Gian Piero Gasperini joked that Atalanta do not need a coach after watching the team's stunning Serie A comeback against Lazio from the stands.

Atalanta head coach Gasperini served a touchline ban as the Bergamo high flyers rallied past title hopefuls Lazio 3-2 on Wednesday.

Lazio – looking to claw back within a point of leaders Juventus – raced out to a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes courtesy of a Marten de Roon own goal and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's wonderful 25-yard effort.

But Atalanta stormed back after Robin Gosens reduced the deficit prior to half-time, snapping Lazio's 21-match unbeaten streak in the league thanks to Ruslan Malinovskiy's memorable equaliser and Jose Luis Palomino's 80th-minute winner.

Gasperini lauded fourth-placed Atalanta, who moved within four points of Inter after taking their tally to a Serie A-high 77 goals through just 27 matches.

"It's no fun in the stands, as you can't intervene even on the tiny things like advising your players," Gasperini told Sky Sport Italia.

"It's a struggle, but it was also immensely satisfying, as I got the feeling this team doesn't need a coach anymore! They know exactly what to do and all it takes is a gesture or a word to get them going.

"This Atalanta side has this maturity and confidence in its football that it never wavers, even in the most difficult of circumstances like this evening.

"Fighting back from 2-0 against a team like Lazio, always having the confidence that we'd turn it around, not many squads can say they feel like that."

Atalanta, who also scored a season-high 77 league goals last season, travel to Udinese on Sunday.

Massimo Carrera believes Atalanta can win the Serie A title next season with two or three "quality signings" as he hailed Gian Piero Gasperini's team.

Atalanta have become the great entertainers of Italian and European football under head coach Gasperini, scoring a Serie A-high 70 goals through 25 matches before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No Serie A team scored more goals last season as Atalanta finished third to qualify for the Champions League for the first time – the Bergamo-based side reached the quarter-finals in Europe prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Led by Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic, Atalanta are fourth in the standings and occupy the final Champions League spot as they prepare to resume their 2019-20 Serie A season against Sassuolo on Sunday.

Asked if Atalanta can challenge for the Scudetto next season, former defender Carrera – who captained the club before leaving for Napoli in 2003 – told Stats Perform News: "Why not, I think that Atalanta might win the Scudetto with two or three more quality purchases."

"I played for Atalanta for seven years and still today I live in Bergamo," the AEK Athens head coach added.

"Atalanta are a serious and competent club that has built a great team year after year, enhancing young talents from their youth sector. 

"Gasperini is doing a great job, they play a good football made of intensity and quality in all departments.  It is no longer a surprise but a reality."

Carrera joined Atalanta from Juventus in 1996, after winning Serie A, Champions League, UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana titles in Turin.

The 56-year-old also had his first taste of coaching, albeit briefly, at Juve in 2012 after head coach Antonio Conte was handed a 10-month ban – later reduced to four months – for failing to report match-fixing.

Carrera, who played alongside Conte in Turin before reuniting with his former team-mate as technical director in 2011, stepped into the caretaker role and claimed the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli.

Fast forward to 2020 and Juve – a point clear of Lazio atop the table – are preparing for Wednesday's Coppa Italia final against Napoli in Rome, before travelling to Bologna on June 22.

Juve also lost 1-0 to Lyon in the opening leg of their Champions League last-16 tie prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Cristiano Ronaldo has played a key role for Juve since arriving from Real Madrid in 2018, scoring 53 goals in 76 games for the Serie A champions.

"Ronaldo with his qualities is one of Juventus' weapons thanks to his determination, professionalism and desire to win," Carrera, who coached Spartak Moscow to the 2016-17 Russian Premier League title, said. "And I'm sure that he could help Juventus to become champions again."

Atalanta owner Antonio Percassi has given his backing to head coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who was criticised by Valencia for being at a Champions League game despite suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

Gasperini revealed last week he was scared as he appeared to suffer from COVID-19 as Atalanta defeated Valencia 4-3 behind closed doors in the Champions League on March 10.

The Bergamo outfit advanced to the quarter-finals 8-4 on aggregate at Mestalla, although the competition has since been suspended due to the virus.

