Atalanta exposed Inter's defensive frailties in Bergamo on Sunday, causing Andrea Stramaccioni to pray that his players will quickly leap off the treatment table and back on to the training ground.
After breaking Juventus's 49-match-unbeaten-in-Serie-A streak last week, it seemed a given that Inter Milan would easily swat aside Atalanta this weekend. And when Juve demolished Pescara 6-1 on Saturday, winning became a necessity -- the nerazzurri needed all three points to stay within a point of the top of the table. Instead, Inter are now four off the pace, and Napoli, who beat Genoa 4-2, are within one of overtaking them in second.
What a surprise, then, that it was Atalanta that took an early lead. After less than ten minutes, Inter's injury-ravaged squad were exposed at the back. They allowed Giacomo Bonaventura a free header, the winger getting on the end of a cross from Federico Peluso.
Germán Denis did his darnedest through the rest of the half to increase his side's lead -- and his own goal tally, suffering in comparison to last year's numbers. But el Tanque's best chance, in the 34th minute, only produced giggles. Again, the nerazzurri defense were in shambles, leaving Denis unmarked, but rather than roll the ball into the empty net, he skied it over the bar instead.
More than anything, it was the brilliant work of Atalanta keeper Andrea Consigli that managed to keep the visitors scoreless in the first half. But keepers are only human, and Inter made their hosts regret not being able to capitalize on their earlier chances. Peluso brought down Fredy Guarín, earning a yellow for his troubles, and Guarín took the resulting free kick himself. It was a gorgeous shot, and for once, there was nothing Consigli could do to stop it.
Inter had less than five minutes to enjoy this little victory. Maxi Moralez fed Denis the ball, and this time, the big forward was nothing but grace. He spun to place his shot in from close range, putting Atalanta back in front.
In the 67th minute, Matías Silvestre conceded a penalty, although it's debatable just how much of the resultant decision was due to the defender's actions, and how much to Moralez's histrionics. Denis stepped up and sent Samir Handanovic the wrong way, scoring his second and giving Atalanta a 3-1 lead.
Credit to Andrea Stramaccioni's men, though -- they were determined to find at least a point from this match. The coach put on Ricky Álvarez and Marko Livaja, hoping to lift the attack. In the end, though, Inter could only narrow the gap. In the 84th minute, Walter Gargano fed the ball to Rodrigo Palacio, who blasted it by Consigli and into the back of the net.