja Nainggolan winner.

Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side ultimately needed a point against Inter to survive relegation and retain their top flight-status, and in the 76th minute Hamed Junior Traore equalised for his side to make the dream a tangible possibility.

At that point Genoa were heading for the exit doors with the Griffin unable to break down a resilient Fiorentina, but unfortunately for Gli Azzurri, Inter soon struck back just moments later and the club’s two-year stint in Serie A has now come to an end.

5. A draw enough for Genoa

Genoa against Fiorentina was certainly an interesting match-up as one of the final games of the season, but a lot depended on proceedings at the San Siro. Had Empoli won their match against Inter, it would have made for a frantic match at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

But in the end a goalless stalemate was enough to keep the Griffin afloat, with the club finishing on 38 points, the same as Empoli, but with a better head-to-head record.

It has been a difficult season for Cesare Prandelli – the third manager of this tumultuous campaign – but the former Roma and Italy manager was able to do just enough to ensure Genoa will spend a 13th consecutive season in the top-flight.

Meanwhile Udinese put to bed any doubt of relegation with a 2-1 win over Cagliari, courtesy of goals from Emil Hallfredsson and Sebastien De Maio.