Valencia expressed "surprise" at Gasperini's comments, suggesting his actions "put at risk numerous people" in the city.

However, Percassi does not wish to drag the saga out, insisting he and Gasperini followed the rules and are moving forward.

"I am with Gasperini and the players. I am looking ahead," he told L'Eco di Bergamo.

"The controls say that, like Atalanta with our members, we did everything in compliance with the rules and with the utmost prudence.

"This is fundamental for us. We are in Bergamo."

With the Champions League reportedly set to resume in August, Atalanta will first return to Serie A action on June 21 as they look to secure qualification for Europe's elite club competition for next season.

La Dea are fourth, three points clear of fifth-placed Roma with a game in hand.

Valencia expressed their "surprise" at Gian Piero Gasperini's revelation that he suffered coronavirus symptoms during the Champions League last-16 tie, insisting the Atalanta head coach put people at risk.

Gasperini revealed over the weekend he was scared while appearing to suffer from COVID-19 as Atalanta defeated Valencia 4-3 behind closed doors in the Champions League on March 10.

Atalanta advanced to the Champions League quarter-finals 8-4 on aggregate at the Mestalla before the 2019-20 football season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In light of Gasperini's comments, LaLiga outfit Valencia released a statement, which read: "Valencia CF wish to publicly express our surprise at comments made by Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini which appeared in the Italian press this Sunday, stating that, both the day before and the day of the match played on March 10th at Mestalla, the coach of our opposing team in the UEFA Champions League last-16 game was aware of suffering symptoms theoretically compatible with those of coronavirus, without taking preventive measures. Such actions, if this was the case, would have put at risk numerous people during the trip to – and stay in – Valencia.

"It should be remembered that this game was held behind closed doors amidst strict safety measures, on the order of the Spanish health authorities, to prevent the risk of COVID-19 contagion, precisely due to the presence of persons from an area already publicly classified as 'at risk' at that time."

LaLiga and Serie A have been suspended since March but the two leagues are preparing to return following the COVID-19 crisis.

The Seville derby between Sevilla and Real Betis will headline LaLiga's return on June 11 in Spain.

Italy's Serie A, meanwhile, is scheduled to restart on June 20.

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini revealed he was scared while suffering with coronavirus in March.

Gasperini said he was ill as Atalanta beat Valencia 4-3 behind closed doors at the Mestalla in the Champions League on March 10, when the Serie A side reached the quarter-finals with an 8-4 aggregate victory.

The 62-year-old said he feared for his life as he struggled with COVID-19, which has killed more than 371,000 people worldwide.

"I was scared. The day before the game I was sick, the afternoon of the game worse. The two nights after I slept little," Gasperini told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I didn't have a fever, but I felt shattered. Every two minutes an ambulance passed. It seemed to be like a war.

"At night I thought, 'If I go in there, what happens to me? I can't go now, I have so many things to do.' I said it to lighten the mood, but I really thought so."

Gasperini said he also lost his sense of taste, a common symptom of coronavirus.

The former Inter boss said a recent test showed he had coronavirus antibodies, confirmation he battled the illness earlier this year.

"Ten days ago serological tests confirmed that I had COVID-19," Gasperini said.

"I have the antibodies. It doesn't mean that they are now immune."

Serie A is due to resume on June 20, with Gasperini's Atalanta sitting fourth in the table.

Valencia's scattered defenders looked like a collection of punch-drunk strangers after Atalanta wing-back Hans Hateboer tore gleefully down their vacant left flank and smashed home his second goal of the match.

With just over an hour played, Gian Piero Gasperini's blue and black wrecking machine were 4-0 up in the club's first ever Champions League knockout tie.

Blistering long-range strikes from Josip Ilicic and Remo Freuler sparked scenes of delirium in the stands at San Siro - Milan's celebrated football coliseum and temporary home to Atalanta's European home matches, with more than 40,000 fans making the pilgrimage from Bergamo for the most significant night in their club's 112-year history.

