Gian Piero Gasperini

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Atalanta brings soccer back to one-time coronavirus epicenter Bergamo

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MILAN (AP) __ When Atalanta takes to the field on Sunday, the match will hold an extra element of poignancy.

Not only will it be the team’s first game in more than three months as Serie A resumes this weekend but, more than that, Atalanta plays its soccer in Bergamo, which was one of the Italian cities hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 16,000 people have died from the virus in the Lombardy region containing Bergamo, and the small city was one of the epicenters of the outbreak.

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“The extent of what happened in Bergamo is difficult to remedy with whatever type of endeavor,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said on Saturday. “It’s clear that it will never be forgotten, it completely turned our lives upside down. Maybe it will only be in time that we will understand why it was so aggressive here.”

Many experts have pointed to the Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia on Feb. 19 in Milan as one of the biggest reasons why the virus was so deadly in Bergamo. The match has been dubbed “Game Zero” by the local media.

Less than a week after the game, the first cases were reported in the province of Bergamo and the greatest achievement in Atalanta’s history was swiftly marred. Atalanta won that first-leg match 4-1, and won the return leg 4-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League in its first ever season in the competition.

The Champions League will now finish with a mini-tournament in Lisbon in August.

“Bergamo paid a heavy price, we will try to start again through football and bring smiles back to a city which was turned upside down,” Gasperini said.

Gasperini revealed last month that he acquired COVID-19 and was concerned for his life in mid-March. The 62-year-old Italian started feeling sick on March 9, a day before Atalanta played at Valencia in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16.

Fourth-place Atalanta hosts Sassuolo on Sunday. Sassuolo was the last team to play, alongside Brescia, before Serie A was halted on March 9. Striker Francesco Caputo celebrated the first of his two goals that day with a sign in Italian that read “It will all be OK. (hash)Stayathome.”

Atalanta grateful to give Champions League joy to coronavirus-hit Bergamo

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Atalanta is dedicating its UEFA Champions League advancement to those suffering from the coronavirus scare back home in Italy.

Josip Ilicic scored four times Tuesday as La Dea outlasted Valencia 4-3 in Spain and 8-4 on aggregate to clinch its first berth in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

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Club vice president Luca Percassi has been enraptured with the club’s success, which has escalated along with COVID-19 fears back home.

From Football-Italia:

“We received so many messages from all over Bergamo and Italy, not just the football world. This is a difficult time for the city, the region and the country, so we are glad to have given people two hours of entertainment and spectacle.

“There are no secrets to our success, we simply dedicate so much passion, hard work and determination into this club, because the city deserves it. We wanted to thank the city and show them what can be achieved in this difficult moment.”

Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini said the club was inspired by the support of those back home.

Bergamo isn’t even a Top-30 city in Italy by population, but 1,245 people — about 10 percent of its populace — have been diagnosed with coronavirus. This Sky report details how terrible it’s been in Bergamo.

“We know so many people were watching us from Bergamo and received many messages, including the director of the hospital, so we are glad that we gave them a moment of joy,” Gasperini said.

Atalanta has a hold on fourth place in Serie A in a bid to return to the Champions League, three points more than Roma with a match-in-hand.

Champions League preview: Spurs, Valencia face deficits

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Tottenham Hotspur made club history last season with a run to the Champions League final, but needs a big result Tuesday to keep hope of returning to that stage.

Spurs trail RB Leipzig 1-0 after one leg and are headed to Germany with the knowledge that multiple goals are a must.

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Doing that without Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, and now Steven Bergwijn is a tall ask.

Dele Alli has been leading the line for Jose Mourinho in recent weeks, and the English attacker is growing in confidence. That’ll be needed as he faces the joint-toughest defense in the Bundesliga.

From Football.London:

“We have to score two goals and play well and then going into the league at the weekend we have to pick up as many points as we can. We can’t keep letting opportunities slip away from us.”

If Spurs have significant work on hand to flip their result, Valencia has a doctoral thesis.

Serie A side Atalanta takes a 4-1 lead to Valencia, but is aware that the La Liga outfit has scored three or more goals thrice this season and will be playing for pride in front of its home crowd.

There’s also the matter of coronavirus, which has dominated Italian sports and is now making its way through Spain.

Here’s Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini. From Football-Italia:

“Being here is like being at home a month ago. We arrived here safely. It’s very different here compared to Italy,” Gasperini said. “We need to make assessments in terms of health but also from a social point of view: playing behind closed doors, like yesterday, even in a context that nobody likes, could be of comfort to the people locked up in the house. However the priority remains the health of the people.”

Both matches kick off at 4 p.m. ET.

Serie A roundup: Zapata hat-trick powers Atalanta’s third seven-goal performance of season

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Atalanta’s demolishing of Lecce highlights Sunday’s Serie A action, which was ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak.

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Lecce 2-7 Atalanta

The question needs to be asked: How many times is Atalanta going to score seven (or more) goals in a single match this season?

The red-hot Italian side – winners of their last three league bouts – recorded their third seven-goal performance of the season against Lecce on Sunday. Colombian striker Duvan Zapata scored a hat-trick, while Josip Ilicic continued his fine run of form with a goal two minutes into the second half.

Atalanta, who is one of Europe’s most exciting sides moving forward, didn’t have a picture-perfect 90 minutes. The visitors, like lowly Lecce, went into the half all squared with two goals apiece, following Giulio Donati’s 40th-minute goal.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, though, were about to put together one of the best halves of the season.

In addition to Zapata and Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi squeezed their way into the scoring sheet, pushing the final score count for the visitors. Atalanta’s 70 goals in 25 matches lead the league, and are ten more than second-best Lazio.

The lopsided win comes 11 days after Atalanta turned plenty of heads with their emphatic performance against Valencia in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. All signs point for their cinderella story to continue, and, perhaps, into next year, as Atalanta leads fifth-place Roma by three points.

The season keeps getting better and better for La Dea. 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Cagliari 3-4 Roma

Atalanta’s Gasperini wins Serie A coach of the year award

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FLORENCE, Italy — Gian Piero Gasperini won Serie A’s coach of the year award on Monday after guiding Atalanta to a third-place finish last season and a spot in the Champions League for the first time in its history.

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Gasperini received 22 of 49 votes from other coaches for the Panchina d’Oro (Golden Bench) award for the 2018-19 season. Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic finished second with 13 votes and former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri was third with six.

Allegri, who led Juventus to a record-extending eight straight Serie A title last season, had won the award in three of the previous four years.

“I’m very proud to have won such a prestigious award,” said the 62-year-old Gasperini, who won the award for the first time. “I share this award with my staff, players, president (Antonio) Percassi and all of Bergamo because it is down to everyone that we had such an extraordinary season like that of last year.

“I dedicate this award also to all coaches because we do a difficult job but we are among the privileged and we get great satisfaction when we get awards like these.”

Atalanta also got to the final of last season’s Italian Cup but lost to Lazio. The team lost its first three Champions League matches but qualified for the round of 16, where it will face Valencia.

Mihajlovic was given a special award. The 50-year-old Serb has continued to coach Bologna while being in and out of the hospital with leukemia.

“His example in facing his battle has given strength to those who are dealing with the same fight,” Bologna sporting director Riccardo Bigon said. “We have seen first-hand how important a coach is.”