Despite having little to play for as the curtain closed on their campaign, a stubborn Empoli display saw them beat Atalanta 1-0 in Bergamo, marking only a second win in their previous 20 Serie A (SA) games.
‘La Dea’ may have lost to Scudetto-chasing AC Milan last time out, but their resurgent four-game unbeaten run prior to that meant a seventh-placed finish was still up for grabs, even in light of their recent struggles on their own turf – having only won SA home match since December.
Atalanta dominated the first half but met an inspired Guglielmo Vicario, who was forced into a wonderful save from Duván Zapata’s looping header just minutes in. The keeper’s heroics continued, as he produced another terrific stop to deny Jeremie Boga’s curling effort midway through the half with Atalanta forcing the issue. Zapata looked perplexed as Vicario, the goalkeeper with the most saves in Europe’s top five leagues, would superbly deny him again with the hosts’ 22 attempts on goal not enough to breach Empoli’s stubborn rear-guard as the HT whistle blew.
It was more of the same in the second half as Empoli continued to display defensive resilience despite being under constant threat. The hosts’ struggles were compounded by the increasingly-isolated Duván Zapata who was struggling to make his mark, though Empoli, who were without their prolific 23-year-old striker Andrea Pinamonti, offered little going forward themselves
Vicario was finally beaten by the Atalanta siege just before the hour mark, but the ball then crashed against the crossbar. If that didn’t sum up the hosts’ fortune, then a mischievous nutmeg from a previously-positioned Liberato Cacace certainly did, with the away side looking to frustrate and in no mood to donate points to a desperate Atalanta.
However, with Atalanta throwing everything forward, Leo Štulac stunned the home fans with a wonderful strike to steal the points and condemn Atalanta to a season without UEFA European competition, although Fiorentina’s 2-0 win over Juventus meant that tonight’s result mattered little regardless.