The other standout victory in the last-16 of Europe's top competition, of those ties completed, came via very different means. There is something irresistibly Machiavellian about Diego Simeone's iron-willed Atletico Madrid teams when they are pushing all the right buttons at just the wrong time as far as illustrious opponents, such as reigning champions Liverpool, are concerned.

Simeone yelping with outstretched arms as he cavorted towards the Anfield Road End after Alvaro Morata's tie-sealing goal was an image ripe for any best of Champions League compilation. Only now it is burned onto our collective consciousness with an underlying unease.

A day before Atleti's Merseyside heist, Atlanta continued their artful disembowelment of Valencia, winning 4-3 at the Mestalla to seal a remarkable 8-4 aggregate triumph. Only there were no fans present to witness Ilicic's four-goal masterclass. Coronavirus had its grip on the continent and pulling down the shutters on football would soon tumble down most people's list of priorities.

"Bergamo, this is for you. Never give up," read the slogan on a t-shirt the Atalanta players held up to a television camera after their eerie victory in Spain. Their home city was already dealing with a mounting death toll.

Professor Fabiano Di Marco, head of pulmonology at Bergamo's Pope John XXIII Hospital told Corriere della Sera the initial match at San Siro, with all of its accompanying travel and social interaction had been a "biological bomb" – a description with which mayor Giorgio Gori concurred.

“It was not the right decision to stage the match," Liverpool City Council's newly installed director of public health Matthew Ashton said of the Atletico game, where 3,000 travelling supporters attended against the backdrop of an increasingly grave situation in Madrid. "People don’t make bad decisions on purpose – perhaps the seriousness of the situation wasn’t being understood across government at that time."


Atalanta are Bergamo and Bergamo is Atalanta – you can't have one without the other.

Atalanta's transformation into Europe's great entertainers is every bit as unlikely as it is glorious.

"All the stereotypes of Italian football being 0-0, 0-0, 0-0 – that's Edy Reja's dream. He doesn't ever want a goal to be scored in a football match," said Conor Clancy, editor-in-chief at the Forza Italian Football website, when discussing Gasperini's immediate predecessor.

"It was some of the most turgid football I have ever seen in my life, the last season before Gasperini came in. So when he came along you wondered how it was going to work – a team of cloggers who probably can't pass the ball five yards and Papu Gomez being the only footballer in the group.

"But he just improved everybody. I don’t really know how he's done it."

Progress since under a coach who was best known for a swiftly aborted five-game spell in charge of Inter in 2011 has been staggering.

Atalanta's best points total in Serie A was 52 upon Gasperini's arrival. In 2016-17, they amassed 72 and have never been below their previous best. They have finished fourth, seventh and third in his completed campaigns, fired by a freewheeling attack in which the talismanic Gomez and mercurial Ilicic have a prolific ally in Duvan Zapata.

Last term they were Serie A's top scorers with 77 goals and already have 70 after 25 matches in 2019-20 – the reward for an audacious and bold tactical setup, where industrious central midfield duo Freuler and Marten de Roon operate in front of a ball-playing back three, while interchanging with a pair of adventurous wing-backs and a creative forward trident.

When everything clicks, opponents are utterly overwhelmed. In between the Valencia matches, Atalanta scored seven times in a Serie A match for the third time this season when they hammered Lecce 7-2. Either side of the mid-season break, Milan and Parma were each dispatched 5-0. Zapata, Ilicic and Luis Muriel are all into double figures for the league season.

They are an easy side to adore for a fervent fanbase. Gasperini has expressed an ambition to be seen as Atalanta's Alex Ferguson and has, along with Gomez, been granted the freedom of Bergamo.

"Papu is the symbol of this club and an environment made of many carefully selected players," the club's former defender Guglielmo Stendardo told Stats Perform at the end of last month.

"He is the symbol of Atalanta and I hope he can go on like this for many seasons. He is still super fit, he performs having fun. This is the spirit of the complete sportsman.

"Players like Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez show Atalanta is an arrival point for footballers, whereas before it was more of a springboard for young talents. Now this is a club consistently top ranking in Italy and in Europe."

