Substitute Rasmus Højlund’s late goal earned Atalanta a dramatic 2-1 victory over Empoli, as La Dea won for the first time in five Serie A matches and extended Gli Azzurri’s winless streak to eight games.
Despite Gian Piero Gasperini’s side going four league games without a win, the hosts were undoubtedly the favorites against an Empoli outfit that had an even worse record of late, having traveled to Bergamo winless in seven.
La Dea was unsurprisingly in control for the entirety of the first half, but aside from Marten de Roon’s third-minute effort from 20 yards being pushed behind by the diving Samuele Perisan, Atalanta lacked much early presence in the final third – just as they had done across their previous four games, which yielded just one goal.
Atalanta’s next real chance wouldn’t come for another 35 minutes, doing so when Duván Zapata headed just wide of the left post, having not adjusted quickly enough to meet a deflected cross from the right flank.
That missed opportunity would see La Dea suffer the ultimate punishment just a minute before the break when Empoli took the lead completely against the run of play. A cross into the area wasn’t cleared by Atalanta, and the ball landed kindly for Ebuehi to hook it home from a couple of yards, giving ‘Gli Azzurri’ a shock HT lead.
Running out 1-0 victors in last season’s corresponding fixture, Empoli could have doubled their advantage just two minutes after the restart, when an unmarked Francesco Caputo fired over from inside the area.
Having survived this scare, Atalanta reasserted the authority widely expected from them pre-match and eventually broke their four-and-a-half-hour goal drought. Atoning for his earlier failure to beat Perisan, de Roon headed powerfully into the right corner from Matteo Ruggeri’s cross to make it 1-1 and set up an intriguing conclusion in Bergamo.
It was attack versus defense in the closing stages, and Atalanta eventually made their dominance tell when Højlund hooked the ball home from close range to send the home fans into raptures and boost his team’s cushion inside the top-six to seven points.
Meanwhile, Empoli remains 14th going into tomorrow’s action, having become the tenth successive team entering this round in that position or lower to concede against the Bergamo outfit.
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