Youth in­fu­sions at AC Mi­lan, Ata­lanta keep Serie A fresh

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

A cou­ple of teenagers restor­ing AC Mi­lan to promi­nence. A group of lo­cal play­ers brought up through Ata­lanta’s youth sys­tem lead­ing the Berg­amo squad to six straight wins and a nine­match un­beaten run. While Ju­ven­tus is seem­ingly march­ing un­op­posed to a record sixth straight Serie A ti­tle, it’s been the un­ex­pected sto­ries of Mi­lan and Ata­lanta that have kept the Ital­ian league at­trac­tive en­ter­ing the hol­i­day break.

Mi­lan’s 17-year-old goal­keeper Gian­luigi Don­narumma and 18-year-old mid­fielder Manuel Lo­catelli have helped the Ros­soneri emerge from three years of medi­ocrity with a mix of youth­ful en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm plus ex­cep­tional skills. Lo­catelli’s de­ci­sive goal in a 1-0 win over Ju­ven­tus in Oc­to­ber was a work of art, while Don­narumma is al­ready draw­ing com­par­isons to Ju­ven­tus and Italy goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon. In Berg­amo, Ata­lanta fea­tures nine home­grown play­ers on its first team - the most in Serie A - and reg­u­larly uses them. They in­clude 22-year-old de­fend­ers Mat­tia Cal­dara and An­drea Conti, 21-year-old striker An­drea Pe­tagna - all mem­bers of Italy’s un­der-21 squad - and 22-year-old mid­fielder Roberto Gagliar­dini, who was given his first call up to Italy’s se­nior na­tional team re­cently af­ter only nine Serie A ap­pear­ances.

TI­TLE RACE

With a 1-0 win over Roma last week­end, Ju­ven­tus holds a four-point lead over the Gial­lorossi and a match in hand.

Napoli, last sea­son’s run­ner-up, trails Juve by seven points. Since Serie A was founded in 1929, no club has won more than five straight ti­tles. Torino won five con­sec­u­tive ti­tles from 1943-49 (a pe­riod dis­rupted by World War II), In­ter Mi­lan took five straight from 2006-10 and Ju­ven­tus claimed a hand­ful from 1931-35 be­fore its cur­rent streak.

PICK OF THE PLAY­ERS

Roma for­ward Edin Dzeko is a player trans­formed this sea­son. Ini­tially a dis­ap­point­ment af­ter trans­fer­ring from Manch­ester City in Au­gust 2015, Dzeko is now dis­play­ing the same ruth­less­ness in front of goal as in his best sea­sons in the Premier League. The Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina for­ward has scored 13 goals in Serie A this sea­son - five more than he net­ted in 31 ap­pear­ances in his de­but cam­paign - and is sec­ond in the Serie A goalscor­ing charts, one be­hind In­ter Mi­lan for­ward Mauro Icardi. Dries Mertens has also been outstanding for Napoli, fill­ing in for the de­parted Gon­zalo Higuain and the in­jured Arka­diusz Mi­lik at cen­ter for­ward. The Bel­gium in­ter­na­tional has scored eight goals in his last three matches.

EMERG­ING TAL­ENT

Af­ter AC Mi­lan goal­keeper Gian­luigi Don­narumma burst onto the scene last sea­son, it’s now the turn of team­mate and fel­low teenager Manuel Lo­catelli. Lo­catelli, who is al­ready be­ing com­pared to An­drea Pirlo, scored his first Serie A goal against Sas­suolo and net­ted a spec­tac­u­lar win­ner against Ju­ven­tus. They were the first two on-tar­get Serie A shots of his ca­reer. The 18-year-old Lo­catelli was called up for a three­day Italy train­ing camp last month and it surely will not be long be­fore he joins Don­narumma in the full squad.

SUR­PRISES

In terms of salaries, Ata­lanta ranks 15th in Serie A. On the pitch, how­ever, it’s been a dif­fer­ent story for the pro­vin­cial club, which has re­lied on home­grown tal­ent to reach sixth place - only three points from the Cham­pi­ons League spots. Be­sides the lo­cally grown play­ers, Ata­lanta has thrown in a cou­ple of tal­ented for­eign­ers like 20-year-old Ivory Coast mid­fielder Franck Kessie and Slove­nia mid­fielder Jas­min Kur­tic, who lead the team with six goals each. Gian Piero Gasperini, Ata­lanta’s firstyear coach, was hardly given a chance at In­ter Mi­lan, where he was fired af­ter five win­less matches in Septem­ber, 2011. In its 109-year his­tory, Ata­lanta has spent 56 sea­sons in Serie A - more than any other club which has never won the top di­vi­sion.

POINTS TO PROVE

Just be­gin­ning to re­dis­cover its groove un­der new coach Ste­fano Pi­oli, In­ter Mi­lan still has a long way to go to avoid a sixth straight sea­son out of the Cham­pi­ons League. Since Pi­oli re­placed the fired Frank De Boer in Novem­ber, In­ter has lost only once in the league and fi­nally looked solid in a 3-0 win over Lazio this week. Still, there re­main ques­tions over the club’s man­age­ment since Sun­ing, the Chi­nese re­tail gi­ant, took con­trol of 70 per­cent of In­ter in June. The Ner­az­zurri are in sev­enth place. Serie A re­sumes with a full slate of matches Jan. 7-8. —AP

DOHA: File photo shows AC Mi­lan’s Ital­ian goal­keeper Gian­luigi Don­narumma at­tends a train­ing ses­sion in the Qatari cap­i­tal Doha. — AFP

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