Club president Antonio Percassi appeared equal parts bemused and delighted when he was able to rebuff Inter's €50million approach for Zapata last year. It was a sign his squad drawn from a vast global scouting operation, pulling would-be stars and misfits from Argentina, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ukraine and beyond, are now dining at the top table.

For all this emphatic progress, the showdown with Valencia – reached despite losing their opening three Champions League group games before drawing the fourth against Manchester City, who finished with Kyle Walker in goal at San Siro – came with the enticing promise of being able to display the Gasperini project, in all its glory, to the world.

"The whole city shut down for that game," said Clancy, who also counts himself as an ardent Atalanta supporter. "There was a driving school, which was closed for the day because the owners went down to Milan for the match.

"Just a lot of little things where people were putting signs up all over the city saying we're closed for today because it's a huge day in the history of the city, the football club, the people, everything.

"That set the scene before the game even kicked off. After that game, I'm in a few Atalanta forums and Facebook pages, and I've never seen anything like it. The emotion was just phenomenal. Being at San Siro as well was pretty special.

"That connection has always been there. Atalanta are Bergamo and Bergamo is Atalanta – you can't have one without the other.

"If you go to any city in Italy and ask people what they're doing on Sunday, they'll say 'I'm going to the stadium'. In Bergamo they say 'I'm going to Atalanta'. There's no mention of a sport, no mention of a place. It's just Atalanta."


Cholo is a leader, a fighter, the emblem and the mirror of what Atleti itself is.

Undiluted passion, common purpose between players and supporters and an unflinching commitment to a tactical idea are traits Atalanta hold in common with Atletico, even if the realisation on the field could scarcely be more different.

A Copa del Rey and LaLiga winner during his playing days at the Vicente Calderon, Simeone returned in 2011 to take charge of a club with a reputation for burning through head coaches. He promptly won the Europa League and then set about pestering Spanish football's duopoly.

Champions League final losses to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016 stung horribly, but steering a course to LaLiga glory in 2013-14 remains a crowning achievement for one of this era's giants of the dugout.

"Regarding what Cholo means to us, the supporters, it is everything," said Atletico fan Oscar Medina Ochoa, who made the trip to Anfield. "He is a leader, a fighter, the emblem and the mirror of what Atleti itself is.

"A motto of the club, the lyrics of our anthem, is "'courage and heart'. That is what he represents, from his time as a player and now as a coach.

"His way of understanding the club and teaching values ​​has made many people believe a [certain] way. It is true that there are people who no longer follow his philosophy and the press criticise him for the tactics, the financial outlay... but the truth is that since he has been there, the team has an identity of yesteryear - of a winning team."

Jurgen Klopp unequivocally added his name to that list of non-believers after his Anfield ordeal.

Atletico soaked up waves of pressure with something approaching masochistic delight, before springing from their shackles to score three times in extra time for a 3-2 win on the night and a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

The first of Marcos Llorente's crisply struck brace was timed for maximum torment, coming within three minutes of Roberto Firmino giving Liverpool the lead in the tie for the first and only time.

"I am completely happy with the performance. It's so difficult to play a side like this," Klopp told BT Sport.

"I don't understand with the quality they have the football they play. They could play proper football but they stand deep and have counter-attacks.

"We accept it, of course, but it doesn't feel right tonight. I realise I am a really bad loser, especially when the boys put such an effort in against world-class players on the other side who defend with two rows of four."

Atletico right-back Kieran Trippier told the same UK broadcaster that Simeone reprises his histrionic touchline persona in training every day – a frankly startling prospect.

"I’ve been here seven months and I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest," the England international said.

"Starting from Diego Simeone – everyone feeds off him – he's an unbelievable manager. I can’t really explain how good it is here, it is just an unbelievable feeling and I’m proud to be part of this team."

The work ethic in which Trippier and others delight aligns Atletico with the club's traditionally working-class roots and Simeone has made this quality a non-negotiable when it comes to frequently bloodying the noses of Europe's aristocrats.

This week, the Champions League quarter-finals were due to commence and there would have been no more compelling tie than Atalanta versus Atletico Madrid.

