English Premier League
A spot in next season’s Champions League is there for the taking for AC Milan on the last day of the Serie A season when the Italian giants pay a visit to Atalanta, a club that has already secured Champions League football for next year. The odds could not be much tighter for this match with Atalanta’s moneyline set at +155 and AC Milan at +153. There is also a moneyline of +312 for a draw.
Atalanta can rest easy heading into the final day of the season knowing that they have already solidified a spot in next season’s Champions League. That is surely good news for Gian Piero Gasperini’s squad, who dropped the Coppa Italia final to Juventus on Wednesday and could be equal parts tired and upset heading into the season finale on Sunday.
Of course, outside of that loss to Juventus in the cup final, Atalanta has been in excellent form late in the season. La Dea hasn’t lost a Serie A game since a 1-0 defeat to new title holders Inter Milan on March 8. Since that match, Atalanta has nine wins and two draws in 11 Serie A matches. During those 11 matches, La Dea has put 30 balls in the back of the net, giving them 90 goals in 37 league matches, leading Serie A in that category. Gasperini’s system favors high-scoring matches and has allowed four different Atalanta players to collect at least eight goals this season, including 22 from leading scorer Luis Muriel, who has been used primarily as a sub late in the season.
Of course, Gasperini’s style also has its drawbacks on the defensive end of the field. La Dea’s offensive efforts can often leave the team vulnerable at the back. Despite that 11-match unbeaten streak in league play, Atalanta has conceded 12 goals during that span. That includes three goals conceded during last week’s 4-3 win over Genoa. To be fair, Atalanta has two clean sheets during its 11-game unbeaten run and has confidence that the team’s offensive prowess will overcome any defensive lapses.
The good news for AC Milan is that the Red and Blacks control their own destiny. They currently tied with Napoli with 76 points for the final two Champions League spots in Serie A. However, Juventus is right behind them with 75 points. The kicker is that AC Milan has a worse goal differential than both clubs. That means if AC Milan loses or draws, wins by Napoli and Juventus would take AC out of the Champions League spots. On the bright side, a win for Milan would put them into the Champions League no matter what.
The Red and Blacks took a huge hit last week with a scoreless draw against Cagliari. That put a stop to a three-match winning streak that included a 3-0 win over Juventus and a 7-0 thrashing of Torino. In fact, since the start of April, the Red and Blacks have five wins and two draws in nine matches, scoring 19 goals during that stretch. Even with leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic sidelined with an injury, Franck Kessie and Ante Rebic have both provided 11 goals each during the Serie A season. Rebic, in fact, has scored four goals in his last three games, which made the scoreless draw against Cagliari last week so frustrating for AC Milan.
On the other hand, AC Milan has been outstanding defensively throughout the month of May, registering four consecutive clean sheets after finishing April with a 3-0 loss to Lazio. The defense for Stefano Pioli’s club has had plenty of swings during the season. But the Red and Blacks have clamped down lately, and as long as they continue to defend at a high level, they will have high hopes of playing in Champions League next season.
This should be an entertaining match of contrasting styles. The highest-scoring team in Serie A will face a team that has gone over 360 consecutive minutes since it last conceded a goal. It’s also worth noting that Atalanta took the reverse fixture 3-0 in January. However, last week’s scoreless draw notwithstanding, AC Milan has had success in recent weeks scoring against porous defensive teams. The Red and Blacks should be able to put a couple of balls in the back of the net while also remaining stout defensively against a tired Atalanta squad that could lack motivation.
Pick: AC Milan 2-1