How would Simeone, whose team have scored a paltry 31 times during an uneven LaLiga campaign, plot a path to outgun Gasperini's trigger-happy mavericks? How would the free-spirited Italian entertainers avoid succumbing to what former Australia cricket captain Steve Waugh (a man very much cut from the same sporting cloth as Simeone) termed "mental disintegration"?

And yet, two sets of players and fanatical fanbases in thrall to two radically different footballing visions must instead reckon with a reality where there is no comfort in hypotheticals.


If they had known the consequences, it is clear that everything would have been cancelled

"It is true that no-one prohibited the visit, there were simply the recommendations of the club," said Medina Ochoa, who spent the afternoon before Liverpool v Atletico at the city's famous Cavern Club, where fans draped an Atleti scarf over the statue of John Lennon on Matthew Street.

"If they had known the consequences, it is clear that everything would have been cancelled."

That March midweek developed queasily, with a sense that events were moving a step faster than any response.

On the day of the Liverpool-Atleti game, the Spanish government issued revised guidance to declare non-essential travel outside Madrid to be "irresponsible", while visiting fans were already in or en route to the UK.

Liverpool were given the go-ahead to allow fans in. Premier League games were scheduled that weekend. Then, on the Thursday, Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta tested positive for COVID-19. England's top flight joined the vast majority of elite European leagues in being postponed that weekend. None have returned due to tightening lockdown measures and a climate of unprecedented uncertainty.

As of April 4, Bergamo had 2,245 declared deaths. An investigation by local newspaper Eco di Bergamo estimated the virus killed around 4,500 in March. Lombardy, which includes Bergamo, has confirmed 9,722 deaths and 15,147 recoveries form 53,414 cases, making it the most affected region in Italy.

The Community of Madrid counts 5,800 deaths from 43,877 cases, with 21,121 sufferers recovered. Unfortunately, Atleti great Jose Luis Capon, former title-winning boss Raddy Antic and youth team player Christian Minchola will not be counted among the latter number.

"In this very moment of worldwide emergency, we all have to feel a bit Bergamaschi," Stendardo said.

"I have lived for five and a half years in a fantastic town like Bergamo, I realise how hard it is to fight back against the problems this virus has created.

"I am so devastated right now as I know Bergamo's citizens are rooted in their territory, have a strong sense of duty and incomparable work ethics. They don't deserve all this."

The work ethic Stendardo alluded to is evident among Atalanta's ultras, whose community spirit has been a visible part of the response.

Starting with a plea for fans to stay home after the Valencia triumph – traditionally any significant Atalanta win on the road is followed by fans greeting them with banners, flares and songs upon their return – the Curva Nord group donated a combined €40,000 that would have been spent on travelling to Spain to local hospitals.

A further €10,000 has been donated via a PayPal appeal since, while Curva Nord members also documented their efforts volunteering to build a temporary hospital in Bergamo.

While Ilicic has donated his hat-trick ball from the Mestalla to the Pope John XXIII Hospital, Atletico players have also been playing a part in Madrid – most notably in accepting 70 per cent pay cuts to ensure non-playing staff receive their full wages during the crisis.

Members of Simeone's squad have been conducting video calls with fans young and old, with Koke's conversation with the club's socio number one Pedro Palermo particularly touching.

All of these acts, big and small, show two clubs woven through the fabric of their frayed communities, becalmed but promising better days.

Italy marked one month in lockdown this week, a moment when in a parallel existence we would have been pouring over the fallout from an Atletico v Atalanta first leg and building up to next week's intriguing second instalment.

For now football belongs in the background, sustained in the hopes, dreams and memories of fans in Madrid, Bergamo and beyond. It feels like a comfortably fitting waiting spot for two inspirational teams.

 

Josip Ilicic said he improves with age after scoring four goals as Atalanta's fairytale Champions League run continued against Valencia.

Ilicic's stunning haul led Atalanta to a 4-3 win away to LaLiga outfit Valencia on Tuesday and an 8-4 aggregate triumph in the last 16.

The 32-year-old attacker became the oldest player to score a hat-trick away from home in the Champions League as Serie A side Atalanta reached their first quarter-final in Europe's premier club competition.

Slovenian veteran Ilicic also became the first player to score four goals in a Champions League knockout away game.

"Atalanta aren't a surprise any longer. We're doing great things and want to carry on," Ilicic, who scored in the first leg, said afterwards.

"We want to show we deserve to be here and improve day by day.

"I improve with age – I am having fun and want to carry on improving."

Atalanta continue to fly high this season – Gian Piero Gasperini's side having scored a league-high 70 goals to sit fourth in Serie A.

The Italian entertainers have also netted 16 goals en route to the Champions League quarters.

"It's never normal to score so many goals – often four – it truly is special, both in the domestic league and in the UEFA Champions League," head coach Gasperini said.

"We've won four games in a row, and the Champions League helps us improve. For now we're very happy with what we've achieved."

Josip Ilicic said Atalanta are "no longer a surprise" after putting one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals with a crushing win over Valencia.

Champions League debutants Atalanta continued their fairytale run by routing Valencia 4-1 in the opening leg of the last-16 tie at San Siro in Milan on Wednesday.

Atalanta, who lost their opening three group matches this season, put the Spanish visitors to the sword courtesy of Hans Hateboer's brace and goals from Ilicic and Remo Freuler.

"We prepared this game the same way we always do and had a great first half, allowing them practically nothing. It's a pity we conceded that away goal, but Valencia are a strong team and we forced them to play badly with our football," Ilicic, who scored a stunning goal to make it 2-0 approaching half-time, told Sky Sport Italia.

"We knew their centre-backs didn't push up much, so that's why the coach chose me with Papu Gomez up front. We were very dangerous, especially in the first half, but we can do better.

"Atalanta are no longer a surprise, we've proved so many times that we don't give in. We're doing some really important things here."

Atalanta head coach Gian Piero Gasperini added: "We are on the one hand very satisfied, as we'd have happily accepted a scoreline like that.

"Yet we end up feeling regret over conceding that away goal, as we really shouldn't have made that mistake when 4-0 up and it wasn't the only situation like that.

"We need to be more precise when we go to the Mestalla. If we want to get into the Champions League quarter-finals, we have to play like this at the Mestalla too, prove we deserve to be there with a show of strength and win there too.

"We are a team who create many chances, it could perhaps have had more goals for us and them tonight. We created our goals, they sort of received gifts from us on theirs. We got a bit euphoric and lost sight of our concentration at times.

"We'll analyse now what we got wrong and learn from these errors, as we want to prove in the second leg that we deserve to be there.

"We've got to score there too. We will do some defending, but I don't want us to go to Spain and just sit on a three-goal lead, suffering the entire time."

Denis Cheryshev's 66th-minute consolation gave Valencia some hope ahead of the return leg on home soil and Valencia boss Albert Celades said: "This result doesn't really reflect what we saw on the pitch.

"I think the difference was that Atalanta scored practically every chance they had, which is not an easy thing to do. We didn't score when we had the opportunities. Of course, we made mistakes. When you play at this level against a side like Atalanta, you cannot allow them all that space. We did create our opportunities, though, and that is important for the second leg.

"I think we've got a chance of turning it around. The result is pretty clear tonight, but we'll see what happens at the Mestalla. We play well in our own stadium. We concede too many, especially away from home, there's no denying that. It won't be easy to overturn this situation, but we will try."

Gian Piero Gasperini will not allow Atalanta to become complacent as they prepare to face Valencia in the last 16 of the Champions League, despite selection concerns for the LaLiga side.

Atalanta recovered from three straight defeats at the start of their debut campaign in Europe's elite club competition to sensationally progress through the group stage.

The entertaining Serie A outfit now appear to have a great opportunity to make the quarter-finals after being granted a kinder draw against Valencia.

The first leg takes place at San Siro on Wednesday, and Alessandro Florenzi, Ezequiel Garay, Gabriel and Rodrigo Moreno are among the players missing from the Valencia squad.

Gasperini is not getting carried away but hopes to be able to seize the initiative in the opening encounter.

"It must be the same Atalanta as always," he told a news conference. "We must be free, knowing that just being here is already a great success. Now, we must play our best.

"The game against Roma on Saturday [a 2-1 win] was decisive but then there are another 14 games [in Serie A].

"We have played many important games now over the years, from the Europa League to Shakhtar [Donetsk in the Champions League group stage], where we were through or we were out. We must use this experience.

"We know we are facing a team of enormous quality and must be ready from the beginning. I would be very happy to go to Mestalla in the lead.

"It is fine to be confident, but we will need a really important performance to get through this round."

He added: "Despite the absentees, Valencia will play with 11, just like us. We must be careful talking about this. They won at Ajax and Chelsea and came first in their group."

Valencia coach Albert Celades is confident the players available to him can still pose a threat.

"Unfortunately, we are used to these things [injuries]," he said. "I feel sorry for those who stayed at home, who can't play at San Siro in the last 16 of the Champions League.

"I'm very happy for those who are playing and sorry for those who stayed at home, but we have to get used to this situation. We still have a great team available from the bench.

"We have to play against a very offensive team, with the best attack in Serie A. Their season has been impressive - they have a lot of fun.

"Regardless of injuries, we will manage the team and we try to compete to the maximum."

Gian Piero Gasperini hit out at the decision not to award Atalanta a penalty in the first half of their 1-1 draw against Inter at San Siro on Saturday, questioning why the incident was not referred to VAR.

Inter's Lautaro Martinez appeared to use his hands to trip Rafael Toloi in the area as the Atalanta player looked to convert a rebound after Samir Handanovic had saved his header.

The visitors were one goal down at that point after Martinez scored early in the contest, though Robin Gosens netted a second-half equaliser and Luis Muriel had a chance to win it when a penalty was awarded two minutes before the end, only for Handanovic to deny him.

After a dramatic finish, Gasperini still had the first-half incident in his mind, saying it was "clear" the decision on the pitch not to award a spot-kick should have been overturned.

"I don't understand why VAR didn't call it," he told DAZN.

"The game is over now, but these things are ugly to see. This type of error should not be allowed in the age of VAR. It's incomprehensible.

"I feel bad for those in the VAR booth because this kind of error takes something away from a very valuable technology. 

"I feel personally that it ought to be used only on situations that are clear and this really was clear."

Nevertheless, Gasperini was delighted by the display from his in-form side, who are level on points with fourth-placed Roma and headed into the contest on the back of consecutive 5-0 wins over Milan and Parma.

"In the second half we dominated. The defence was extraordinary," he said. 

"All three defenders were very good at shortening [the distance] and anticipating always, preventing Inter from playing in the spaces. This was the key to the game. 

"[Josip] Ilicic and [Alejandro] Gomez also grew in the second half and that benefited the whole team."

Samir Handanovic's late penalty save rescued a point for Inter as the Serie A leaders laboured to a 1-1 draw against Atalanta at San Siro.

Lautaro Martinez combined wonderfully with strike partner Romelu Lukaku to score his 15th goal of the season in the fourth minute but Antonio Conte's side were then largely outplayed by a typically ambitious Atalanta.

Martinez was fortunate not to concede a spot-kick when he impeded Rafael Toloi towards the end of the first half, while substitute Ruslan Malinovskiy rattled the upright after the restart.

Robin Gosens poached a deserved equaliser 15 minutes from time and only Handanovic's heroics from Luis Muriel's 88th-minute effort from the spot denied Atalanta the victory.

Champions Juventus will go two points ahead of Inter at the summit if they win at Roma on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri's lethal front two made their presence felt early when Martinez took Lukaku's return pass away from Toloi and blasted under Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.

In keeping with their vibrant attacking style, Atalanta sought a swift response – Mario Pasalic curling wide from the edge of the area before Duvan Zapata was unable to get enough power on his header to trouble Handanovic.

More textbook forward play from Lukaku and Martinez in the 22nd minute ended with Jose Luis Palomino heading the Argentina striker's chipped attempt off the line.

Martinez almost blotted a fine half when he grabbed at Toloi's ankle as the defender followed up a 41st-minute header saved by Handanovic, although referee Gianluca Rocchi inexplicably decided not to review the incident.

Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini introduced Malinovskiy for Zapata in the 53rd minute and the Ukraine international almost had an instant impact, curling a sweetly struck left-footed effort from Alejandro Gomez's pass against the post from the edge of the area.

Waves of Atalanta attacks continued and they had their reward 15 minutes from time when Josip Ilicic's right-wing cross fell to Gosens for a smart back-post finish.

Alessandro Bastoni clumsily bundled into Malinovskiy during the dying minutes but fellow substitute Muriel fluffed his lines from 12 yards.

Marten De Roon said Atalanta have finally shown they can compete at Champions League level having been a "bit of a joke" in their opening three matches.

Luis Muriel and Alejandro Gomez goals handed Atalanta their first Champions League victory as the Serie A side kept their slim last-16 hopes alive with a deserved 2-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta now find themselves in a three-way battle for the second qualification spot behind Group C winners Manchester City heading into matchday six.

"After the first three matches we looked like a bit of a joke in the Champions League, but after tonight we showed we're at this level," midfielder De Roon said.

Atalanta head coach Gasperini added: "It's the night we wanted. Gomez's goal came after many missed chances and gave us the boost we needed. Now we believe we can progress."

The Italian outfit remain bottom of Group C and must beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the final game while hoping Dinamo fail to win against Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions.

Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler said: "We believe we can progress, of course. We need a win to stay in Europe – and, if we're lucky, the Champions League."

It was a disappointing evening for their Croatian opponents, who had thrashed Atalanta 4-0 in the reverse fixture.

"Sometimes you have to admit that your opponents were better and Atalanta were simply better than us tonight," coach Nenad Bjelica said.

"We had some chances when we were one goal behind but didn't score from them. We could have been better in every segment of the game. We let them make chances and we didn't play fast and simple enough.

"They deserved it tonight. They played like we did in the game in Zagreb. Now we have nothing to lose. In front of our fans, anything can happen."

Gian Piero Gasperini has vowed to stick to his principles by sending Atalanta out to attack Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Atalanta lead the scoring charts in Serie A with 30 goals in their first 11 matches of the campaign, including seven in one game against Udinese last month.

However, it has been a different story in their maiden Champions League campaign as Gasperini's men are bottom of Group C without a point after losing 5-1 to City at the Etihad Stadium on October 22.

Rather than look to avoid another humiliation at San Siro, though, Gasperini intends for Atalanta to again go on the offensive, having taken the lead in Manchester.

The coach was not impressed by Southampton's defensive tactics against City on Saturday, even as they pushed Pep Guardiola's men all the way before the Premier League champions won 2-1.

"I saw Manchester City's last match against Southampton, which they won late, but we don't want to do that," he said at Tuesday's news conference.

"We will try to stay true to our brand of football. No one wants to concede lots of goals, but we will play attacking football."

City can guarantee a place in the last 16 with victory in Milan, but Guardiola has been tipped to make changes to his side ahead of Sunday's huge domestic showdown with Liverpool.

Regardless of the line-up fielded by the visitors, Gasperini acknowledges his side have their work cut out to get off the mark in Group C in this fixture.

"I don't think [it is a good time to play them] because Manchester City have 23 or 24 good players, so whoever steps out can do a very good job," he said.

"I think they will be at 100 per cent tomorrow night and ultimately they want to qualify for the next round as soon as possible.

"They will want to get points to secure top spot in the group as soon as possible. I expect to see my team produce a good performance against a quality side and I expect to see our best level.

"Tomorrow's game, despite the ability of Manchester City, is an opportunity for us to see where we are in terms of qualification, finishing third for the Europa League. It's a very tough match."

One change Guardiola is expected to make from the reverse meeting between the two sides last month is at centre-back, with John Stones now back in contention after recovering from a muscle injury.

The England international realises there is added responsibility on his shoulders given the prolonged absence of defensive colleague Aymeric Laporte.

"If you want to put it like that, yeah, I think we've all got to step up as players and fight for our positions," he said. "We've also got to play for the lads who are injured like Aymeric and Leroy [Sane].

"We have to keep setting the standard for each other. That's what's brought us the success last season. We've got to take that responsibility as individuals and as a team."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.